It’s been a decade since my grandad passed away. He was the first person in my life to die and, perhaps because I actually saw his remains, the death that has stuck with me most.
He was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of my exam period and died shortly after the end of that same academic year. He also died just before I left Luxembourg and moved to the UK and, even though much of it is a hazy memory now, his death gave me a profound sense of loneliness during my first few months in this country.
It didn’t help that the people I shared a flat with in that first year were all people I really didn’t get along with. It didn’t help that I was unhappily in love at the time. But most of all, his death left a void that I’ve since come to accept will never be filled yet back then had me crying in my room on more than one occasion.
A decade is a really long time in a human life. Arguably, the past decade has been the most transformative in mine so far: I moved to a new country where I didn’t know anyone, I fell in and out of love a few times (though that happened in my teens as well), I graduated, I achieved a postgrad degree in London and I moved back to Cardiff first to work as a self-employed writer and later as a full-time journalist, which I still am now. I met and fell in love with my partner (though we danced around each other for a really long time), we moved in together and now we’re saving towards our first house.
My life is profoundly different from what it was ten years ago in every single regard. That’s a good thing not because I hated who I was back then but because change and progress is an important part of the human experience. I like who I am now all the while looking forward to what I might become in another ten years’ time.
However, the existential sadness I feel about not being able to share who I have become with my grandad is undescribable.
One of the last things my grandad said to me (it may very well have been the last thing but all of those weeks have since merged into one really long day) was: take every experience you can get with you.
The truth is, as much as I’ve tried to live by that mantra, it’s not something I’ve always been able to achieve – something I am still working on and probably will for the rest of my life.
He wasn’t perfect. Who is? But he was a good man. He cared about us and he cared about the world around him. He was a great animal lover and even managed to befriend a crow that came to visit time and again (I have since learned that crows do indeed remember humans so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might have seemed at the time).
He loved his music, even if he still needed sheets for the same songs after years of playing them. He loved collecting coins and stamps, much of it worthless though the monetary value shouldn’t be a reason for a passion anyway. He was an avid lottery player so much so that when he died, the newsagent’s where he’d always bought his ticket sent their condolences.
He took my brother and me swimming twice a week when we were younger and stayed with my grandparents over the summer. That pool has since been torn down in another sign that nothing remains forever. He spent countless hours playing football with my brother.
He worked hard, strenuous outdoor jobs for the council to feed his family. He gritted roads at a time when that meant standing on the back of a truck and shovelling salt onto the road while the wind was biting into your skin.
He bought his childhood home and lived there until being moved into the hospital. The house belongs to a new family now, who quickly made exterior changes (perhaps interior too) that almost felt disrespectful at first but really, that’s how the world works and it’s their home now.
He touched so many people’s lives that at his funeral the church was literally too small to fit in everyone who came to pay their respects. You can never envy the dead, but what a legacy to have.
I haven’t been to his grave in many years – not since my grandmother passed away and was put to rest next to him. But that grave always felt strange – there is nothing about him there save for his ashes, no memories, no echoes of the past. I prefer visiting him in my thoughts instead. He’s there not every day but many of them.
He cared. He wasn’t perfect, but he cared. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is what I remember about him and what I want to be myself: not perfect, but caring.
I love you.