Mum suggested that I write a letter to my Grandfather, to help with the grief. My feelings on the afterlife are agnostic at best, but she believes that he may be able to hear me and for this week, that’s good enough for me. As with all loss, the pain comes in waves, and tends to sneak up on me when I’m not looking. It’s triggered by running across the things he loved, or hearing a snippet of a song, or in moments when I find myself stubbornly acting like him. So here it goes.
I guess my feelings about your death are as complicated as all the rest of my feelings about you, and I suppose that should come as no surprise to you or to me. First, let me say that I love you. Despite anything or everything else, that remains unshakably true. I’m so grateful that we got to a place where I can say that before you started to fade away. I’m grateful that we got to have an adult relationship, grateful that you softened a bit in your old age so that I could love you without being afraid. So many of my foundational memories have you at the center of them (good and bad), and I’m glad that I can hold those memories dear and without resentment or anger.
In the end, the only anger I still hold is residual, and on behalf of others. I forgave you a long time ago for your rudeness, your tendency to yell, your refusal to find value in so many of the things I studied or wanted to participate in. I know you were mad that I did all the things you did but did them my own way instead of the way you thought I should, and I don’t care. You were the one who taught me to ignore other people’s opinions, after all. I get all my stubbornness from you and Grandma.
As for the way you treated people I love, well, it’s up to them to forgive you themselves. I imagine they’ll have a much harder time than I did, as the sins were so much greater. I said it to you then and I’ll say it again: you were a jerk sometimes. I know some of that was the dementia talking, but a lot of it was your own anger and uncertainty and bad temper. You had no business treating other people badly; your inability to cope with basic frustration or communicate your feelings made you prickly, and the alcohol made you nasty. Remember that I love you, but I’m not going to mince words. You taught me that, too.
But you also gave me your love of music and the belief that good art can be transcendental. You taught me to love literature and words and poetry. You sang to me and read to me, and tried to understand the things I was doing in life and in school. Even when you didn’t really get it, you tried. You bought me books on symphonic form and theater, you contentedly listened to me bang through those painful early years of piano lessons, and sang along when I played the tenor parts. You gave me boat trips and sailing lessons, a sense of our family past and history, and above all a special place that gave me roots. You took care of me when Dan was born, you helped me learn to swim, and you were proud of me.
You also stood up against injustice where you saw it – against the homophobes at Eastmann in the 1950s, against racists in the Midwest in the 60s, against self-righteous right-wing nutjobs your entire life. You valued hard work, and education, and exploration, and a sense of adventure. You refused to bow to the tide of public opinion or the idea that you couldn’t do something.
Sometimes, that was dumb. But just as often, you would figure it out, draw on deep resources that you didn’t know you had, and you would make it work. It wasn’t always graceful, but you got there.
I don’t know what else there is to say. I will always treasure the things we shared and the happy memories. I don’t think I’ll ever hear “Danny Boy” without thinking of you, and I hope to someday make it to Loch Fyne in Scotland to see where all the McLaughlins came from. I promise to take care of Rock Haven and to keep it in the family so those bastards down the river can’t get the land. If Ryan and I ever buy a boat, we’ll be sure to name her An-Haga. I will read Shakespeare to my children, and I’ll always read A Child’s Christmas in Wales on Christmas night – unless, of course, we listen to you read it instead. And I will miss you, a lot. I hope that you have found some rest, and some peace. You struggled so hard for so long, and you’ve earned it. I hope that there are crossword puzzles in heaven. And I hope that you and Grandma are back together again, and better than ever.