This time last year, I received one of those heart plummeting, stomach flipping, world-fogs-up-around-you phonecalls. It was my Dad, to tell me that my Grandpa (his dad), had passed away. He was 94 years old, but it was still a huge shock for all of us. It hadn’t been long since I’d spoken to him on FaceTime and seen how the care home he’d recently moved to had reignited the Grandpa I had always remembered. We’ve always lived some distance away from my grandparents (either in Cheshire or Kilsyth in Scotland) but I’ve been lucky to only have powerfully happy memories of spending time with them. We lost my Grandma when I was very young, but since then and throughout my 32 years, Grandpa had always been the absolute heart of the Stevenson clan. From his utter devotion to his grandchildren and then great-grandchildren (see: Grandpa’s house always had the best chocolate-adorned Christmas tree) to his sharpness and wit (see: a boozy game of Articulate when, after pondering the word ‘guano’ as we watched the game’s hourglass drain its final grains, he declared “PENGUIN SHIT!” just in the nick of time). My point is, the grief hit me like bulldozer.
I’m sharing this because a couple of months ago, my dad shared an article with me that really helped me put the feelings I experienced after my Grandpa passed away, and the coping mechanisms I fudged together by myself when dealing with the loss of my Grandad a few years prior, into something solid and real and reassuring. It talks about a sixth stage of grief — something that can ‘help find meaning after loss’, because ‘the final stage of acceptance isn’t enough’. It’s not a quick fix, you have to be in the right place to reach it, but it’s pretty liberating when you do. It’s coined by ‘grief expert’ David Kessler who says it’s about helping to ‘remember with more love than pain’. One tip he gives to do this is to ‘water the good memories’ by regularly sharing stories and thinking about how they enriched our every day. He suggests asking yourself, ‘What memories of their life to I want to keep alive? What quality of them now lives in me? What memories can we pass on to others?’. For me, it made so much sense. My Grandad served as a telegraphist in WWII’s Arctic Convoys — which we’re all extremely proud of (and explains why he was so bloody good at Guardian Cryptic Crosswords). He passed away honouring his colleagues at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day a few years ago, and I desperately wanted to keep that respect and remembrance alive for him. It took me until 2018 but I finally managed to work up the courage to attend a Remembrance Sunday service and it felt really good to share the positive memories and achievements. Reading about the ‘sixth stage of grief’ helped me understand why that was, and gave me something positive to focus on when reaching this anniversary milestone of losing Grandpa.
So, I thought I’d share a few couple of pieces of life advice only Grandpa could ever impart, and a poem my dad and sister read at his funeral that I think is a lovely sentiment to share with anyone.
Grandpa Stevenson life advice:
1. Appreciate good whisky. And should never be tainted by Coca-Cola (although if you have to, don’t let Grandpa know…)
2. Top tip for being the last one standing at every Hogmanay (including when the party temporarily wraps up at 6am for a brief interlude before the transition into New Year’s Day celebrations) — a cheeky kip concealed by a contented smile and the ability to still hold and not spill your whisky, is key. Note to self (and those who know my first date story — for another time…) — one to work on
Fishing With My Dad
By Jim Yerman
I was fishing with my dad one day…sitting on the shore…
I can’t remember…was it the fishing…or the sitting I liked more?
When Dad handed me a little stone and said, “Give this rock a throw.”
“Toss it in the lake…and let’s see where the ripples go.”
When it broke the surface the water immediately began to shake
and before I knew it those ripples had spread out across the lake.
“Kindness is like that pebble”, he said, “for every act of kindness that you throw
will ripple out in all directions…you never know how far they’ll go.”
“And as you watch the ripples spread out…this is also true
Some of those ripples from that kindness…will ripple back to you”
We both went back to fishing…sitting on the shore
Now I remember…it wasn’t the fishing…
It was always the sitting I liked more.