Just before Christmas, girl-child and I delved into our annual tradition of watching festive-themed movies. We'd recently added a DVD of the Doctor Who Christmas episodes to our humble collection - we mostly borrow from family members. The Peter Capaldi episode - Last Christmas - was particularly impactful, for a variety of reasons -- dream crabs? dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams? ye gods! At one point, the Doctor asks-and-answers the notion about why people make such a point of getting together at Christmas time....
.....because every Christmas could be the last Christmas you have with a person.
That really, really struck a nerve with me. It gave me a twinge. Not unlike the strange compulsion I had to take a photograph with my lovely Nanna at Christmas in 2014.
That was the last Christmas we had with my lovely Nanna. She left us shortly afterwards.
When I went to hug and kiss my beloved Grandad goodbye this Christmas past, he staggered slightly and knocked over an ornament. We laughed and blamed the shandy he'd drunk with dinner.
That was the last Christmas we'd have with him.
He left us on January 29, my lovely Nanna's birthday.
I don't have proper words for what he meant to me....so much of every happy childhood memory is tightly woven with my grandparents presence and influence. They were everything that was joy and delight and magic.
My Grandad was my champion, through and through. I get my love of gardening and growing things from him. He taught me so very much, including the very Zen attitude of "It's got two chances" - which is to say, either a plant will survive or it won't.
He grew prize-winning leeks and had a greenhouse full of tomatoes. I remember wandering out to the garden with my Nanna to help pick peas or lettuce for our tea and then, later in the year, digging up a turnip or picking the apples from the tree he'd planted for me...telling me it was the one that came from the pip I'd given him from the apple I was eating, having secure and utter faith in my champion that he could grow me my very own tree. The fact it only took a year to go from pip to apple-bearing tree was never questioned. Such is the nature of faith, yes? ;)
Their garden was one of my favourite places on earth - I can still see it in my head...the leek trench closest to the house, then the large vegetable patch and the greenhouse; then the bit of lawn and the roses. He grew mint in an old porcelain sink, despairing of it's attempt to take over the garden. (He always shook his head in bewilderment to see my wild herb garden where only the might of the sage keeps the mint at bay. "You want to dig that up and put it in a pot," he'd say, of my roaming mint.)
He converted an old garden shed into a playhouse for my sister and I, which we wallpapered with an assortment of large squares from a wallpaper sample book. We could amuse ourselves with a spoon and a bit of mud (for pies and sculptures) and I would spend hours running up and down the long garden path, building little obstacle courses out of buckets and broom handles, pretending I was riding my pony over a cross-country course. At the end of a tiring effort, I'd sit on the back step eating a jam sandwich -- a rare and wondrous thing as my mum wouldn't ever give us jam sandwiches because apparently that was what poor people ate. :)
I don't think he enjoyed gardening here, in Canada, as much as he did at home, in England. I think he regarded the Canadian climate as being far too inhospitable for much. He never quite got his head around the fact he needed to water things. Still, there were always a few tubs for tomatoes and he planted his own hanging baskets for around his little patio. In recent years, the tending of larger beds became too much for him and so he put in easy-keeping hostas and shrubs to fill the spaces. He still mowed and raked leaves and shoveled his driveway in winter. He was vibrant and active right up until his diagnosis of a brain tumour.
In three short weeks he became an old, old man and then he slipped away - at peace and content, with dignity and a sure knowledge that his sweetheart was waiting for him.
The year has got off to an horrific start, there's no other way to put it. The loss of my Grandad is only part of what we're dealing with here, chez Wuthering Heights. My darling girl-child is struggling terribly with a debilitating and frightening mental illness (which has required a stay in hospital) and we're all feeling battle-weary and emotionally ragged. We have a long and arduous road ahead of us and while, at times, I feel quite hopeful, there are other times when I'm laid low with a sense of crushing despair. I'm finding solace in the simple things - tea, a towering stack of library books and beautiful letters from treasured friends. When things are particularly dark and dire, I plod through the snow to fill the bird feeders...even when they don't really need it.
And while this isn't the sort of post I would've planned for my return to the webby spaces, it certainly honours my commitment to write about the real things -- to keep a chronicle of my days, warts and all. Because despite the burden of woe that I'm carrying, there is still a great deal of joy to be had. There are blue shadows on the snow and the sparkle of sunlight on ice-encrusted branches to offer momentary respite from the worry and the deep, deep sadness.
That, I think, is something.