Let’s talk about: grieving for a loved one

As May rolled in, a funny crippling feeling in my stomach came with it.

I used to love May, it is a month that says: come drink cinder on a common and enjoy the sunshine because proper summer is still not here but that careless feeling is starting to kick in.

Until last year, when my sister called one Friday afternoon crying. Now, there was two things shouting that something is wrong. First, my sister never calls during my work hours. Second, she never cries. After what seems like ages of her trying to catch her breath and stop sounding like a wolf howling at the moon she finally managed to tell me what she intended.

That was a phone call I knew it was coming yet hoped it never will.

I was ready for it ever since I moved to London yet it brought me to my knees.

A phone call that I remember every word and awkward silence of.

A phone call that made me run to the toilet and vomit.

A phone call that told me my granddad Pepi has passed away.

My granddad Pepi.

The strongest man, who’d easily lift all of his seven granddkids at once. He and Grandma would take all of us on holidays and were trying to spoil us rotten. We were their whole world, and they were ours.

Pepi was extraordinary human. He gave me my first alcohol to drink, he taught me how to shoot out of an actual gun and took us hunting (yes us girls as well).

He told me I was capable of great things.

He taught me German and would let me climb the trees.

He would always hug me even if I’d do something to make him upset.

He’d say that it’s ok to make mistakes because we learn from it.

But he’d also say: “You fucked up, make sure to own up to it.”

My granddad would always offer you a glass of his homemade wine when you came for a visit (yes, even if you were 12) and would genuinely take interest in everything what’s happening in your life.

So I made sure he was always up to date with all the happenings in my life. In return he’d tell me everything he saw on the news or heard from the neighbours.

He’d tell me how is his vineyard, how he has no idea why is Grandma upset with him today, how’s all of his brothers and sisters doing and how many eggs did he find in his chicken house that morning.

He’d also always ask to go a buy something nice for Grandma because he doesn’t really know what, but he wants to surprise her. And he’d throw some extra money and tell me to buy myself something too.

He would keep telling me to work hard and party harder, just like he did. He’d always make us laugh behind Grandma’s back because he knew it’d make our day.

He always corrected us talking, writing, reading in the most educational, non-judgemental and loving kind of way. He taught us how to behave in restaurants, how to set a table, how to light a fire, how to pick grapes and what mushrooms are edible.

He’d make us wooden sticks for many walks he’d take us on (each with it’s owners initials) and would make us flower crowns from daisies we’d find in his backyard.

He always shared comic almost not believable stories from his childhood and sang old songs and danced funny dances.

When in church, he’d just make up words of chorals and prayers as he’d go as let’s be honest the only reason he’d go in a first place was Grandma making him go.

He’d always wear a suit with a tie, and a hat for a fancy occasion.

He owned a pocket watch we’ve all eventually learnt how to tell time from.

His words to us, although very strict were filled with love and understanding.

He was a very simple man. And he would always treat us as equals rather than children.

A man with a tough life but who never complained about it.

A man who I know wasn’t perfect, but who was everything to me.

But last few years of his life he wasn’t really this version of my granddad.

Because he had dementia he was nothing like the person I knew. He was this calm, lost, sweet man who’d ask me who am I and how do we know each other?

He’d wonder how come I look so much like my mother (his daughter) and when I explained why, why hasn’t anyone told him he had a granddaughter. He was a person battling dementia, after he survived cancer and two heart attacks, he was strong without even realising it. He died not knowing how much I love him and how much I appreciate everything he’s done for me because he simply couldn’t remember.

Due to dementia I already mourned for this beyond remarkable man I knew, who changed my life and made me a strong independent person I am today. I cried over the fact he doesn’t know me. Doesn’t know his daughters. Over the fact that I wasn’t patient enough with him. That I thought he will never stop being that strong man on whose shoulders I felt like I could conquer the world. I thought we had forever and that he will never die. That although I had to settle for a granddad who isn’t my granddad anymore, we’d still go for walks, hold hands and laugh at Grandma together. He didn’t know me but I knew him. His big, warm, brown eyes would still bring me so much comfort and love.

But he left. And I had to do it once again.

I had to pick my broken pieces, say my goodbyes and give him a kiss on his freezing cold forehead. Just like he used to do it to me.

A photo of my Pepi a week before he passed away.

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