This post doesn’t seem worthy. But I did my best.
It’s funny what thoughts you have after someone dies. Some of them are downright horrible, but you can’t help it. So many are racing around that they collide and jumble you up. I guess that’s why you start out confused. You don’t think of memories yet – just scattered thoughts while trying to take it in. Not getting that goodbye, wondering about the inheritance, wondering about work, wondering why.
On January 1st, my grandfather passed away. He was nearly 93 and had been fading, but it still came as a surprise. He was my father’s father. We called him Dandan.
I was in the middle of my worst hangover ever: one of those where you chant to yourself “I’ll never drink again”. Of course this was later revised to “I’ll never drink tequila again” (which I believe I’ve said before).
My mother woke me with the news and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t lift myself from the pillow to hug her properly, but we tried. I didn’t think much more on it and went back to sleep. Not a conscious choice – I physically had to.
Once I was up and more mobile later, my sister arrived. As we all hugged and wiped our eyes, I couldn’t help but notice the familiarity of it: after all, we had only done this for my maternal grandmother 6 months before. It felt like that day stuck on repeat. My Dad seemed ok, but that’s Dad. He never shows anything, never has. Only emotion I’ve ever seen from him is anger – and in this situation frustration. But I imagine that mixed in at the moment there is a lot of relief. Dandan’s children had spent the last 6 years looking after him.
I don’t cry around my family. I find it very difficult to lose my face – I am the strong one who gets grumpy and bitchy when she’s upset, not sad. But if my sister and/or mother start to cry, I can’t help myself. I allowed myself to weep a little on our couch, but nothing had sunk in. It was just the emotion all around me.
I used to go to Dandan and Nana’s every day after school when I was young. They lived in the street where my private primary school was. I would watch TV with my back up against the arm of the chair, or lying on the floor. I would do my homework. On Thursdays Nana would make fish so I would stay for tea, watching Shortland St on the kitchen television. Sometimes if I stayed over I would get to watch the X Files with my hands over my eyes.
I remember this carried on through intermediate. I remember teaching (or trying to) Dandan some Japanese. As hard as he tried, he just couldn’t get it right. He tried to greet me with Konnichiwa in the afternoons and we’d both just end up giggling.
They’d always ask me what I wanted for Christmas and as they were wealthy, they’d simply just buy it. I was a good kid, though, so I never asked for too much. I remember one year I wanted this dollhouse so bad – and then I found it underneath Dandan’s desk in the den. I never told and was very surprised on the day.
I’d spend hours in Dandan’s den typing on his electric typewriter. I tried writing stories… imagining that I was writing the next great novel at 9 years old. When my Nana passed and my auntie sold the house, I went and got that typewriter. It’s under my bed.
Dandan was a very prominent man. His construction company built most of the major buildings in Lower Hutt and Wellington. They put down the roads in Napier. They were very highly regarded. His hotel in Lower Hutt was considered the best one in the area. He played bowls regularly, was president of many clubs and worked with community organisations. They had a beautiful house, nice BMWs, yearly trips to their apartment in Maroochydore, Queensland. They had a good life.
And then just after their 60th wedding anniversary, my Nana lost to cancer. Dandan stayed in the house for about a year. And then his health started to decline so rapidly that we were certain he wouldn’t be too far behind his wife. Despite his wishes, he was placed in a home near my Aunt’s place in Johnsonville. He hated it. They told him it was temporary but he ended up dying there.
Quite often in visits in the last few years, he asked us to get him out. He started to stop recognising people, but he always knew me. We had such a strong connection between us. Early last year, however, he started to get confused around me as well. Sometimes he’d ask me about things that showed he definitely knew it was me, other times he would ask me what I “do for a living” and smile at me quite politely like we’d just been introduced. Around May I stopped visiting. I’d had rough visits with him where he’d not only not recognised me but had begged me not to leave and not to leave him there. It was too hard for me. But I couldn’t help feeling that I had given up on him.
We knew he wasn’t going to be here much longer. And it wasn’t the fact that he was finally gone that hurt me. It was that I knew that I would never have that Dandan back. Of course, I’d known this for years, but I’d never really faced it. I’d never really grieved for losing my friend.
My parents went up to their Taupo house late afternoon of the 1st. Mum wanted to stay at home an extra day to give people the chance to call and visit, but my father wanted to go. After reminding me to lock everything up and double-check myself, they left. My Dad came in to my bedroom where I had returned to bed and hugged me goodbye. I was wiping away tears and he looked at me in concern. Those tears were for my miserable headache and stomach, but a part of me was starting to let things out for Dandan as well.
As soon as I locked the door I returned to bed and cried. I cried and cried and cried. I was feeling so miserable being so sick, and so miserable about the loss. I cried for losing someone that I used to have such a connection with. I felt guilt for not visiting him, but my father had told me recently that it wasn’t a good idea anymore. He just wasn’t the same person.
I cried for losing one of my best friends. We had 71 years between us, but it didn’t matter. I wanted him to be in my life – to meet my children. I wanted my children to know what a great man he is. What he was.
The service is scheduled for the 16th, his 93rd birthday. This will give people time to come in from overseas and around the country – and to get a worthy obituary printed.
Dandan is in all of us – my father and him in particular share a lot of mannerisms. He had a wonderful laugh; a cheeky one where he scrunched up his eyes. My father and his brothers share this laugh. My Dad doesn’t laugh that much (though more lately with his job changes) but when he does it often brings Dandan to mind.
His hard-working nature and sense of business is also in Dad. His kindness is in my sister. His cheekiness is in my father and brother.
His love is in me.