For months, Grandad had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer. My Gran had died a couple of years before, and shortly after, he was diagnosed. At the time I was 16 - mature enough to understand what was going on, what cancer was, and how it was hurting him, but not brave enough to deal with it. I found it really difficult seeing him after his chemo and radiotherapy stopped helping. Grandad was my idol. The one who taught me how to use a record player, how to play cards, how to look for fairies in the garden, and how to bang my cutlery on the table and shout 'when will we eat!' in a way to get Gran's attention without her getting mad. He spoke at my Primary school, telling my classmates about his evacuation in WW2 from Scotland to Crediton in Devon. He was the man who showed me how to use a camera, and took me with him to the chemist to drop off my first ever roll of film. He was the man in my life, and he taught me so much. Knowing he was slowly wearing down was hard, but seeing him that way was harder. But, it was Christmas day. After the veg was peeled and the turkey was in the oven, as a family we visited him in hospital.
It was cold. It wasn't snowing, which would make this retelling beautiful - just a grey, cold Christmas day. I went onto the ward with Mum, Dad and my sister, Emma. The nurses were happy, despite working on the best day of the year (in my opinion). Grandad was snoozing in his bed. He opened his eyes when we sat around him, thanked us for visiting him, told us we shouldn't have bothered, and beamed a huge smile. We stayed for a little while. He was so looking forward to his turkey dinner, hoping they had 'proper' cranberry sauce. Truth is, we knew he hadn't eaten a meal in days. We chatted, he listened, slowly drifting back to sleep. Mum looked at me, that look of "should we go?" I shook my head. It wasn't quite time yet. Dad was chatting to a nurse just outside the room. I perched on the edge of Grandad's bed, and held his warm hand, wrinkled from years of work. He gave me a little squeeze, and then, was still, apart from the rise and fall of his chest with every breath.
When Dad came back in a few minutes later, we decided to go. We knew that more family would be visiting before Christmas lunch, and of course we wanted to allow them to have time alone with him. As we began our farewells, we heard something - the distant noise of a brass band. Down the hallway, a group of volunteers had arrived at the hospital to play carols for the patients. They were slowly weaving through the corridors, allowing everyone to hear the instruments and singing. We clapped after Jingle Bells. Grandad was completely asleep. As we were putting our coats on, the band piped up again. This time, it was Good King Wenceslas. We all leant in to kiss his forehead and wish him a Merry Christmas. And as I did, I saw his lips moving.
"Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even"
He began to slowly sit up in bed, still mouthing the words, and smiling. He shifted his body weight to the side, and reached to open his cupboard. Inside were five small gift bags. He looked at the tags, pulled three out and left two inside. He handed them out to 'his girls' - my Mum, his daughter in law, and my sister and I, two of his four grandchildren. Inside were square boxes, wrapped in gold with ribbons. We all began to open our gifts, Dad looking on. Once the paper was off, I recognised the name of a jeweller. I opened the box to see the most gorgeous, simple, white gold diamond necklace and earrings. The three of us had sets which were all slightly different but as beautiful as the next. Mum shed a tear. It was so unlike him to give something so delicate, and looking back today, I think I knew that this was a parting gift. The other two bags were for my Aunty, his daughter, and my cousin, his youngest granddaughter.
"Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel"
Back home, we spoke about Grandad over our Christmas lunch, Mum and Emma both wearing their new sparkles. We remembered, laughed, smiled and were so thankful to have such a wonderful man in our lives. I decided there and then, that I wouldn't wear the jewellery until my wedding day, whenever that may be, so that on the day, he would be there with me.
Perhaps you're thinking that this isn't a very happy Christmas memory. But it is. When I walked out of that hospital, arms linked with Mum, trying not to feel sad, I knew then that our farewells had happened in the most perfect way, something which the Human race doesn't normally get the privilege of experiencing. Too often, loved ones are ripped away suddenly through tragedy. We were lucky to be able to have closure.
Monday the 25th of December 2006 was the last time I ever saw my Grandad. He passed away in hospital on Saturday the 6th of January 2007. He was only 74 years old. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him or my Gran. Christmases have never been the same for us, but we raise a glass each year and remember the good times.
Here's a photo from one of Grandad's many scrapbooks (something else which I picked up from him.) From left to right, top to bottom is: my Great Aunty (Gran's sister), Gran, Nanny (Gran's mum), Grandad, my Great Uncle (Gran's brother in law).
This is my entry for Transun's 'Win a family trip to Lapland' competition. You can read about the competition here: http://www.transun.co.uk/blogs/lapland-competition