“You’re always seeing people off!” He says, as he gets into the driver’s seat.
She chuckles, “yes, I know!”
I slide into the rear passenger seat and shut the door. As we drive off I wave to her, she looks so small and sweet. Driving away cuts me up every time. Tears threatening, I drop my head back and give a big sigh.
“Your Grandad not very well?”
“Yeah.” How much do I say to my taxi driver?
“He’s nearing the end of his life.” A numb heaviness descends.
It had been 20 hours since I arrived. And I was leaving. A four-hour journey there and back.
To say goodbye.
The experience hit home to me the uncanny relationship between the ordinary and extraordinary.
Sometimes we can feel completely out of our depth in a situation where there is death and loss and pain. It can feel like an out-of-body experience. It jars with how we perceive life should be. Yet ordinary life is still overwhelmingly present.
I arrived and went in to see my grandad. At that moment his breathing was incredibly shallow and I couldn’t be sure he was still breathing. My heart pumped harder and I felt shocked having not seen him for a while. It was an intense moment when I could have cried but didn’t feel able to in front of my nan. I also didn’t want my grandad to open his eyes and see me weeping at his bedside.
He must have known what was happening within his own body. Yet, perhaps we want the ordinary to continue as long as possible for someone nearing the end. Is that why I didn’t want him to know I was saying bye, even though he must have known? It feels strange not to acknowledge the glaringly obvious.
He opened his eyes and all he could do was slowly point to his mouth. He wanted me to kiss him. Precious grandad. I’m taken back to him playing piano and singing ‘you are my sunshine’ to us when we went to visit. Back when he walked and talked and had a full head of white hair and a smile. The most wonderful and important thing I will carry through life that my grandad gave me is a picture of the father-heart of God. He did it with a rather simple gesture.
He and my nan would always take us out for a meal when we went to visit. When we were looking at the menu he would say, every time…
“Have whatever you want.”
I know he really meant it. Three courses? Go for it. The most expensive steak as your main? Have it. Don’t hold back, have exactly what you want. No limits. No rules. He was just wanting to bless.
Grandad was, in many ways, an ordinary man. But he was extraordinary to many people whom he cared for, served, taught, loved, prayed for and gave generously to. He truly loved people and it came across in the way he greeted everyone with warmth and remembered names and faces year after year. Even whilst bed-ridden, he would speak love and kindness to his carers and would pray for them. He lived by the faith he believed in and as he lived his day-to-day, ordinary life with integrity and purpose, he was extraordinary to most who encountered him.
As I was lost in my reverie, my nan’s dog that I had never met, an eight-month-old Yorkshire terrier, came bounding in. She started jumping up at me and by jumping I don’t mean just going up on her hind quarters and pawing at my legs. She was literally jumping. Her head unnervingly reached waist-height. I was reminded of Joey in Friends when he suggested that they remove the trampoline out from under a dog jumping up at their car window.
Something ordinary, even funny, cut across a painful, extraordinary moment. Even now, it leaves me feeling a tad flummoxed. It is a strange, should-be-dichotomy of life.
I saw a headline for a BBC news article about a teenage boy who had a terminal illness. The caption quoted him as saying: “every day, you still get up, make a cup of tea and have a shower.” Ordinary life continues and perhaps, the ordinary brings comfort when the extraordinary could overwhelm. The day I left, my grandad stopped being responsive and four days later, he died peacefully.
“That’s a shame.” The taxi driver’s simple, un-awkward reply is perfect. It is a shame. I will miss my grandad, very much. There are no words of consolation necessary. No need to say more. No need to make it better. But also, no need to be overly gloomy. Because actually, death is part of the ordinary in this life. It jars. But it’s our reality.
“Where are you heading back to?” He asks and the conversation continues easily, about living on the coast, about the industrial town of Widnes, about the new bridge over the Mersey. The conversation is comforting to me. Life goes on in all its ordinary and extraordinary ways. Somehow meshing together.