A little under two months ago, my beloved Grandpa Peter passed away. He was 97, and died in his sleep after a long and interesting life. He lived in the UK, Egypt, Palestine, Nigeria, France, Angola and Spain, and while serving in the second world war, his tank was destroyed twice, with him – as tank commander – the sole survivor.
Since I moved to Australia five-and-a-half years ago, my greatest fear – and one that weighs on the minds of most expats – has been that a loved one back in the UK will pass away without my getting home in time to say goodbye. And while in normal circumstances I would have been up against a 24-hour flight and a hefty price tag, in Covid-19 times, being able to fly home for a final farewell became an entirely unfeasible option.
It was the first week of December when my dad got in touch with me and my three sisters to say that we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable. While my grandpa had lived independently in Spain up until a few years ago, his health had deteriorated after suffering from a stroke, and every time I’ve visited the UK over the past few years, his fragility and frailty has become more and more evident. And while writing has long been my thing; and expressing myself through words usually comes easily, in the wake of my grandpa’s death, I found it increasingly hard to put into words the pain and anguish I felt at being so very far away from home.
Two days before he passed away, I asked to see the short bio my dad had written about my grandpa and his various achievements. It outlined that during my grandpa’s life he had spoken or translated French, Portuguese, Latin, Spanish and New Testament Greek. As I was reading the bio, I was walking down Hall Street in Bondi, when a book that had been left on a wall caught my eye. The cover said, ‘New Testament: Here’s Hope.’ I took it as a sign that he was with me, and that he was safe, and at peace and ready to leave.
The night of his death I had vivid and restless dreams; hazy memories of summer holidays spent in Spain with him; balmy afternoons in the Spanish sun; the small family-run restaurant we would go to after church on Sundays; curling up next to him on the sofa sticky with sunscreen and sand and saltwater to watch Blame it on The Bell Boy or The Pink Panther or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
A man of morals, of great intelligence, of devout faith, he was a lover of words, of languages, of classical music and of dogs, and he was a devoted and doting grandfather who has left behind a long-lasting legacy that I will hold in my heart forever. The day after he died, I threw some Frangipani flowers in the ocean, and watched with sadness as the waves carried them away.
I think of him when I smell sunscreen, when I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, when I hear anyone speaking Spanish, and every time I see a church. On my morning coastal walk along the sand in Bondi, when I feel further away from home than ever, I know I inherited my grandpa’s love of travel, his thirst for sunnier climes, and for a life spent by the water. I feel his presence with me every day. I know the unbearable pain of him passing will fade; I too know that my love for him never will.