Both my grandfathers died long before I was born and it wasn’t until I had my own son that I realised the huge role a grandfather can play in a child’s life. While my son never knew his paternal grandfather, who died the year before we married, he was very attached to my father who always seemed to be able to read his thoughts and advocate strongly on his behalf!
I have to thank my late parents for telling me about their fathers because, even though they died in the 1940s, long before I entered the world, I feel that I have a fairly good idea of what they were like as people.
The reason I write about all this today is because my mother’s father died at Halloween and she always shed tears at this time of year about his passing after a long illness. He was a farmer in Co. Meath and had a huge love of animals, poetry, and his family. He was the man who read Robbie Burns’ poetry every night to my grandmother, Jean, whose parents hailed from Ayrshire in Scotland. My favourite saying of his, which my mother quoted so often was:
Better a dinner of herbs and peace therewith than roast ox and contention.
I love the fact that he left separate letters for each of his children to be opened after his death and I know that my mother treasured his letter right to the very end of her life. Maybe that’s something we should all consider doing as it clearly can have huge meaning.
My paternal grandfather was from Co. Clare but he, t0o, had connections with Scotland. For some reason, which I still don’t fully understand, he went to university in Scotland to study veterinary science. He returned to his native Kilrush in Co. Clare and married the daughter of a well-known retailing family in the town.
My father idolised his father, and was especially proud of the way in which he coped with his wife’s death from sepsis when she was still only in her thirties, having given birth to nine babies of which my father was second eldest.
It seems like my grandfather worked desperately hard to be all things to his children and Father often spoke of how his father, though strict, had bought him the complete set of Charles Dickens’ work when he was struck down by pneumonia for a year when he was fourteen, not long after his mother had died. He was also eternally grateful to his father for topping up his earnings when he entered the bank in 1939.
This was something that Father did for me, too, many decades later, when I went to College and struggled to make a living at my first jobs.
There’s a huge emphasis in the literature about how our parents cope with death impacts on us. Even though I never found it easy to know what to say to my mother when she was sad about her father at Halloweeen, or to my father when he mourned the death of his beloved father on Christmas Eve, I’m eternally grateful that they talked a lot about them and gave me a sense that I knew them as the unique individuals that they were.