In Memory of Poppa

 

When Col spoke of his dad he always spoke with such admiration and pride. He described him as ‘nails’ or ‘afraid of nothing’. He told me one story many times of when, growing up in Nairobi, he and his sister nicola had been petrified by the appearance of a huge spider the size of a fully grown man’s hand (col was always one for exaggeration but he insisted this wasn’t one) near the house or in the garage (I wish I could ask him which, but I can’t). Col described his dad as calmly coming to the rescue and scooping up the giant arachnid on a postcard, which neither Colin nor his sister believed would be up to the job. The spider’s hairy legs hung over the side of the papery thin card as Bill, col’s hero father, almost nonchalantly took their fearsome foe away alive to live another day far away from his shaken children. There are other stories, ones I have forgotten and that col can no longer tell, where it was always clear to me that col saw this fearless quality in his dad. Kenyan camping trips and house breakers with dog poison but I have scant details. But actually it was when col talked about how his dad handled the onset of Parkinson’s in Bill’s early forties that he really beamed with pride on how his dad met the diagnosis and the way he never got down as the symptoms gradually took over his body and brain. ‘He has never once complained Nic, not once’, I remember him saying to me. Col wished he could be more like Bill but he would panic when a post-big night out hangover made his hand shake and all day he would mull on it and worry me by making dramatic statements like ‘they don’t know if Parkinson’s could be genetic or not’. I don’t know if he was right or wrong on that but I do know he had seen all that Parkinson’s did to his dad and knew he couldn’t have dealt with it with such grace. Just over a year before Col died his dad was taken to hospital from his respite home and the doctors were convinced that he was at the end of his days. Due to circumstances col was pretty much on his own with dealing with the impending loss of his father and he wept one night to me about how amazing his dad was. When Bill pulled through col was astounded and once again flummoxed by his dad’s strength. Bill went on to outlive his son by two and a bit years. There’s nature playing its game with us humans once again. Col who was a strapping young man with, for all we knew, a strong and healthy body and Bill frail and failing due to the horrid malfunctions Parkinson’s puts a human through. But col went first. In these last weeks Parkinson’s pushed Bill over the edge and took away his ability to get his basic human needs, food and water. Son went before father, it was not the right order to go but once again I know col would have been astounded. His dad, his amazing dad, clung on to see all those who loved him to say a final goodbye. I feel completely honoured to have been part of Bill’s family before and after Col’s death. I am grateful I was part of giving him something to continue to live for after he lost his son because I could see, every time my girls and I visited him in his nursing home in the last two and a bit years, that he would light up when Colin’s children have him a kiss or a scribbly picture. I am not sure he always knew that col wasn’t with us because col really was no longer with us but then perhaps elements of Bill’s illness were kind. Since his death I have just felt so utterly sad. Bill couldn’t always communicate with us all. His drugs robbed him of his voice so much. And I think the reason I feel so upset at his loss, considering it is in this case a real release, is that so many of my lovely col’s stories die with his dad. Yes his sister and his mum can tell some of them too and I will ask. But there will be moments of col’s childhood that were just between them, him and Bill, and those stories have been lost. And as I stood so close to Bill’s coffin, too soon for any of us that are still reeling from his sons’s death, all I could think of were those little moments that were now forever untold and myself and Evie and Isla will never know them. So yes I can remember, as I did to Bill as he lay dying, that col would never forget the spider story or indeed the Roman Soldier costume that Bill made from scratch and that had had his school friends super jealous, but there must have been so many more. And so when I took a large grief relapse in the form of an incapacitated and inconsolable weeping-stay-in-bed-because-the world-is-too-much fits I had some time to think. Col wouldn’t condone it. He admired his dad for taking what life threw at him on the chin and as difficult as that is in someone as weepy as me (col was slightly less proud of this character trait of mine but found it funny) so I will try to take a leaf out of Bill Campbell’s book and not let this grief of mine get the better of me. I can’t say I am fearless in the face of it but I will endeavour to try. I can’t chuck it over my shoulder like a hairy, scary spider but if I can be half the human being that Bill was in the way he dealt with larger scares than that then I hope I can show my children and cols children how they might one day become as astounding as their poppa once was.When Col spoke of his dad he always spoke with such admiration and pride. He described him as ‘nails’ or ‘afraid of nothing’. He told me one story many times of when, growing up in Nairobi, he and his sister nicola had been petrified by the appearance of a huge spider the size of a fully grown man’s hand (col was always one for exaggeration but he insisted this wasn’t one) near the house or in the garage (I wish I could ask him which, but I can’t). Col described his dad as calmly coming to the rescue and scooping up the giant arachnid on a postcard, which neither Colin nor his sister believed would be up to the job. The spider’s hairy legs hung over the side of the papery thin card as Bill, col’s hero father, almost nonchalantly took their fearsome foe away alive to live another day far away from his shaken children. There are other stories, ones I have forgotten and that col can no longer tell, where it was always clear to me that col saw this fearless quality in his dad. Kenyan camping trips and house breakers with dog poison but I have scant details. But actually it was when col talked about how his dad handled the onset of Parkinson’s in Bill’s early forties that he really beamed with pride on how his dad met the diagnosis and the way he never got down as the symptoms gradually took over his body and brain. ‘He has never once complained Nic, not once’, I remember him saying to me. Col wished he could be more like Bill but he would panic when a post-big night out hangover made his hand shake and all day he would mull on it and worry me by making dramatic statements like ‘they don’t know if Parkinson’s could be genetic or not’. I don’t know if he was right or wrong on that but I do know he had seen all that Parkinson’s did to his dad and knew he couldn’t have dealt with it with such grace. Just over a year before Col died his dad was taken to hospital from his respite home and the doctors were convinced that he was at the end of his days. Due to circumstances col was pretty much on his own with dealing with the impending loss of his father and he wept one night to me about how amazing his dad was. When Bill pulled through col was astounded and once again flummoxed by his dad’s strength. Bill went on to outlive his son by two and a bit years. There’s nature playing its game with us humans once again. Col who was a strapping young man with, for all we knew, a strong and healthy body and Bill frail and failing due to the horrid malfunctions Parkinson’s puts a human through. But col went first. In these last weeks Parkinson’s pushed Bill over the edge and took away his ability to get his basic human needs, food and water. Son went before father, it was not the right order to go but once again I know col would have been astounded. His dad, his amazing dad, clung on to see all those who loved him to say a final goodbye. I feel completely honoured to have been part of Bill’s family before and after Col’s death. I am grateful I was part of giving him something to continue to live for after he lost his son because I could see, every time my girls and I visited him in his nursing home in the last two and a bit years, that he would light up when Colin’s children have him a kiss or a scribbly picture. I am not sure he always knew that col wasn’t with us because col really was no longer with us but then perhaps elements of Bill’s illness were kind. Since his death I have just felt so utterly sad. Bill couldn’t always communicate with us all. His drugs robbed him of his voice so much. And I think the reason I feel so upset at his loss, considering it is in this case a real release, is that so many of my lovely col’s stories die with his dad. Yes his sister and his mum can tell some of them too and I will ask. But there will be moments of col’s childhood that were just between them, him and Bill, and those stories have been lost. And as I stood so close to Bill’s coffin, too soon for any of us that are still reeling from his sons’s death, all I could think of were those little moments that were now forever untold and myself and Evie and Isla will never know them. So yes I can remember, as I did to Bill as he lay dying, that col would never forget the spider story or indeed the Roman Soldier costume that Bill made from scratch and that had had his school friends super jealous, but there must have been so many more. And so when I took a large grief relapse in the form of an incapacitated and inconsolable weeping-stay-in-bed-because-the world-is-too-much fit I had some time to think. Col wouldn’t condone it. He admired his dad for taking what life threw at him on the chin and as difficult as that is in someone as weepy as me (col was slightly less proud of this character trait of mine but found it funny) so I will try to take a leaf out of Bill Campbell’s book and not let this grief of mine get the better of me. I can’t say I am fearless in the face of it but I will endeavour to try. I can’t chuck it over my shoulder like a hairy, scary spider but if I can be half the human being that Bill was in the way he dealt with larger scares than that then I hope I can show my children and cols children how they might one day become as astounding as their poppa once was.

2 thoughts on “In Memory of Poppa

  1. As a fellow widow your words always mean so much! I can personally feel what each of your words represent and they always remind me that I am not alone! THANK YOU for your impactful writings, they are truly making a difference in my life!!! Best wishes in all your endeavors!!!!

  2. I’ve just read this post for the first time, and it’s beautiful. I haven’t lost my husband, but my lost mum early this year and My husband’s mum months only months later. I completely get the crushing sense of the permanent loss of their stories from the past, and so want to ask my mum to check recipes and gardening tips… Grief can be all consuming but there are days that are brighter when you think Life must go on, and thank goodness for them.

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