I went to see my grandmother today. It’s been almost a year and four months since my grandad died, and I’ve hardly been to the Cottage since, but today my sister drove us down and we spent the day with her.
It was a lovely day, as she cooked us a typically enormous meal and we went for a walk and talked about people and life and all the things you talk about with grandparents, but I couldn’t help noticing.
There are still two rocking chairs in the living room. There are still two neatly-made beds in her room. There are still enough chairs for two people to sit around the dining room and have a couple left over for visitors.
But there is only one towel on the back of the bathroom door. There is only one toothbrush in the little rack, and one type of toothpaste where there used to be two. The outside bathroom is locked because she’s not going to need more than one. Our coming isn’t an excuse for her to buy lots of cake for my grandad, because he’s not there to eat it.
There are so many pairs in her house, yet the main one’s missing.
Two days after he died I was on the bus with friends, laughing at the jokes they told and acting like my normal self. One of them asked after him, and I told them what had happened. They couldn’t believe it. I told them that I thought he would have wanted me to be happy and move on and not dwell on what happened. And I think that was true, in a way. But at the funeral, it was me that went off and sat on a bench and cried into my father’s shoulder, and six months later there were songs that made me think of him and cry my eyes out.
I guess sometimes it takes time for things to sink in, and that’s certainly true of me. He was the first close relative that I lost, though my step-grandad on the other side of the family passed away when I was eleven. He was someone I saw perhaps once a year, but Grandad was someone we saw regularly. Someone who held my feet as I learned to go across monkey bars. Who came to my baptism and celebrated my birthdays.
And he was gone.
When it eventually sunk in, I couldn’t bear it any more. I think it was the sight of the coffin that really made it hit. That, and the picture of him on the funeral programme, smiling and unaware, perhaps, of what was going to happen so soon.
I went outside, and I cried so hard. And the minister came and tried to comfort me but I couldn’t listen to him. He didn’t know my grandad, didn’t know anything about him, and I… I couldn’t bear it any more.
Even now there are songs that make me think of him. Lyrics I can hear, and a picture comes in my mind of something we did together, like a trip to the beach or to the playground. I went to a Little Chef service station the other day, for the first time since the car journey I was on when I found out he’d passed away.
But the worst thing was going into the bathroom, looking in the mirror, and noticing that the same silver stand only held one toothbrush.
Clive Kilmister was a mathematician and physicist, as well as a father and grandfather. He died on the 2nd May 2010. This post was inspired by a visit to my grandma’s house, Red Tiles Cottage (or The Cottage).