My grandfather, Jim Welsh, passed away last night.
I strongly suspect it's not the way he wanted to go. For the past four or five years he'd been growing steadily weaker. He wasn't able to go out in the woods anymore. Then he couldn't drive anymore. And then he had problems getting around with anything other than a walker. The comment in the family was that we always expected him to go out into the woods one day to cut a load of birch and simply never come back. That they'd find him lying next to a tree, looking quite content.
I think that's the way he would have liked to have left this life, rather than quietly fading away in a pallative care bed, essentially letting it be known that he was just done and wanted things to be over with.
I'm not entirely sure my grandfather and I understood each other very much. I am the eldest grandchild. The next is Penny, who is three years younger and then Randy who is six years younger. And then a grouping in their 20s and more younger than that. So I think their relationship with him was different than mine. When I was growing up he was still a young man, in his late 40s and 50s. He was a man who worked hard, either driving the trucks for Department of Transportation or in cutting a load of wood or helping run the convenience store and campground he and nan ran. When they were growing up, he'd settled down a bit. That and his heart meant he had to start taking things slower when they were growing up, even if he did it begrudingly.
He also liked to have a drink. I think I horrified my father a few years ago when I said that most of my early memories of pop were of the yelling matches between him, nan and the rest of the family when he came home after drinking too much. It was as if, somehow, I'd managed to miss all the good he had done. And I think I had. But when you're eight years old, certain impressions stick and it can take a lifetime to shake them.
So I managed to bury or skim over all the good he did for me. That at the end of a trip around the bay there was always a $20 bill slipped to me, a princely sum in the 70s. That he certainly paid a disproportionate amount of money for a couple of blueberries. That there was always a hug and a scruffy kiss waiting whenever I first entered the house and one when I left.
I'd forgotten that there were always dogs around the house because he loved them so much. There were a few horses too and he even let me name one of them. What he thought of me naming a horse "Kitty" I never knew, but it was her name right up until the day he sold her. And there were his always dangerous trips to Carbonear where there was always a chance he would come back with a new pick-up even if he had bought one a year or two ago. He loved a good new pick-up.
(My grandfather, second from the right, at our wedding in 2005)
He was a good man and he loved me. And I loved him. I never doubted that. But, as I said, I'm not sure he ever really understood me (for that matter, I'm not sure most of my family has a really good grasp on me either. They're an outgoing, sociable bunch and I am....not). He was a man used to do a hard days work. I grew up to become a writer. There's a gap there I think we never managed to close.
I tried to do a bit better as I got older and saw he was starting to get sicker. Last October I flew home for about 10 days to see him and nan, fully knowing it might be the last time I'd get to see them. Nan isn't doing well these days either with a series of strokes taking their toll. Seeing her now as to when I was growing up, a woman who always made the best homemade bread, who always a full jar of chunky peanut butter and a fresh bread waiting to where she is now is heart breaking.
But anyway, I went and saw them and I'm glad I did. I went and sat with them and, as I figured this might be my last chance to ask some questions, asked about where all the land they owned came from, what kind of farming they actually did and other questions about his life.
It was good. It took him awhile to warm up to the questions, but I think he liked doing that more than having people come in, well meaning, and ask about his health and relay the latest gossip of friends and family either dead or sick. He was old, get more frail and depressed by it. News of death is perhaps not what he needed.
I won't be able to go home to attend his funeral. Even a bereavement fare is astronomical and there are things happening up here right now that prevent me from being able to go home for a couple of weeks. The family understands and dad has reassured me repeatedly that he'll be fine.
It's been a hard day. I know they understand, but still...
Anyway, I miss my grandfather today.
1. Blind Willie McTell - Bob Dylan
2. It's my fault for being famous - The White Stripes*
3. Presentation cheque - Sean Panting
4. Dig a pony - The Beatles
5. Cetennial highway reel/Cooley's reel - Figgy Duff