The news of my grandfather’s death was a shock but after 10 minutes sitting quietly in Tony’s office I had composed myself. He had given me that time to let it sink in before returning.
I told him I needed to call my parents to find out the arrangements for the funeral and said I would need the day off and a day either side for travelling but he told me I could take the week off as bereavement leave.
“No, I’d rather travel up the day before the funeral and then back the day after. I’d only need the three days.”
I had to steel myself to make the call home but once I had dialled that familiar number I felt better and after a few rings Dad answered. Straightaway he asked if I was alright. Typical of my father, putting the feelings of others first.
I knew that he really cared for my grandfather and had known him a lot longer than I had, from the very first days when he dated my mother while she was on holiday in Rhyl in the 1930s.
I told him I was fine and asked about the funeral arrangements.
The funeral was to be on Thursday with a church service at Rhyl followed by interment at Bootle cemetery in Liverpool where he would join my grandmother, Celia, in a family grave, surrounded by the graves of family and friends. His family ties to Liverpool went back generations, it was to be many years before I found out how many.
I told my father I would drive up on Wednesday morning and probably travel back at the weekend, Saturday or Sunday. He told me I should think about whether or not I wanted to see Grandad as he would be in the Chapel of Rest at the funeral directors’ and the coffin would not be sealed until first thing Thursday morning.
I don’t remember quite how I managed to work over those two days, I must have gone into automatic mode. On the Wednesday morning I left Burnham after breakfast to drive home to Wales. I still considered Rhyl as my home and certainly Wales has always been home to me. All the other places I have just been visiting.
It was lunchtime before I arrived and parked my car in the large back yard.
When I walked through the back door my mother was there in the kitchen and I reached out and just held her tight. I had always had a special relationship with my mother and at that moment we did not need words.
I went through to the shop to see Dad and let him know I had arrived safely.
Later that afternoon I decided I would go and say my final farewells to my beloved grandfather. Mum offered to come with me but I said I would rather spend some time alone with him.
It was not far to Tong’s the funeral directors. I used to pass it every day on my way to grammar school. I told them who I was and they showed me into the chapel and left me on my own with my grandfather.
His coffin was rested on trestles and as I approached and looked down at him I felt almost a sense of shock going through me. It was true, all that I had been told, he really did just look as though he had fallen asleep.
He was dressed in his smart suit, wearing a white shirt and a tie.
His face still had a rosy glow on the cheeks, just as when I had seen him last a few weeks before. I reached out to tough his cheek and received my second shock – he was icy cold.
My hand jerked back, involuntarily, as I felt that cold, waxy flesh which had once been a living, breathing person. Then I returned it to rest it again lightly on his cheek.
I was there for at least 20 minutes. I talked to him the way I once talked when we were playing cribbage. I reminded him of the fun we had and how much I had enjoyed the visits to Wrexham to hear him play for the local amateur operatic society. I talked of his friendship with Anton Mutschler, who stayed with us as part of a youth holiday exchange system.
I talked of shoes and ships and sealing wax and of cabbages and kings.
It did not really matter what I said, it was the feelings behind it.
This was the man who, on the day that I was born, had written to my mother to welcome me to the world and had illustrated the letter with one of his little sketches. This time it was of a robin and in recent years I have used it as an illustration on my various writings.
I had so many memories but I also had questions. Questions I should have asked years before during a whole decade when I often had him to myself at home.
In time I asked those questions of his daughter, my darling mother, and discovered just what an amazing man he was. I will save the stories of his exploits for another time but suffice it to say he had served in two world wars, the first of which had cost the lives of many of his friends and family, as well as working through the terrible 20s.
He had married his sweetheart, had four children, two of whom had died long before him, and he had lost his darling wife and had to live on more than two decades without her.
It was only as I leaned over to kiss his forehead in a last farewell that I realised the tears had been streaming down my face and they had now dropped onto his as though he too had been crying as we said goodbye.
The next day we accompanied him on his return to Bootle, in his beloved Liverpool. He had been born there and lived there for more than 50 years. He had always been an avid Liverpool FC fan, although in later years he also followed Wrexham FC.
That drive took us through parts of Liverpool I remembered from the times we had visited family in that great city, which had also given birth to my mother and to myself.
After we said our farewells at the graveside Mum took us to see the graves of other family members including those of her own grandparents. It seemed to me at the time that we were related to half the people there.
We returned home and it all seemed so normal that at any moment I expected to see Grandad sitting in his comfy armchair and watching television, except we would never see him there again.
It was a sad day yet a happy day as well as we had our memories of this wonderful old man who had spent his life laughing and joking with others despite the tragedies he had seen.
I stayed until Sunday and then drove back to Burnham ready for a new day at work on Monday afternoon.
It is almost half a century since I said goodbye to Grandad.
He is with me still.