Goodbye, Grampa

Last Wednesday we said goodbye to my Grampa – my Dad’s Dad, and my last remaining grandparent. It was horribly sad, as I’d known it would be, and more than a little bit surreal: he was 100 when he died, and it was beginning to feel like he might just manage to stay around forever.

He couldn’t of course, but there is no doubt that the legacy he leaves behind is strong. He was awarded an O.B.E. for his contributions as a Doctor, and spent much of my father’s childhood establishing a public health service in Tanzania.

And perhaps even more significantly than that he was a father, and a grandfather, and a great-grandfather – ripples of his life and values passed down through the generations.

 

 

Back in January we came together as a family to celebrate his one hundredth birthday. It was a joyous occasion, full of love and reminiscence, and Grampa was there to experience it all. His eyes and ears were failing him so he was not able to hear every word, but still he could absorb the outpouring of appreciation for his life that too often in our culture is saved until after death.

I was asked to speak on that day, to share my memories of Grampa as his grand-daughter, but also as a mum. I was stumped at first as to the relevance of that, but as I sat and cast my mind back over nearly forty years of shared experiences I realised he had in fact been more influential than I’d perhaps acknowledged, and once I’d started down that road the words soon began to flow.

If you’d indulge me, I’d like to share them here.

 

Grampa,

We have heard much of all the wonderful things you have achieved over the past one hundred years, but perhaps your greatest achievement is the lives you have created: not only the three sons you bore but the eight grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren (so far) they have multiplied into. It is safe to say the Lovett line is secure – and that your influence has spread far and wide in not only the genes but also the hearts and minds of your extended family.

When my generation were kids, your home in Radyr was a hub for celebrations and family parties – and it has continued to be so as we have grown up and had children of our own.

I have many fond memories of running wild in the garden (surrounded by boys as the only girl all those years ago – it’s all balanced out considerably since!) and of exploring the house.  The attic room was always my favourite place to be, and I loved that everywhere I looked there were echoes of my father’s childhood. It was a hotbed of history, a living museum.

As I have gone on to make a home for my family, my memories of Radyr have undoubtedly influenced my own desire to create a space which tells stories of the past and reflects a life well lived. That is definitely what I saw when I looked at the home you created with Granny.

I was always especially captivated by the juxtaposition of the 1950s décor with the souvenirs from your adventures in Africa – the batik wall hangings, the meticuolously carved wooden animals, and of course the drum on the stairs that I was always drawn towards as a child and which Arthur gravitated towards instantly the first time we brought him to visit as a toddler.

It is quite wonderful I think that he – along with all your great-grandchildren gathered here – gets to know his great-grampa: a privilege extended to very few.

In fact it is not just their generation that is privileged. I often reflect on how incredibly lucky I am to have such close links with my extended family – and that is in no small part down to you.

You have passed on that understanding of the importance of family – of the particular delight that comes from being surrounded by people who are related to you by blood or marriage, with whom you share bonds that cannot quite be recreated with anybody else. We share stories, and memories, and history – your history, above all else, which is the only reason any of us are here.

It is wonderful too how many new memories you have been able to be a part of in recent years. I loved that you were able to be at my wedding, gamely being transported up to the woods in a golf cart to sit on a bale of hay, then over dinner exchanging stories with my doctor friends about experiences of practicing medicine in Africa.

You were there when my first son was born too – holing up in the bar of the local hotel whilst I labored at home then joining us at my bedside for a glass of champagne to celebrate Arthur’s safe arrival.

Your advice in support of a home birth meant a lot to me then, steeped in the wisdom of a time when it was far more the norm than it is today.

You have continued to advise me since, too – being one of the few people to have read my (as yet unpublished) novels. Your thoughts have been invaluable – especially as I suspect you have read considerably more books than I ever will!

These are just the ways you’ve touched my life, and I know other stories will be buzzing round the minds of the people in this room who have all, in so many different ways, been inspired and influenced by you.

It is easy, being in the middle of something extraordinary, to forget what a huge achievement it really is. And all the different things that you have achieved – from the global to the domestic – are things to be truly proud of.

 

I want to remember these words, not just because I want to remember Grampa – I don’t think there’s any danger of him being forgotten. What is sometimes all too easy to forget though is the importance of family, and of all the work that goes into holding one together (much of which was done by my grandmother of course when she was alive. I’ve been thinking a lot about her legacy these past few days and weeks too).

I am in a phase of my life at the moment when it feels like my days are consumed by the business of nurturing a family, and as someone who used to burn the midnight oil building the foundations of a career I still have many moments when I doubt whether it is enough, whether I am enough.

And I need to remember that I am in the middle of my own extraordinary life, and that one day, hopefully many years in the future, I will look back as it draws to a close and realise how wonderful – and how important – these days really were.

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