This is only my second go at Josie’s Writing Workshop. It seems that she always moves me to write about death and people who are gone. So far, anyway. Maybe next week it will be flowers and chocolate and fairy tales. (Please? I’d like to write one without crying bucketfuls.)
My Gran believes in Heaven. She believes Papa is in heaven, with my Grandad. She believes that he’s looking down on us. She talks to him. She believes she’ll be joining him some time soon.
I wish I believed that. I wish I knew that, one day, I would see him again. And not just him, but all the people I have lost, over the years. And the animals I’ve lost. And the babies I’ve lost. Sometimes I imagine Papa arriving somewhere and bumping into those children I’ve lost. One of whom is somehow now grown. The others who are still young, though not as young as Rosemary and Eleanor. I imagine him taking them under his wing. Having a beer and going out dancing with the older one, as he no doubt would have done the second she (or he) was 18. And I imagine him watching the rugby with his dad. And now and then having a peek to see what we’re up to down here, over here, up here, wherever it is.
But mostly I know that he’s not up there, down there, or anywhere really.
But he is still here. He is here, in our hearts, in our photos, in our videos, and in our memories. He is here in the stories that we tell our children, our friends, our readers. He is here, with all the people he ever touched, and boy were there many. He is here with his family, with his friends, with his drinking pals, with the blokes he used to work with fixing up old buildings, with the many lost souls he was wont to collect. He is here, with his granddaughters, even the one who never got to meet him.
Just as Miffy is always here with me, though I never knew him in this life. I only ever knew the memories of him, but he is still a huge part of my life. Miffy, who was so anti-smoking that he banned matches in the house, so that my mum had to carry a burning twist of newspaper from the boiler to the fires around the house, to light them. Miffy, who insisted on quiet at the dining table so that he could read. Miffy, who bought almost every new Penguin that came out each month. And read them all.
Just as Mary is always there with Eva, even though she never knew her. Mary, who loved jazz, dated Joss Ackland and wore high heels and perfume. Mary, who worked in an estate agent. Mary, who drove a red mini and knocked a motorbike rider off his bike when going round a roundabout. Mary, who travelled to America to visit her brother on the QE2 and wrote and illustrated an amazing book about the journey.
And so will Papa always be here.
Papa, who had done a little too much wetting of the baby’s head when he went to register my name, so that I was called Natasha instead of Tasha. Papa, who painted clouds on my bedroom wall in our first house – clouds that are apparently still there. Papa, who went and did the shopping every day at the local market when we lived in Spain, struggling with the language. Papa, who cooked the most delicious meals. Papa, who helped nurse his mother-in-law through her last few cancer-ridden months. Papa, who drove to Bristol and back every night to take Mama her special raw-food salad when she was in hospital waiting for months for Eva to be born. Papa, who held the tiniest Eva in his hand and watched her grow from a few pounds into a wonderful woman. Papa, who drove to Weston-Super-Mare, got drunk and slept in the car and then lost his licence, when he found out his wife had been unfaithful. Papa, who looked after Eva on his own for a few months. Papa, who took his wife back and forgave her. Papa, who took an overdose of pills because his wife wanted to keep seeing her boyfriend. Papa, who survived and stayed and gave up drinking. For a while. Papa, who tried so hard to help his wife through her years of hypermania. Only to be kicked out and served with divorce papers. Papa, who still looked after her, when she would let him. Papa, who slowly let her back into his life, as she got better. Papa, who would dance the hours away to live music in the Vic. Papa, who would take me to the Albert and do the quiz with me. Papa, who held my hand and rolled my cigarette (far too fat), when I came out of hospital having lost my third baby, and a fallopian tube. Papa, who stood up and talked for me at my wedding, despite being incredibly nervous and shy about it. Papa, who took Wesley for long walks and dogsat for us when we went away. Papa who loved our dog like his own. Papa, who built our kitchen, laid our floorboards, painted much of our house and found friends to do what he couldn’t do for free or at incredibly knock-down prices. Papa, who plastered the walls when he’d had a few beers and left some of them quite uneven. Papa, who stayed home with dog while his granddaughter was being born and came to visit in the morning, bringing me a Guardian a novel about Cryptic crosswords and a huge cuddle for his daughter who was desperate to hold her baby, but had to wait. Papa, who took Rosemary to Stratford Park and got chased by a swan while I did some work after I cried at not having enough time. Papa, who spent far too much time in and out of hospital during his last year. Papa, who had to lose his dignity and let his daughters wipe his bum and feed him medicine. Papa, who, despite being so ill himself, got up, walked into town and bought a condolences card when Chris’ Nanny died, to make sure we got it before we left. Papa, who went and had a stroke while we were in Scotland at her funeral. Papa, who died before I got home to see him again.
And so Papa will always be here.
And that’s what I believe happens when you die. And that’s what I tell Rosemary. And that’s why I tell her things about her granddad. Happy memories. Sad memories. Funny memories. Memories that, though they are not hers, she will share with her children one day.
So that Papa will always be here.