Goodbye, Grandad: A Story about a Rocket to the Moon.
There’s never an easy way to talk about the loss of a loved one. It never feels like the right time. But when is the right time? You feel like you’re cheating yourself and deceiving others by not talking about it, but when you do you’re lost for words.
Time certainly wasn’t on our side in February when Sharon’s dad had been officially diagnosed with cancer, however we knew something wasn’t right months prior. He had lost a lot of weight, he wasn’t eating much and there was a cough that didn’t seem to budge. Textbook symptoms when you look back. It then crept up on us so quickly, that when we saw Sharon’s dad for the first time in several months it really was like a truck had hit us.
But February came and we got the answer we already knew. He was dying, and fast. The doctor told him he had eight months to live max. We were crushed. Eight months was not long enough to say goodbye. To squeeze in all those things you’ve been meaning to do all those years. Chemotherapy was an option, however due to the severity of the cancer and how ill he was already, Sharon’s dad made the decision not to take the treatment.
We had until October.
It’s funny what you think about when you’re told bad news. When we found out that Grandad was dying, for the next few weeks when we went anywhere new, ate at a restaurant, even drove down certain roads, all we kept thinking was that Grandad will never do/see/eat this again.
Equally, when T did something new or changed ever so slightly, all we kept thinking about was how his Grandad will never see this or all the other things he’s going to do over the next few years. Our hearts were breaking, even more so because we knew there would come a time when we would have to tell T about what was happening (or what had happened) to his Grandad.
Over the next few months T watched as our hearts broke. We tried to contain it at first, but then we stopped trying. It wasn’t healthy. He needed to know that his parents weren’t superhuman and that emotion isn’t something that needed to be hidden or held back. So we didn’t. We shed tears in front of him and he comforted us, and it really was a comfort. He’s three.
To make the most of our time with Grandad we travelled back and forth to see him every few weeks when my shifts allowed it. We also brought him back to our house for periods of time to offer him a change of scenery (and to support Sharon’s mum) and pretty much did everything we could for him. Even if it meant buying endless sachets of Angel Delight. What Grandad wanted, Grandad got. We turned our office into a bedroom and made everything as comfortable as we possible could. If Grandad wanted to see someone we would try our hardest to make it happen. It was important T spent as much time as he could with his Grandad.
Over time he naturally deteriorated and we reached the stage where he was no longer able to do the journey from his home to ours. It was time to start saying Goodbye. We didn’t know when the inevitable would happen, but we wanted to make sure that every time we left Sharon’s mum’s house that we treated it like it was our last.
Sharon’s father was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in February and in April he passed away. Two days before we were due to go on holiday with him, three days before Sharon’s birthday. Unlike a car accident where death is sudden, we knew this day would eventually come, it didn’t, however, mean that we were prepared or that it was any easier to deal with.
Sharon disappeared mentally to grieve and I had the task of telling T. It was just too hard for Sharon to deal with. We didn’t tell him right away though as, to be honest, we couldn’t find the right words. How do you tell a three year old about death? About it’s permanency? But after seeking advice and talking about it together we told T one afternoon before a visit to Grandma’s. It wasn’t planned this way, but as we drove along the last stretch of our journey, T woke from his car nap and immediately exclaimed that we were near Grandad’s house. We weren’t going to lie to him so we arrived at our destination and told him.
Just as we expected, T took it tremendously well. We had told him that Grandad had recently taken a trip to the stars (we’re not religious so decided against ‘heaven’), that it was a one-way trip and that he wasn’t coming back. His reaction?
“He’s gone on a rocket?! TO THE MOON?!”
It was the first time I had seen Sharon smile in days.
It was innocent but it showed us T understood. Just like he understood that Grandad was poorly. Just like he understood that we were sad about that. He’s three. I was immensely proud. So we went with it. This way, it meant T could still talk to him.
We were initially worried that he would start to think everyone who was poorly would go to the moon, and we certainly didn’t want him thinking Grandad had simply fallen asleep forever otherwise T would never sleep! But he didn’t. He just accepted it as fact and no longer asked as to when he would see his Grandad again. He knew he was gone.
As time went on, as the funeral came and went, T would often tell us something about his Grandad. Completely at random. Sometimes he may have been promoted by a photo, but other times just because Grandad had clearly popped into his head. It was so pure. We even sometimes saw that he was indeed sad, so we comforted him just like he did with us.
I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fill the hole that his grandad has left, but I’m hoping over time his memories and the fun stories that we’ll be able to tell him will fill that void. Our void. It’s been a few weeks since T has spoken of his Grandad, but I don’t doubt for one second that he’s forgotten about him. It’s hard not to when you can thank your Grandad for your love of trains!
There’s never an easy way to talk about the loss of a loved one. But I’ve learnt over the past few months that the best thing you can do is talk.
So sorry for your loss, it’s a horrible thing to deal with yourself and it always makes it harder when children are involved, explaining it to them is difficult but it sounds like T did you all proud. I bet this post will be of comfort and help to a lot of people going through the same thing. You should think about writing a children’s book about it, sounds like you helped T to understand in the best possible way.
Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It’s been hard but writing it has been cathartic. If this helps someone else it’ll be a bonus. Thank you again.