Over the last week or so, I’ve been dreaming of my grandfather. I’ve come to believe that the reason for these dreams are partly due to a conversation that I had with my mother about my grandfather’s first death anniversary, which falls at the end of October. I say partly because I believe that guilt plays a role here too. Guilt because I hadn’t seen him since January 2002.
Let me take a step back here and say that I don’t handle death well. Not that anyone really does, but in terms of people that are close to me, both friends and family, as an adult, there have been 5 people that have passed away. Five people that were close to me. I guess that qualifies it somewhat.
In September 2001, a couple of weeks after the sad events of 9/11, my uncle Unni passed away suddenly. Uncle Unni was my father’s youngest brother, and was someone who had been unwell for a few years. I was very close to him, and his family, as they lived with us in my grandmother’s house for a while. One of my strongest memories of him are during a visit to Bhatkal (where I briefly went to Engineering College) to attend a court case that was nothing more than an attempt at extortion. Uncle Unni was a lawyer, so he accompanied my parents and me as we went up there to have the case dismissed. He and I shared a room, and one night, after a couple of drinks (him, not me), while I expressed my frustration at the way things were going, with tears in his eyes, he told me that he considered me to be his son. I hadn’t expected him to say something like that, but it has stuck with me ever since.
He had been asthmatic for many years, and it had taken its toll on his lungs. He built a home in Aluva, close to where his wife’s family, very close to a nice river. He retired there, and I actually stayed with them when I went to India in the later part of the ’90s. He had been looking to get himself a dog, with his preference being a bulldog. Wanting to do something nice for him, I found a guy that was selling doberman pups, and took his sons Raju and Kithen to go and pick one up. The reason for a doberman was because they have short hair and thus the chance of long hair being shed by a dog aggravating his asthma was not as much. We picked up a female pup, and I named her Buffy. After Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I made a joke about what it, but with reference to someone else, but that is a story for another time.
He loved the dog, and she was a welcome addition to the family. When I was last in India in 2002, she had grown up and growled as soon as she saw me. I did approach her kennel, and as I got closer she stopped, and then licked my hand. She did remember me, as I spent at least a week with her when we first brought her home. She also fell ill at that time, and we had to take her to the vet. Dogs are like that, they don’t forget those that have loved them!
Speaking of his children, I am also close to his sons, Raju and Kithen. To give you an example of how close I am, back in 1992, I was involved in a serious auto accident. Van meets concrete block. I broke most of the bones in my right foot, and my achilles tendon in the same foot was partially severed. I had an operation to fix it, and was unable to put any weight on my right foot for about 3 months. During that time, as I had a rather large plaster cast on my leg, I needed help taking a shower. Especially since I couldn’t get my cast wet. So it was Raju who used to pour water over me as I washed myself, something that I’ve never forgotten either. He’s now married with a lovely little daughter, and even Kithen is married, and I believe that his wife is expecting. They still remain as close to me as family can be, and I would do anything for them.
So back to September 2001. Uncle Unni was on his way to a wedding with the family and a bus or a van had driven past their car and splashed dirty water in through an open window. Uncle Unni was upset as they were all dressed up, so he got out to give the driver a piece of his mind. I think that the exertion took its toll and he collapsed, dying in his son’s arms.
My cousin Roshan sent me an email, explaining what had happened, asking us to get my dad to call his mother and other brothers immediately. To be honest, it took me a while for it to sink in properly. I was already rattled by the heinous events of a few weeks earlier, and Uncle Unni was the closest person to me that had ever died. I didn’t handle it well, and turned into myself. I stopped calling my parents, and avoided any sort of social gathering. I just wanted to wake from this dream. I wanted things to go back to normal. It took me about 6 weeks to get over myself, and start talking to people again. It’s a very unsettling feeling, knowing that someone close to you has gone, and that you could never see them again.
A few years later, my Nana passed away. Nana, real name Marion Roberts, was one of my father’s first patients. Back in the early ’70′s her husband had passed away, leaving her as the sole provider for her young son. My father had asked her if she could help my mother, who was pregnant at the time (with me), and so that’s how her relationship with my family began. She soon became indispensable, and was no longer someone my father had hired to help out. She became part of the family, my Nana. She came to India with us on more than one occasion, had a great relationship with my grandparents and often told them how my mother was her daughter too. I have many pictures of her with me, especially when I was younger. She was a big part of the family when my sister and brother came along, and we all loved her very much.
Things with her son became problematic. She supported him all her life, and he became a doctor. After he got married and had a son (John-Paul), their relationship faded. I think that during this time, even though I didn’t think that it was possible, she became even closer to us. She eventually moved to an assisted living home in Hirwaun, and we used to go there to visit her. She even came and stayed with us in Cardiff a few times, but as she got older, it became tougher. Then came the fateful day when she passed away too. I was last in the UK in January of 2004, and have a video that I took of the both of us. After she passed, I haven’t been back to the UK, so I haven’t been able to pay my respects. She was a big part of my life growing up, and I can attribute part of the man that I am today to her. I can’t imagine going home and not making the drive to Hirwaun to see her. I may just make the drive and sit outside her old flat for a couple of minutes and reminisce about days gone by.
Third on my list is my friend Bill Groski. I have written about him on this blog, so I won’t go into great detail about him, but I will always remember his unmatchable work ethic, his friendship and especially his laughter. You can read about him here.
It’s almost 2am, and I am tired and feeling a little low. So I am going to stop here, and will add another post tomorrow to complete my thoughts.
Given the mostly sad tone of my post, here’s a song by The Proclaimers, a cover version of Steve Earle’s My Old Friend The Blues: