Today, the 2nd of April, it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday here in Belgium. I’m sat outside, in the sunshine, with my cup of coffee and a cats tail curling around my legs. There was a call from the nursing home a few hours ago. My grandfather, my mother’s dad, is dying*. It’s strange how news like that can fill you with sadness and relief at the same time.
I’m not being a heartless bitch here, my granddad has been sick for a long time. He has dementia, which was caused by a stroke in his brain, years ago now. To me it feels like he died the day he had that stroke. He was never the same after. He turned into a man I wasn’t comfortable around anymore. Dementia ate away at him, until he became but the shadow of the man he used to be. And it is a gut wrenching thing to witness. I didn’t go to the nursery home on Sunday. After seeing my grandmother on her death bed a few years ago, I just couldn’t bear to see him like that too. So I want to write this, to remember him as the man he used to be.
My grandfathers name is Walter. He came from a big family in East-Flanders and he moved away from his family to be with my grandmother. That might not seem like a big deal now, but it sure was in the late 40s, early 50s. He didn’t see a lot of his family, they mainly kept in touch through phone calls. I wonder how he felt about that actually. He was in the military all his life and it seemed fitting. I always saw him as a pretty quiet, strong force. He just had a presence. He gave the best hugs out of anyone I’ve ever known, and he loved getting them. No visit passed without at least one big hug. He’d watch television in his armchair, gently nodding or shaking his head (a quirk he had) and I’d kiss or rub him on his bald head. I’ve memorized the weird nursery rhymes he’d sing to my nieces, the songs I will hopefully sing to my children and grandchildren some day. I also remember him arguing with my grandmother in his little accent. It might sound weird, but I loved hearing him mumble and grumble at her sometimes.
He was always a hard worker, supplying for his family by himself, doing what he had to do. After his army career he became an active pensioner. He’d ride his bike for miles every day. He would take dog treats for all the dogs he passed on his route and he’d make small talk with their owners. When he was at the seaside, he loved going to the harbour, to watch all the boats. And he took pride in his garden. I guess he was just an outdoorsman in general. Another thing he loved doing were his crossword puzzles. He’d wear these really big reading glasses, the ones you’d see in cartoons, and he’d be sat at the table, in his own world, surrounded by his dictionaries. Or he’d gaze at the sky through his telescope upstairs. I guess he was quite the dreamer too. Sometimes, when he was ‘trapped’ inside, he would make applesauce, probably the only food he made himself. But no matter how his day was spent, in the evenings he had a ‘jeneverke‘, to finish things off. He had a real sweet tooth too, oh, he loved him some chocolate (see, it’s genetic) but he was always big on dental hygiene. I still brush my teeth at least two times a day because of him. He taught me good. All of this, this was my real opa. And that’s exactly how I want to remember him.
Dementia is such a horrible disease. It slowly takes over. It eats at the brain first, then it starts to eat at you physically too. In the end, there’s nothing left but skin and bones and empty eyes. It’s almost as if it makes you disappear. It just makes you think about the value of life versus the longevity of it. I only know that, when my time comes, I don’t want to waste away like that.
So, as I’m sat here, outside in the sunshine, with my cat purring beside me, thinking and writing about him just feels so right. I can only hope he lived a good life, that he’s content with the things he has achieved. That he doesn’t have any big regrets. That he loved and felt loved. Because, in the end, that’s all that matters.
*My opa passed away today, the 4th of April 2017 at 17 P.M. He was loved, and he will be missed.