There’s this weird stigma thing that suggests we (wedding photographers) aren’t really supposed to indulge in personal posts. We’re not supposed to divulge too much info about our families. We’re not supposed to deviate too far from the subject. Personally, I think that’s a load of old bollocks, but then I don’t often adhere to strict rules. (My mom is probably nodding vigorously here.)
My Granddad was in the UK, visiting from Jamaica. It was March 2013 when he arrived, at 88 years of age, he seemed in reasonably good health. Thing is, when your grandparent who has NO IDEA how to “slow down” in life, is fast approaching 90, you start to wonder just how many years they have left on the clock. I do, I wonder things like that all the time. Morbid? No. Just being very realistic. And my questions were quickly answered; just weeks before he was due to return home, his health rapidly deteriorated.
I was keen on him meeting The Smalls. That’s Big Small aged 6, and Little Small aged 4. They’re kiddos who are definitely keen on close family ties. That was mind blowing for me! Here was my Granddad, with some of the biggest achievements in the ministry I could comprehend, and here was his granddaughter showing him his great grand children. I felt a bit proud, to say the least. Almost as proud as when The Mr and I traveled to Jamaica a month after we were married, so that my granddad could conduct a second ceremony. This dude, who was sought after in his communities, recognised over the entire island of Jamaica, survived slave trading until he was maybe 23 (the internet is amazing), traveled the entire world to teach, learn, teach some more, was my granddad. And there was me with a kinda feeble “hey granddad, so, um, here are your great grand children. No Granddad, this is Noah, not Moses. But close enough.”
To which he’d laugh loudly and then tell me a story about him being one of the only black choir boys in a CofE choir. And then something about drinking Cider in the Malvern hills. And then how he’d planted some yams and potatoes in his yard (half a hillside. I scaled it once; red ants really hurt when they bite you), and would have to climb the ackee tree and mango tree to pick the fruit before they went bad. And then he’d belch, really loudly, (you know the sort that makes your cavity vibrate and frightens the cat?) and then sing an old sea shanty.
When he got sick, I remember feeling strangely calm. I remember thinking back to my questions of how much life a person might have left. I think I accepted the outcome long before anyone else did. By September, he had deteriorated so much; and yet he was still able to exude his former self. Somehow, there was still so much life and soul in there. In this shell of a man who could barely walk for arthritis, and rarely slept at night for terrors and visions and dementia. It was weird, but he was still inspiring. That September, I wrote my goodbye letter. And then hid it away. I wasn’t ready to give it to him yet.
He was so tired, on so many meds, so weak, so old. And yet, still so strong. How the heck does a human being contain so much emotional and mental strength?!? Even when all he wanted to do was sleep, and was often unaware of where in the world he was, how does someone still be so animated and have crystal clear knowledge of some things?
Exactly this time a week ago, he was being sent home from hospital. He had completely shut down, and apart from give him morphine for the pain, nothing more could be done. I’m glad he shut down. I’m glad he felt he could finally turn himself off. I’m glad he felt he had finally shared everything he could with his loved ones, felt he had had all the adventures he wanted, felt he could get some real sleep.
He passed away last week, last Thursday, 20th March. When my mom called me up to tell me, a hard to force back laughter because I immediately thought she was joking. How weird is that? We’re weird aren’t we, as humans, I think. And since last Thursday, a week today, I’ve finally felt more peaceful, too. There is a tiny handful of people in my entire lifetime, whom I’ve felt a close connection with. 4, maybe 5 people (I feel like I’ve been blessed to have so many, y’know?), whom I would miss with all the pain in the world if they went. Granddad is the third to go.
I had some scans back from UK Film Lab recently, and after looking through them all, it’s safe to say that my chest still hurts several hours later, from where it felt like I was unexpectedly punched. These photos are the last time I saw my Granddad. I haven’t seen him since. Might see him at his funeral. Not sure how I feel about that. I’m constantly harping on at people to preserve memories, count blessings, appreciate friends/family/life. It wasn’t until seeing this last image when I fully understood what I was talking about. I was quite literally feeling like I was unable to breathe for a while, as the reality of everything hit me, hard. My frickin’ awesome Granddad, gone and not even laid to rest as yet. My mom, seen in the background, is currently making arrangements for him to be laid to rest next to my Granny, on family ground, in Jamaica next month. Still doesn’t make sense.
I try not to underestimate life. I try to stop and reflect sometimes. My Granddad did that a lot. As a result, he knew a LOT of stuff. Even while moving fast, he still slowed down and looked at life. If I’m ever able to live so much as a fraction of everything he lived, then I’ll have lived a very good life indeed.
Ira V. Brooks, 1925 – 2014