The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month – we remember them.
I sat on a bench outside and Scout sat near me and we gazed into the world around and she thought about probably tennis balls or something, and I thought about my grandad.
In the cruelty of life, in his later years Jack was silenced by a series of strokes that took much of his speech, all his mobility and the majority of his movement. He died in a nursing home. He was skinny when he died and his hands were still gnarled and brown and strong. And he could still swear and he could still laugh but sometimes there was no sound. And the last time I saw him was with my family and he was dying and getting old and weak and frail and I tried not to cry but as I left his room I looked back and he was crying and he said words. He gestured towards the door and said with a voice full of sobs, take care of her. Take care of this one.
To be fair, Jack should have died as he lived. Brave. On the land. A heart attack, maybe. The muscles on his arms and the slight bow-leggedness, and the surprising array of things he made – including a house, a pool, a buggy for his horse, a walking stick that hid a massive and probably illegal sword. But it was stroke.
His last years were quiet. A blanket of granny squares, wheelchairs and being spoon fed. Shamefully irregular visitors from me, because I wasn’t brave enough to visit more often. Because what the fuck had happened to my grandad? I was at uni when he died, so absolutely old enough to deal with it all better than I did. But I didn’t. And I’m sorry.
Grandad’s brain was badly damaged by the strokes that he had, but nan asked him once if he remembered being a soldier. He replied “I certainly do!”. I’m glad. Because he remembered something he was proud of. My grandad is a hero.
He was interviewed for the local paper one year. They did a story entitled “East Kurrajong man remembers D-Day landing”. I read that story countless times. Among the things he said, one line still stands out in my memory.
Men changed that day. They went from boys to men.
The horror and the torment and the shock of what he saw and lived through. I cannot imagine. And thanks to him, I don’t have to.
I’ve been taken care of, Grandad. I’m OK. I miss you and I miss Nan. But I’m OK. And I’m sorry I couldn’t come more to see you. And I’m sorry your life finished like that. You’re a hero. You deserved a hero’s exit. Not the quiet whimper you had. But when I remember the Union Jack draped on your coffin. The Last Post ringing through the crematorium. The pride on Nan’s face. The way my heart felt like it was going to explode. You had your hero’s exit.