Today marks the second anniversary of my grandad’s death. I still think about him a lot and whenever I go to my dad’s house I always expect to see him sitting in his old seat at the head of the dining room table reading the newspapers with his spectacles on and using a magnifying glass to see the words properly. Just sitting there, occasionally with a beer or a guinness, chilling, reading the paper or doing the crossword.
It’s easy to be pragmatic about death, I think. We experience it every day in some way or another and we’ll all surely experience it at some stage in our lives. When someone close to you passes away it’s hard to be prepared for the emotional maelstrom that follows and although time shapes that whirlwind of feelings into something more manageable, that feel of loss never really disappears.
He was in his 89 when he passed meaning that he, of course, served in World War II. He was stationed on two ships which were sunk in the war. My grandad wasn’t the type who spoke often or about his experiences in the war. Although I wasn’t present when this particular story was told, it later turned out that when he was diagnosed with cancer he relayed a story to his doctor and those that were in the room with him about one of his experiences during the war.
My memory is a little hazy here and no doubt I’ll get corrected by family afterwards but here goes.
When one of the ships he was one was bombed (torpedoed?) by a German U-boat those who survived the blast abandoned ship. Having gotten himself to safety, one of his crewmates was still in the sea calling out for help. They were unable to save him despite their efforts. This was a story that had obviously stuck with my grandad for a long time but quite why he chose to tell it then is a mystery.
Nevertheless, the last thing he said to me and my brother as he was swept in and out of consciousness by waves of morphine was “Try to help people in any way you can”, advice which was perhaps influenced in some way by what he’d seen in the war.
I’ll never forget that moment when he imparted that final piece advice to us. It was late evening and the side ward he was in was very dim, the off pink colour of the room and its curtains had taken on a sort of soft burgundy hue. The bleeps and boops of the machines around him permeated the silence whilst my aunt sat beside him holding his hand. When he told us that advice it was a quiet, breathless voice. It’ll always stay with me.
The only tears I shed were on that night, in one of the waiting rooms next to his ward.
A few days later I was awoken with my dad phoning me telling me that he was coming over to my flat, something which had never done before and hasn’t done since, to tell me that he’d died.
Strange memories. Strange times.
Anyway, I didn’t want this post to become a sad one.
After the war my grandad received a few medals. Below you can see his record of service, medals and various other things relating to his service in the navy. Rather than focusing on his departure, today I’ll be remembering what he gave for this country and what a fine gent he was.