It was April 30 of 1995. I paid my grandfather a visit. He was a dying man and had asked via his son if perhaps his (grand)children wanted to come and say goodbye. I later learned that nobody felt inclined to go. Up until this day, I do not know what came over me but I did go. I had not seen him in about 7 years.
I had always loved and a little bit avoided my grandpa. I loved his jokes, his stories about elephants, baking biscuits and fish that could fly. His sweetness was well hidden except when he smiled then it showed.
Avoidance because of the stories around him and his “wrong-doing”. He was noted for his sometimes odd behavior and strictness. I can imagine that he was like that. His strength was visible in his body too. He was a tall man, full of authority, impressive. A head full of dark black hair and piercing eyes got him the nick name ‘the crow’.
On that last visit I had no idea what to expect. Was I nervous to see my ‘difficult’ grandpa? Yes. I had not consulted my family, least of all my mother. I was in for a surprise and to be honest I am still surprised. When we (the boyfriend he had not yet met and I) went into the hospital room, it was empty. After a while a small skinny man, in a blue pyjama with many stains on the front, came out of the bathroom. He was surprised to see me there, behaving prickly and trying to mentally push me away. After a couple more minutes he turned softer and started sharing bits and pieces.
It was then that I met my grandfather in a new way. He explained to us how he was thinking about his life and everything that happened in it. The hospital had offered telephone, television and radio. He refused to have any of them, it kept him from thinking. There was nothing else left now but to think of his life and what he had done.
He was no longer playing the game of life, he was preparing to die and it seemed to be the only thing he did all day. No distractions, no beating around the bush. He did not like many things in his life: the husband he had been, the father he had been, the friend he had been, the grandfather he had been. All these roles were being analyzed, re-evaluated, confronted and judged. All his life he had been hard on himself and even now in his last days he was not walking away from it.
Even now tears come to my eyes, he sat there and was so aware of what he did and did not do in his life. He worked hard to give up the pain and disappointment. It was never easy for him to be open to others. There was always the need to control things. In this conversation he did let go. Frail and vulnerable and honest he spoke about himself.
We hugged and said goodbye and he died 5 days later. I never had regrets about this meeting.