My Grandfather, Jack, was a veteran of World War 2. In his 90 years, Jack saw many things that would make people of my generation crumble. He witnessed some of mankind’s greatest achievements, and many of our worst horrors. And despite this, he was the kindest and most loving man I have ever known.
Gramps came to live with us in Spring 1982, not long after my Grandmother passed away. I was only 3 years old when he moved in, and Gramps became ever-present in my life.
He would collect me from school every day and talk to me about what I had been up to, and he would make me feel safe when older boys from other schools boarded the bus and caused untold mischief. He would take me out for walks and treat me to sweets from the newsagents. He was a smoker, but he never lit a cigarette up while he was with me, and whenever I joined him in his TV room to watch Only Fools & Horses, he would stub out his roll-up and we would share a good laugh at Del Boy and Rodney…and, of course, Uncle Albert.
Gramps was very much like Uncle Albert, in that he would regale me with stories of his time in the war, usually recollecting anecdotes about friends of his that were long since gone. To me as a child, they were just boring old stories that he told by the bagful. Only later did I realise that maybe Gramps was lonely and maybe recounting stories of his friends to his youngest Grandson was a way for him to enjoy those moments again.
As I began advancing through my early twenties (circa 2000) I began to realise that he would not be around forever. He had started to become noticeably frail, falling occasionally on his walks up to the newsagents, and suffering physical ailments that should have been treated with more care and professionalism by Barnet Hospital.
Eventually, we noticed that Gramps was struggling to finish meals, or would leave the room with a mouthful of food but spit it out onto his plate or down the toilet. This became more frequent until one night in 2002 when he awoke and went for the toilet – only to lose bowel control en route. The subsequent hospital visits confirmed that he had bowel cancer.
Despite a relatively successful surgery to remove cancerous tissue, Gramps was eventually readmitted to hospital in March 2003 for further treatment. The last time I went to visit him was a Wednesday evening. I knew I would be unable to see him the following day due to work and Am Dram commitments, but I gave him a hug and told him I would see him on Friday. For the first time in my life, as I hugged him, I told him I loved him.
Gramps passed away in the early hours of Friday morning. I never got to see him again.
I am thankful that I had realised how much he had meant to me in time to share it with him. I am thankful that I began to take notice of his stories and encouraged him to share his tales of friendship with me. I am thankful that, in the 20 years he lived with me, it was mainly he who raised me.
He was old fashioned, and yet so fresh. He was silly, and yet so serious. Gramps was not just a gentleman, he was a gentle man.
Gramps taught me about love and compassion.
Gramps taught me about right and wrong.
Gramps taught me about the importance of respect.
He may have been my Grandfather, but he was my third parent, and although I didn’t understand it at the time, his death hit me harder than anything else ever had before or has since. It took me years to come to terms with his loss, and even now I don’t think I am fully there yet. Maybe I never will be…
Although she never got to meet him, my Darling Wife knew how much he had meant to me, so when we first found out we were expecting a baby boy, she quickly agreed that he would have Jack as his middle name. It is the highest tribute I can pay, a lasting mark of respect, to the man who taught me so much and expected so little in return.
Why am I sharing this with you all now? To be honest, it’s because of a lady called Heather.
If life has shown me anything, it is that the value of the time we share now is worth more than all of the promised futures combined. Isn’t there a saying, “Live a little, Love a lot”? My experience with Gramps proved this to me, and this cannot be more true than in the case of Heather.
Heather is an 8-year survivor of mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. When she was diagnosed in 2005, she had just given birth to a little girl and was told she had 15 months to live. But Heather beat the odds and is now one of few long-term survivors. She is now on a mission to spread awareness of mesothelioma by sharing her personal story.
If having cancer has taught Heather anything, it is the value of life and the value of gratitude. Heather’s diagnosis was in the month of November, and every year since during the holiday season, she is reminded of this difficult time. Therefore, she has set out to acknowledge something in her life that she is thankful for every day throughout the month of December.
This year, she decided to take this idea to the blogosphere. Heather has met some incredible bloggers who have helped her in her journey to spread awareness.
Here is the link to Heather’s blog page where you can learn more about her story: www.mesothelioma.com/heather
I was wondering if you would do that same. This December, we are asking friends, family, and fellow bloggers to post about something that they are thankful for, along with sharing a little bit of Heather’s story with their own friends, family and readers.
I sincerely hope you are interested!
Thank you for taking the time to read it.
And thank you, Heather von St James, for inspiring me to share.