The past nearly eight weeks have been amazing in so many ways and a little bit surreal. Travelling to Singapore and the UK to talk about books is a dream come true. We met lots of fabulous people and spent time with friends made on previous trips. Of course there was a huge amount of work involved too – school talks and meeting deadlines that don’t disappear just because you’re overseas. At the end of the sixth week we headed to Portugal for our first proper holiday in nearly four years. That probably sounds ridiculous, given how much we’ve travelled recently, but every time we’ve been away I’ve been working on a book with a serious deadline, either writing or editing. Although there have been days out and times I’ve done my best to pretend I didn’t have a million things to do, Portugal would be the first time that I had vowed not to write or edit or check my emails too many times.
On recommendation from an Australian friend who has lived in the UK for many years, we stayed at a resort hotel called Penha Longa, about 30 minutes from Lisbon. It was everything we hoped for and much, much more. It helped that in eight days we didn’t see a cloud in the sky either – it was only on day nine that there were some wisps across the blue canvas. We played five rounds of golf, visited the gorgeous heritage listed town of Sintra with its many castles, did some much needed exercise and had time to do nothing. With a top temperature of 15-18 degrees each day, it was just about perfect.
But throughout the trip there was someone who was never far from my thoughts. We had Pop’s 90th birthday in October just before I left for Singapore. He looked great that day but I knew that he had some health problems that just weren’t getting any better. He’d been in and out of hospital a little bit in November and had decided to go into the assisted care facility at the village where he and Grandma had bought their villa 13 years ago. I know that was a big blow – that lack of independence and thought of moving out of the home that he had shared with the love of his life.
When we headed to Portugal, Mum had sent an email to say that it looked as if the medication was helping and Pop was much better than he’d been. The doctors were talking about sending him home. But then a few days later everything changed. Things were getting worse and Pop had had enough. He didn’t want any further interventions. Within a couple of days he’d been moved to palliative care. I felt so guilty that we were on the other side of the world having a holiday, but knowing that the last thing Pop would want or expect was for us to dash back – he had been very clear that if anything was to happen, we weren’t to abandon our plans. And who knew how much time was left? My sister Sarah emailed me from the hospital and asked if I wanted to Skype with her and see Pop. I will be forever grateful that she made it possible and Pop and I had the opportunity to see each other again. It was wonderful – the smile on Pop’s face was priceless. He told me, ‘have a good holiday and enjoy yourselves’ (he and grandma had been great travellers and I think all of us grandchildren have inherited the bug from them) and as always, he told me he loved me and was so proud of me. Our pop was a man who never left anything unsaid. We Skyped again the next day. Dad was there with Sarah. Pop had had a good day – he’d sat up with Dad watching the cricket together. Pop smiled his gorgeous smile and waved and blew kisses and told me again that he loved me. I told him that too.
The next morning I was looking forward to talking to Pop again. But that wasn’t to be. He passed away early Saturday morning. Yesterday we arrived home from London in time for Pop’s funeral at two o’clock. I am so grateful to my family that the timing was thus and we got to say goodbye along with family and friends. It felt very much as if Pop was still there and he would have been telling jokes and making quips, just as he always did. He’d certainly have been pleased to see how many of the widows from the village, who were all besotted with him, were there to say goodbye.
It was testimony to how much he was loved that there were over one hundred mourners – not bad for a man of 90, who has outlived so many of his friends and family. My sisters and cousins and I had an opportunity to talk about Pop and share our memories during the service. We laughed and cried at the stories and remembered a gentleman, a good soul, a man with a wicked sense of humour, who smiled with his eyes. Pop lived a humble life. He worked hard and together he and grandma gave their children – my dad and his sister many more opportunities than he and Gran had had growing up. They were careful with their money and saved to be able to travel the world – making friends all over the place and bringing back great tales from their trips. It was a privilege to have Pop in our lives – and for much longer than we ever thought we would (given he had more heart attacks than we could count, a triple bypass, and an aortic aneurism to name but some of his health challenges – as my sister Sarah said yesterday, it was as if he had feline qualities and he made the most of every one of those nine plus lives).
Pop was devastated by the loss of our grandmother in 2007. Betty had been the love of his life and we wondered how he would go on. But again, he defied the odds and lived another six years, enjoying family celebrations including the births of three of his great grandchildren, Christmases and some milestone birthdays including his own 90th. I look at these photos and feel so much love and gratitude to have had the most wonderful grandfather. Love you Pop.