Last days

My Grandad is dying. I think. It sounds likely. He is 95 years old and frail; this past few years he's been steadily vanishing, shrinking into a wizened, tiny mockery of the man who used to wield a vice-like grip. "Vice-like grip" is a cliche, is it not? But it is also true. He would grasp the wrist of me or my cousin in some playfight tussle and we'd cry out in pain and shock. "Ah, I din't hurt yer!" he'd say, as we rubbed our limbs and muttered "You don't know your own strength, you".

The man who served on the Atlantic convoys during the war (officer's cook and gunner) disappeared some time ago, became a man who needed a wheelchair to get about, virtually blind – though with enough sight to never spill a drop of his pint – forgetful. We know he was present at either Dunkirk or D-Day, blown out of the little ships twice, but we don't know which because while we always thought it was Dunkirk, recently he said it was t'other. And we doubt his mind too much to take his word.

He had a stroke last week. A small one, but it's still affecting his right side. The infection that the care home (only recently moved in) told me about on Monday morning was apparently pneumonia; he has fluid on one lung. The tiny man who nursed and outlived three wives is currently in hospital again, being nursed himself.

He won't like that.

He is already annoyed enough at his dependence to become more cantankerous each month.

And he was pretty cantankerous to begin with.

But if this is his end, I can't be sad. Because I suspect he welcomes it. Back when my parents were still living in Leeds, my Dad and me took Grandad to the pub. The moment Dad was out of earshot on his way to the bar, Grandad started talking – almost wistfully – about dying. (Nobody in my family talks about death; had this conversation been attempted while my Dad was present, he would have said a brisk "ahh, ye'll outlive me yer aul sod" and that would have been that. Which is odd, because my Dad doesn't have a particularly strong Yorkshire accent. I don't know what made Grandad think I wouldn't do the same. Not that I did.)

I don't remember the particulars of that brief chat, only a deep and pervading sense that he'd had enough. Longevity is not always a blessing. Not only has he outlived three wives, he's also buried his eldest son and second grandson. As soon as his independence started to go (he was still doing shopping for the ladies of his sheltered housing estate in his late eighties – how do you think he got married so often?) he grew tired. Metaphorically and non. All he does now is sleep. Like he's practicing.

My Grandad is dying. He may recover from this one thing, but there will be more to come. These are his final days, passing softly as the snow falls and I sit, 200 miles away, waiting. And I will mourn him, but I will not regret him.


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