I have written this post four times.
That’s the thing with writing about grief – should it be funny? Overly personal? How much of someone’s life story can I tell? Will this offend anyone? Will this be interesting to anyone? And is me, writing about the loss of a grandparent, going to be a massive kick to the forehead for anyone who’s lost someone even closer to them?
I’m writing this post today because May 3rd marks three years since I learnt my grandad – my dziadziu – had died.
He was 88 and kept his health a bit of a secret. He’d go to and from the GP and be admitted to hospital for a week at a time, but never seemed that close to being at the end of his life. Until, well, he was.
On May 3rd 2013, I woke up and scrolled through social media on my phone whilst cacooning myself in my duvet and praying that work would go and cancel itself. And then, snuggled between some dull af relationship updates and baby news, was a status that told me my dziadziu had died.
Those first few hours are a blur – a blur of accidentally getting the peak train home and hyperventilating on the phone to my best friend and wearing sunglasses on the DLR, desperate to hide my streaming eyes.
The thing is, he was 88. His time had come. He hadn’t been taken too soon, he hadn’t so much more to achieve, he was done and he was ready.
But I wasn’t.
I didn’t know he was that ill. I didn’t know I needed to say goodbye. I didn’t know that I needed to go and see him armed with a notebook and pen to interview him about his entire life because soon it was too late.
I didn’t know.
And I live in regret, always.
Rudolf, or Rudey, as my nan called him when she was feeling particularly chipper, was born in east Poland in 1925.
He was camping with some mates when war broke out and only realised a few days later when they were walking home along a road and someone stopped them to ask what the sweet bloomin’ heck they thought they were up to. He left Poland a few weeks later with the rest of his family, on the back of a chicken truck headed to Russia.
I don’t even know how he ended up in England, how he made his way across Europe, but he did.
I remember him once telling me that he got a really good deal on the first house he bought in Fulham because they offered a low price on the condition that the old lady who currently lived there could stay living in the attic until she died. I hope it’s a true story.
I wrote the eulogy at his funeral. It’s written on card and is upstairs hidden away in a drawer somewhere. I can’t bring myself to re-look at it because that’s another thing I regret at least once a week – that his eulogy hadn’t been better, stronger, funnier, more moving.
I have a photo of my grandparents on their wedding day on my dining room wall, and another two photos of them in my office, because, without sounding vom vom vom corny, they are my inspiration.
I miss my nan too – my babcia – and I feel like I’ve been slowly mourning her over these past few years too. Not long before my dziadziu died she was admitted to a care home with dementia. She knows who Hannah Gale is, she knows she is her grandaughter, but she can’t associate my appearance with that person. Because that person is a teeny tiny child and not an adult. There is a photo of me on her window sill, she thinks it is a photo of her.
I didn’t realise how hard this post would be to write, maybe because I didn’t realise just how much, deep in me, I still hurt. How much I still miss them, how much I wish I could have one night with them to moan about WHY IS THERE PLUMS IN THE CHICKEN and play card games and eat Whole Nut and drink tea and get choked by the ridiculous old people heating.
I lived with my grandparents on three separate occasions. My grandad taught me to drive. My nan gave me her vintage shoes and all her rings. My grandad bought me my first car and paid for my insurance, despite being the tightest man in existence. And my nan called my Hanulla and liked to brush my hair for me.
In the weeks after my dziadziu died there were moments where life got too much. Work got too much, London got too much and being me got too much. Nights where I felt weak and beaten and I would cry in bed. And on those nights, I would either write a letter to dziadziu or I would pray to him.
I’m not religious, but my nan had made me pray before bed when I was really little, and it made me feel close to them and to the people I remembered them as. I asked him to look out for me and to give me some of his strength.
I met Chris less than three months later and life has only got easier and more settled and more happy since then. And I know dziadziu would like him because he works hard and he owns a house and he’s not obsessed with possessions and – unlike me – he doesn’t talk to fill a silence.
I write this post knowing that there will be bigger losses to come. That things will hurt more than this. I can practically hear Dumbledore whispering ‘dark and difficult times lie ahead’ in my ear.
Which is why it all so much more important to make an effort with the people closest to your heart. To forget about train fares or awkwardness or time and to just embrace relationships with people whilst they are here for us to enjoy.
I think about my grandparents every day. I think about all the things they have seen and been through – all the things that being a Polish child during World War Two must have involved – and I try and learn from them.
It puts my life, my miseries, my stresses into perspective. It makes me less anxious and less caught up on the little details that don’t matter. It makes me appreciate those quiet moments when the sun is shining and the cats are in the garden and I’m doing the washing up, when everything is still and calm and uneventful because life could be so much more difficult.
So this post is for you dziadziu. I hope you’re sunbathing and eating mushroom pierogi wherever you are. I love you and I’m sorry for not saying goodbye.