When my dad died in 2004, it was unexpected – not least of all because he was fifty-one when he went. I took the call on a Sunday morning, Back then, The Wife was still The Girlfriend, and it was probably the first time she ever saw me speechless.
When my granddad died in 2008, at the age of seventy-nine, that too was a surprise. I took the call on a Saturday morning, while I was at work. I wasn’t really sure what the situation was, but by the time I got there he was gone.
They had both been strong men in their lives. I don’t mean specifically in a physical sense, but like a lot of people I had grown to believe in the immortality of the elder male torch-bearers in my family. I had my differences with my father, for sure, but for him to leave when he did, in such a graceless manner… well, I’m not sure I’ve ever really let that go.
My grandma – my dad’s mother; my granddad’s widow – is ninety this year. Today I went to visit her, like I do at least once a week, aware that she’s fallen twice in the last few days and is all bruised and battered as a result. It was upsetting in a very obvious way, but there were some subtleties to it as well.
I told her she needs a walking stick: she told me she didn’t. I told her she was stubborn: she said she was independent. I told her at her age they’re kind of the same thing.
So when it happens – when I take that phone call – I won’t be surprised this time; and maybe if I start crying now, it won’t seem all that devastating when I do.