The Passing of Generations
This week has seen a bit of an unwanted landmark in my life as the last of my grandparents sadly passed away.
Obviously this is something everyone faces as some point in life. Some may never know any of their grandparents, while others may be very close with them all. I fit somewhere in between.
If there’s one regret I have in life it’s that I never got to know my dad’s side of the family. Unfortunately for me, stubbornness is something of a family trait and its something I try very hard to fight against all the time. It’s also the reason why I never met my dad’s mum, and only met my dad’s dad and his second wife once when I was too young to remember it.
My dad’s dad probably lived a far more interesting life than I ever will, although I’m not sure that is something I envy. His life started in Poland in between the two world wars and saw him leave Nazi occupied Poland and travel through Europe until eventually ending up in Scotland unable to return home for another 40+ years. His life is probably a blog post all of its own, so I’ll save that story for another time.
I actually don’t know when my grandmother passed away, but sadly I know exactly when my grandfather passed. It was on Good Friday in 2001, while I was at university and considering going over to visit him during my summer holidays that year. I’ve never been to Poland, and with his passing my enthusiasm for doing so passed with him.
However, having recently discovered where his final resting place is – including that of his since deceased second wife – I may yet reconsider that. But for now I have other priorities with my own young family.
While my dad’s side isn’t one of which I have personal memories, it’s quite the opposite on my mum’s side.
My mum’s mum remarried long before I was born, and so by the time I came along I had my mum’s dad living close by with my mum’s mum and her husband living down south.
My grandfather was another interesting man who had come over from Donegal as a young man and among other jobs had worked as a rigger for the BBC. My mum tells me he was involved in the BBC’s coverage of the opening of the Forth Road Bridge, which I always think about when I see it and its more aesthetic pleasing partner.
As he lived locally, I saw a lot of him in my early years. Even after we moved out of Glasgow I still saw him a lot as my dad continued to work there and we travelled through to see him at work from time to time. But sadly my grandfather was the first of my grandparents to pass away back in 1989.
While I have memories of visiting him and chatting away to him in his tenement flat, they’re sadly hazy as time has passed and memories have faded. He does have the good fortune of his name being passed on to my son though. I like to think he’d be proud of that.
My strongest memories are undoubtedly of my Nana and Papa though. I’m never sure if those are childish sounding titles for them, but it certainly helped differentiate between her marriages. My mum’s dad was Grandad, my mum’s stepdad was Papa.
When I was young, our summer holidays usually consisted of driving down to stay with them for a week or two. They lived on the outskirts of Norwich, which meant they were not to far from the beaches at Cromer and Great Yarmouth. It was also usually sunnier there too! Even today seeing the name “Scotch Corner” makes me think of our stops on the way there and back.
In later years they moved back up north and that meant that when my Nana passed away a few years ago I was able to see her before the end. It was quick for her, as she rapidly went from being diagnosed with cancer to being put into care for just a couple is days before passing away inside a fortnight all in.
I saw her the night before and she was a shadow of the bubbly and warm woman I remembered. I’m not sure if she knew I was there or who I was, but there was no interaction so I hope she did. If nothing else, I know my last words to her were “good night Nana, I love you”. I don’t think you could ask for a better goodbye.
Her coffin was, to date, the first and only coffin I’ve had the honour of carrying. She passed away within days of one of her many sisters, and although she was cremated her ashes were buried along side her sister. They were always close so it seemed fitting.
Despite being from the north of England, my Papa loved Scotland and so remained north of the border on his own. He lived just a few streets from my uncle – his step son – and only a few miles from my mum, so it was good for him to have family close by.
Of all of my grandparents, my Papa is probably the one I have the strongest and happiest memories of all. I have happy memories of all of mum’s side, but his win even if it isn’t a competition! When we visited them down south, he would often take me or me and my sisters with him as he walked his dog or dogs.
A long walk in the sunshine with my Papa and his Collie Sheba. That to me was one of the highlights of any summer. I’ve never known a better natured dog or a man with my Papa’s sense of humour and thirst for walking. Sheba is another family member who has long since passed on of course. He had other dogs, but Sheba was easily the one I felt closest too.
I hadn’t seen my Papa in a few years. Indeed, the last I saw him was at my wedding a little over four years ago. I think that probably put me off if I’m sadly honest. Just as with my Nana at the end, my Papa wasn’t the same man I remembered. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but I’m not going to pretend I’m the perfect family member. Perhaps this is evidence of that family stubbornness I spoke of earlier.
Since his wife had passed away, he’d become quieter and more frail. I know he missed her a lot, and I don’t think my family has had a happier marriage than theirs.
Although I’m working on it! I’ve a long way to go given they were married before I was born!
His passing this week brings the usual regrets and reminiscing as this blog should evidently show. But it also brings the realisation that a whole generation of my family has now gone.
But then that’s life and part and parcel of living it. We all move up the ladder. I’m daddy now. My mum is now Granny. My dad and his partner are now Nana and Papa. And though I don’t really want to think about it, I know that eventually the time will come that my son will be reminiscing of his grandparents as I am now.
It’s therefore up to me to ensure that he can minimise the regrets I have of not seeing mine more than I did, and ensuring he has some wonderful memories. Ideally for as long as possible.