About two weeks ago, my grandpa died. I’m talking about my mother’s adoptive father, who therefore wasn’t even a blood relative but nevertheless was the only one that I ever saw as my grandpa, seeing as my mother’s real father died young, so long before I was born, and my father’s father, who died in 2010, was a dreadful drunkard that I never wanted to have anything to do with. More importantly, he was in fact the only relative that I actually respected and considered that I ever learned something useful from.
I certainly haven’t seen him after 2003, and in fact most likely not since 2001, if not even 2000, since that’s when I was first allowed to completely avoid family gatherings or any other such events and, unless I’m forgetting something, also the last time I saw any relative other than my parents, completely tearing myself away from everyone else because I generally didn’t want anything to do with them anymore and from him because I couldn’t readily see him without going there and therefore bumping into others as well. However, I guess that only serves to allow me to remember him as he was, without having memories created during the final years of his life soil that image, seeing as even in 2006, when I got thrown back here, I was hearing things that made it quite clear that he was on his way to becoming merely a shadow of his former self.
But let me leave what I heard about the man he became during these final years aside, especially since I constantly made a point of not hearing anything about him during this time. Instead, let me focus on the man he used to be: A man who helped and inspired nearly everyone he ever came in contact with; a man who, until these final years, would not bow down to anyone or anything while at the same time not trying to make anyone bow down to him; a man who earned the respect of everyone whose opinion could in any way be considered relevant without ever demanding it… A man who deserved to die as he lived, either while helping someone or while working on something that someone of his age would normally shy away from, and not as a lost old man, frail, sad and bitter after years of suffering, without even being told exactly what his condition was and after being tricked by the other relatives into accepting treatments that made him drag on for a while longer because everyone knew that, if he’d have been told exactly how things stood, he’d have said that he lived long enough already and rejected such continued disgrace.
Actually, without including any of the work he did into it, I could probably summarize his attitude and the influence he had on others into three mental images:
He was the man who, particularly on birthdays, instead of a typical “happy birthday” or of a more common reply to being wished such a thing, would say “may what I wish for you happen to me and what you wish for me happen to you” and then watch to see who seemed upset. I believe that I can safely say that this is probably what inspired me to come up with the things I say on such occasions as well, even if they’re not in the same vein.
He was also the man who always prayed while standing, never kneeling. When I was confused by it when I was little and asked grandma why did he do that, she told me, in a very sad voice, that it meant that “he thinks he’s bigger than God”. However, over time I understood this to be his way of avoiding conflict with her over the issue while at the same time showing that he’ll never bow down and quietly stating that he wasn’t sure that such a being existed. As a result, seeing as, even if it was never expressed in so many words, that was my first contact with such an opinion, it probably was what led me to start analyzing the matter of religion on my own from a very young age instead of just accepting everything that was shoved down my throat about it.
Perhaps most of all, he was the man who, at one point during the Revolution, dismissed all of grandma’s attempts to stop him by simply repeating that we were running out and he had to make sure that we won’t risk starving if it’ll drag on and went to get some food. When he returned with what he had gotten, he was moving as if in a dream, was staring at a fixed point in space and appeared to have a red mark across his nose. After setting everything down in the kitchen, the first words he said in reply to grandma’s desperate attempts to find out what happened were “I’m only alive because I sneezed”, eventually explaining how he was walking down the street and at one point a bullet grazed his nose just as he had stopped to sneeze. And yet, in spite of that, he got what he went out to get, brought everything back and, most notably, even though so many got “revolutionist certificates” and some are still enjoying the benefits granted by them without ever setting foot on the street during those days, made a point of not applying for one because, in his words, if I remember correctly, “I went out there to feed my family, not to fight”.
On top of that, he was always busy with something, truly enjoyed what he did and was actually good at almost anything he set his mind on. People often told him to “leave something for others to do too” while he did his best to repair any broken appliances or other electronic equipment that anyone he knew had even without being asked, do the labor-intensive jobs around the house or garden, including fixing the roof or climbing on ladders to pick fruit well into his 70s and perhaps even early 80s, or go to friends to help them with what they needed. Despite having worked in printing and therefore having retired many years before the normal retirement age due to the toxic environment, he also held on to a part-time job as something of a consultant until he was around 70. I never knew exactly where he worked then, but I knew that he was going once per week to train employees on using equipment and at times even being called in to solve problems that nobody else seemed to figure out the solution for, until he resigned because he said that the young employees were starting to learn to use the modern equipment faster than he did and therefore he wouldn’t be useful anymore.
Unfortunately, as I said, age eventually caught up with him and by 2006 I heard that he was going blind and was falling on the street or even around the house. I heard that once, when he was told that he shouldn’t keep going out on his own because he’ll fall, he replied by saying: “Yes, I’ll fall. And then I’ll pick myself back up, brush myself off and keep going. And then maybe I’ll fall again, and I’ll pick myself back up again, and still do what I must do.” So his determination appeared to still be there even years after the problems started, but his body couldn’t keep up anymore and that was taking a serious toll on his mind as well. In fact, at some point I accidentally saw a picture of him on dad’s computer when I was using it to try to fix something and I’m still trying to erase that image of a fat old man, still at the head of the table but looking sad and lost, from my mind.
When other problems started becoming worse and worse, what I happened to hear being said about him made me try even harder to avoid hearing anything about him anymore. Eventually, despite having always almost completely refused to have anything to do with doctors, he had to give in and allow himself to be taken to a hospital some two years ago. A large tumor was removed from his abdomen and tests revealed that it was cancer but, as I stated above, I heard that he wasn’t even told exactly why he was going into surgery and the full truth was kept from him afterwards as well in order to have him accept the treatments. Heard that my dad saw him crying and begging for the pain to end while visiting him in hospital and was shocked that this man who had pushed through everything and hardly ever complained had ended up in such a state.
Worse, what I still heard during these years seemed to indicate that his mind was going as well, with people saying that you couldn’t get along with him anymore, he wouldn’t discuss anything, was increasingly bitter and demanding and eventually, during the final six months or so, when he was almost completely bedridden, often tended to just lie there with his back towards anyone who happened to be around and not show any interest in anything anymore, simply waiting for the end.
A man like he was shouldn’t have ended up in such a state. He should have died some ten years ago, while he was still strong, or at least some five years ago, when he still had his dignity. Or, at the very least, he should have been allowed to ask for and be granted a quick and painless death two years ago, but of course that’s still illegal for reasons that make absolutely no logical sense.
But at least it’s over now and he’s free of the pain and of the indignity of it all. And, even if the man he used to be no longer existed within his body or his mind during his final years, it will be that man who will live on in the memory of all those whose lives he touched.
For that reason, I think it’d be appropriate to end this on a more cheerful note, with a memory from an otherwise typically dreadful family gathering, probably either his birthday or name day, when I guess he was around 70: While everybody was eating and chatting away, we suddenly notice him slip under the table without a word. Everybody is looking around in confusion for a moment until my uncle, who was in the best position to see exactly what was going on, starts laughing and we all realize that grandpa was doing pushups. Uncle’s reaction after he managed to stop laughing for a moment? “Gramps, the missus left a long time ago.”
Sorry, but I’ll keep comments off for this one.