On grief and blogging


Dadcu (noun)

The father of one’s mother or father. And so much more.

Synonyms: grandfather, grampy, gramps, pops, taid


My Dadcu died.

When death comes, worlds change. We all know that.

Here are a few of the littler things that grief alters, if only temporarily:

• The taste of food

• The need for food

• Wedding planning

• Searching for bridesmaid dresses

• Reading

• Hair appointments

• Care for hair appointments. Including eye brows

• Lines on foreheads and shaded regions beneath eyes

• Diets

• Blogging

This is predominantly why you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks.

I say predominantly, because during the hours I lay awake in my bed in the aftermath of his death, my immediate reaction was to write about him. Correction: I wrote to him. The physical process of the writing forced the memories flooding through my thoughts to ease; it tamed the the overwhelming onslaught of grief. I found that one of my earliest memories is of Dadcu. This in itself speaks volumes. Such was his impact on my childhood; on my life. Such was his impact on all five of his grandchildren’s lives. We have a wealth of memories to treasure and to draw upon. Searching through the memories, I made sense of why I felt so sad.

The next morning, I showed it to my mother. She appreciated the sentiment. I altered snippets of what I wrote and shared them on Facebook and Instagram. I altered the rest and intended for it to become a blog post. I simultaneously wanted to share my memories of him, to celebrate his importance in our lives, and yet the memories felt too raw, the loss to acute and too sudden. I couldn’t bring myself to press the ‘publish’ icon.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have known all four of my grandparents. Though we lost two during our primary years, my mother’s parents were such a part of life’s fabric that it didn’t even occur to me that one of them would leave us. Of course, I was aware that they were aging: they stooped and stiffened and slowed, but they remained themselves. Somehow, their steady presence endured the years.

My Dadcu had been a particularly healthy man for most of his 87 years. Nevertheless, in his final few days, he set about making sure he had full value from the NHS before he didn’t need it anymore. In the space of a weekend, he:

1. had a fit, causing him to fall and

2. break his leg; causing him to

3. have a heart attack, and

4. an infection, and

5. a bleed in his brain, and

6. a catastrophic stroke.

He also was unaccounted for outside their bungalow for two hours but as none of our emergency services were engaged in that that it’s of less relevance here. My Mamgu assumed that he was in his garage. He couldn’t remember when he came around later, so we also assume he was in his garage.

If you can ever associate a stroke with luck, we were lucky that it came when he was already in hospital. If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been allowed to say good bye. Despite it being the most excruciating experience leaving his bed knowing we wouldn’t see him again, I am so pleased that we had the opportunity to hold his hand, give him a kiss, and say goodbye. I am relieved to have seen him looking so peaceful.

As the Covid-19 pandemic sinks its claws into our society, I cannot help but think how lucky we were to be allowed to stand together at his bedside. Our trauma was not intensified by constraints and restrictions, by isolation.

I also cannot help but think it’s a good thing we never had to isolate the man himself. Covid-19 itself may have been easier to contain that Dadcu. His energy and his love of the great outdoors is something I alluded to in the post I wrote and never shared. It is clearly present in the tribute I later penned to him and read at his funeral. In turn, our own inherited love of being outside, in nature, on the farm and with our animals brought us a welcome distraction from our grief at the time it was most poignantly felt. It is most certainly a solace now, on lockdown.

A few weeks hence, I have written more posts, but until my failure to share was acknowledged, my absence explained, I couldn’t bring myself to share those either. In reconciliation, I have, instead, copied snippets of what I shared at his funeral. They are below, in italics, should anyone have known him and wish to read it.

And so because he wouldn’t have been easily kept on the down-low, I felt it was high time I picked myself up and started writing for the sake of it again, not just for work. Besides, let’s face it, I’m never this quiet for long.

It says a lot that Maggie described him as the ‘leader of our gang’, and this was definitely accurate in the case of the bike rides. He kept us in a supply of bikes readily available in the garage, so that at any opportunity, we could all abscond – himself included. Then again, not all of us had a bike. Dadcu, the leader, was on foot. He was either striding on ahead, or at the rear helping poor Geraint along, because believe it or not, Geraint was once the smallest of us. As the smallest, he had to make do with a little red tractor. Later, when Dadcu was older, we would ride, and he took to driving in front of us in his van. Looking back, what a peculiar sight we must have made.

Anyone who has really known Dadcu well will know that he had a pathological hatred of anyone touching his ears. Of course, as a result, we had something of a pathological fascination with touching them. Is it wrong that even as he slept so peacefully in the intensive care unit shortly before he left us, that I couldn’t help smile at his ears exposed to mischief? Arms flailing, swatting us off grumbling, it was always worth it. Even in anger he was funny, and he could never stay angry for long.

Still, we pushed our luck on several occasions. Two occasions that stand out for me now. Both times, the incidents involved his carefully maintained comb-over. Perhaps the first came as a result of my attempts to trim her hair, or maybe she had been observing Mamgu cutting a neighbour’s hair as she often did. Whatever her reasons, Maggie decided that Dadcu’s hair needed a trim. She chose an opportunistic moment when he was dozing in his chair, and the long hairs that should have sat neatly over his crown had played out of place as he slept. These displaced wisps became her target. Thankfully, her weapon of choice was a small children’s scissors with a rounded end, and her busying about his barnet woke him just as she took her first snip, so his combover remained largely untouched for several more years. She later reported the incident to our mother. ‘What did Dadcu do when you did that, Mags?’ asked Mum, struggling to keep her amusement concealed. Maggie’s eyes widened, and with wisdom and warning thick in her voice, she replied, ‘He picked up sharp, Mami’.

It didn’t put us off a second attempt at sabotaging his ‘do’. This time, we were armed with the most hideous of contemporary trends, hair mascara, and he was complicit. Amused, he allowed his hair to be painted rainbow colours using little mascara-style brushes. He was less amused when they stubbornly clung to his hair. I remember him bent over the bathroom sink in his vest, scrubbing his hair with a bar of soap to no avail. Embarrassed, he eschewed the the Sunday service and we weren’t allowed near his hair after that. Nevertheless, we would sit at his feet and with long even strokes he continued to enjoy brushing our hair long after we ceased to need the help.

For Dadcu, there were three highlights in every summer: never mind the Great Yorkshire or Horse of the Year, it was all about the Royal Welsh, Pembrokeshire County Show, and Clynderwen YFC’s show. As he grew older, it became increasingly important to Maggie and I to spot him at the ringside. We are both so lucky to have both stood champion at all three with him watching. When he ceased coming to Builth, fielding a strong team for Clynderwen and Pembrokeshire also became increasingly important. Winning his cup, the O.G.Llewellyn perpetual has become an annual goal, and I especially love a photo of him presenting me with that cup in the grand parade.

It’s with his love of animals in mind that I will now return to my earliest memory. It was night, and past my bedtime. I was wrapped up in an elaborate suit to face the February weather. He wore his cap. In my mind, it was all he ever needed to ward off the cold.

Though the weather was crisp, the sky was a thick black and the darkness dense. He held my tiny hand in his enormous paws. I always thought he was such a big man, a giant. He led me across the yard towards the furthest shed, the lambing shed. And here the wonder began. “Ssshhhht!” he would whisper, “I think I can hear one.” I strained my ears, trying to follow his lead and finely tune them into the sounds of newborn. The bleating sounded much the same to me. Of course, I could distinguish between the calls of the lambs and the deeper, guttural reassurances of their mothers. But I was not like him, I could not find the sound of newborn. “There might even be two or three,” he would say. My heart skipped and soared with anticipation. These nights were really something.

In the warmth of the shed now, and he’s right. His ears aren’t deceived: there are newborns and all the magic that comes with them. I look to him and wonder, ‘how did you know?’ I marvell at him and his skills as a shepherd. How at ease he must be with the farm and the nature around him to even be able to predict the future!

By now I understand. I have seen many more farmyard births. I, too, can see the signs of imminent birth, predict the future! In his shoes, my ears would also be finely tuned to the sounds of a newborn in the shed. But the pedestal I put him on in those early memories never faltered. He was a hero with a cap and comb-over sort of a cape. And for us, that is how he will remain…

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