28 July. It was on this day 2 years ago that I watched my dear grandfather depart this earth. It’s hard to believe it has been 2 years already. It does not feel like that long ago I was repeating myself to him several times because his hearing was bad… or that I was laughing with him because he was such a funny and dear old man who kept his sense of humour despite experiencing the onset of dementia… All my memories of him are still vividly clear… and, for the most part, joyful.
My mother recently visited my nan, (her mum), and spoke in great detail to me about the concerns she had for her. My grandmother, as expected, has just not been the same since losing her partner of 62 years. Despite being very mentally alert, her physical health and quality of life has been on a steady decline since even before my grandfathers passing. She will turn 88 next month… a fair innings… but she has confessed that she feels her time to go is fast approaching and she is not afraid of death claiming her, only perhaps of how it may do so – and when and where. Ultimately she would like to go peacefully in her sleep – in a perfect world we’d all live a long and fruitful life, and somewhere between 85 and 95 drift off into an eternal slumber without any complications… However, life can be cruel… and growing old can be even more so.
Until two years ago, my grandmother was a fighter. We came close to losing her a couple of times with various bowel operations and the complications that followed. She has had more knee replacements and operations than an entire football team and arthritis has crippled parts of her aging body for years… but she refused to give up – perhaps because she was concerned that my grandfather would not cope without her… subsequently, it is now her who cannot cope without him… or quite simply, just does not want to.
How does one ‘cope’ or find a ‘new lease on life’ after all they have known for the past 6 decades suddenly vanishes? If she was half her weight and effortlessly mobile, things may be different – she could tend to her garden, (which was always a passion of hers), but all she manages to do in her quaint little garden now is fall over in it. She has had 4 falls in the last few months which has slowly demolished any ounce of physical confidence that may have remained and left her with a fear of even contemplating doing one of the only things left that she loves. She now rarely even sets foot outside if she is alone – so unless my uncle or another family member is over, she is confined to a room full of heartbreaking memories and a deafening silence that penetrates her existence.
She does not deny that she has been lucky. She spoke of her younger brother who died in his forties, her sister who died as an infant and all the loved ones she has outlived and grieved for. She has watched people she loved suffer and in turn suffer with them – she has seen a lot of life and death. She is not after sympathy. She doesn’t even complain the way she used to about her failing body. I believe she just wants out. She has done everything she wanted to do and is grateful for the life she has had, but now has no real desire for anything anymore.
She left her home and her family in Germany when she was so young, and came to Australia with one man by her side… and he was by her side for 62 years. Most of us will never know what that would or could be like.
In recent weeks… months… I have been busy preparing for an exhibition at 19 Karen on the Gold Coast and have not had time for much else other than my two ‘jobs’… work and art… I see very little of my partner, despite living together and even less of my family as we are spread out across the state.
I had to deliver some paintings to a depot in Melbourne yesterday and was chasing my tail for time a little and although in my mind I had planned to go and visit my nan after delivering the work, I suddenly had a thought yesterday morning that perhaps I’d wait until I had a full day off with no other commitments to visit her…. Just as I had that thought a photo of my grandfather fell off the bookcase and onto the floor in front of me… I picked it up… it was the card from his funeral – Boris Bolotin, 3 March 1922 ~ 28 July 2009. I looked at my phone. It was the 28 July. I then looked at the photograph of him and into his eyes and said “ok Opa, I’ll go and visit her today”.
I’m glad I did.
It was a rather surreal day at times yesterday as my travels even saw me drive past the Austin hospital, where my grandfather drew his last breath two years ago… then on to my nan’s place as I also did that day… it brought back a tonne of sorrowful memories but after leaving nan’s I shook them up with just as many happy ones. By the time I was close to home I felt emotionally exhausted!
The day he died, I travelled that same road… it felt like the longest drive ever despite being only just over 1.5 hours. I remember feeling numb and not knowing how I should act in front of my partner when I got home as he lost both his parents to cancer within 6 months of each other when he was in his early twenties. My grandfather lived to 87.
I remember stopping off at my work on the way home. I had been rostered on to work that day but got a phone call regarding my grandfather early that morning and knew I had to go and be with him. When I stopped in on the way home they all knew what had happened. Without too many words, I was comforted by a line of people at the bar. The song from Cheers kept playing in my head… and for that moment, it was nice to be in a ‘place where everybody knew my name’. A group of friends and acquaintances joined me in a vodka shot salute to Boris. Something did change in me that day.
The following year, 2010, found me working elsewhere, however, again on that day – 28 July, I stopped in to the bar where everybody still knew my name and shared an annual vodka shot salute to Boris.
After experiencing a roller coaster of emotions on the drive home yesterday, I was almost home and despite feeling somewhat drained I was in a fairly good place, when a song came on and triggered something as tears began to uncontrollably stream down my face. I’d already decided that I was going to stop in for my vodka shot on the way home but had not intended to enter with red eyes. Coincidentally a number of people who were there that night 2 years ago were there again and I only had to hint at why I was there before the vodka shots flowed freely and everyone raised their glass “to Boris!”