Only A Grandfather Will Know

I have been feeling nostalgic recently. I suppose it is true that at a certain point, your entire life flashes before you.

Sixty years ago last month, my paternal grandfather died. I was almost 7 years old. One of the last things he did was to buy me my First Communion suit. I do have some memories of him. The First Communion was sixty years ago yesterday…and no I don’t still have my First Communion money.

My maternal grandfather died thirty years before I was born (an accident at work).

I am kinda lucky that I have memories of the other three grandparents who died when I was 4, almost 7 and 8.

But I have no concept of the grief. Back in 1956, 1959 and 1961, children did not go to funerals so while I do have a memory of the Saturday lunch time (1959) that my Uncle Jackie came to break the news to my father and the day (1961) when my mother took me out of school, I have no memories of coffins, wakes and gravesides.

It would have been different if I was a teenager. I think it is right that young children (around 5 or 6) are brought to funerals but one of the saddest aspects of a funeral is the grief of children and grandchildren.

One of the lovely things about weddings is the presence of grandparents.

Many of you will know that I try to use my Smartpass every week. Every week,  try and travel (for free!) to……..wherever.

On Tuesday of this week, I was in Temple Bar in Dublin. Of course, I am there several times in a year but on Tuesday, I really looked around me.

I had time for one more journey and for no obvious reason I chose Kells in County Meath. But rush hour Dublin was a bad choice and I worried about getting back to Dublin before the last train left for home.

I got off the bus in Dunshaughlin and looked around for a bit. The commuter towns around Dublin…Ashbourne, Ratoath, Enfield, Celbridge are a curious mix of old village and suburbia. And Dunshaughlin is like that. Then I came across this.


I felt emotional. My youngest grandson is 2 years old. And he is not the first grandson to run towards me. There are two more (16 and 11). And there is a granddaughter (now 6).

I said earlier that I had no sense of grief. But it is really only in recent years I feel it deeply. The feeling in my heart now must be the same as my grandfather felt sixty years ago. The look in my toddler grandsons eyes……I must have had that look.

You counted four grandchildren. There is a fifth…a girl (Aoife) who was “born sleeping”. She would be 14 now and that is the biggest pain I have ever experienced. So she never got to run towards me with her arms out.

But……someday …I hope that she will.

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2 Responses to Only A Grandfather Will Know

  1. Vince says:

    Thanks for sharing that John, it is very poignant. I am not a grandparent and all but 1 of mine were dead more than 20 years before I was born – those were different times. I would have had an older brother who was also “born sleeping” at full term and it is only in recent times that I have begun to understand the awful agony experienced by my parents and which went unspoken by them for decades.

    • Thanks Vince.
      My wife and I lost two babies thru miscarriage. It is in part generational. Older women surprisingly said”that happens to everyone”.
      Only one person shook MY hand and said “I am sorry for your loss”. It was an older cousin who actually had experience as a bereavement councillor although he was talking to me in the capacity of just a family member visiting our home and finding this out.
      In an odd way, I am glad I only had one hand shake because it concentrates my mind on how miscarriage is ignored and how when it happened/happens there is no sense that a father lost a child.
      Of course you will be aware of the old saying “a parent should never have to bury a child” so watching my 21 year old son carry his daughters coffin was terrible.
      My Daughter in law had to be kept in hospital for a week. The hospital was great. She was born sleeping but baptised ad we got to visit the mortuary every night for a week and hold her and of course there are photographs. The mortuary attendant was brilliant.
      It was a poignant time that devastated the “Scooby Gang” of my sons and daughter in laws friends. The priest was simply brilliant.
      And there is a wonderful tradition locally that the undertaker does not make a profit on a babys death.
      And of course unlike so many deaths of babies in the olden days, there is a wonderful grave and headstone.
      So I get to buy presents for four birthdays, easter eggs and Christmas presents. But I never complain about the expense cos Id really prefer that it was five not four.
      But an important tradition with us is three donations to Trocáire…some child somewhere.

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