My granddad passed away earlier this week at age 95. It didn’t come as much of a surprise, he had not been anywhere close to well in the last dozen or so months. When I let that first call from my mom go to voicemail because I was in a meeting, and then saw a second call coming in from her less than 15 minutes later, I knew what to expect when I picked up the phone.
The first thing I felt was a strange kind of relief. He hadn’t been able to truly be himself in the last year. His lack of any physical strength, the pain and the confusion brought on by medication didn’t allow much of his playful personality to shine through. “He can finally rest in peace,” was the first thought this atheist, nihilist mind of mine produced.
Then I thought about how much I could have learned from him, but didn’t. He was born in 1925, experienced the second world when he was around my age, started out working in the coal mines, worked himself up to management, and raised 8 children.
For most of the time I knew him, I was too young to realise all of the life experience he held, and he wasn’t the most naturally open person when it came to talking about the past. Nonetheless, I would have loved to ask him what he thought the key was to staying as happy and jolly as he was throughout all of life.
Many of my relatives will remember him as the person that would always crack jokes at the different times each year our big family would gather at their house. Many of us will also remember the fact that he would do handstands on the coffee table until late in his seventies.
It made me realise once again how important it is to give people your undivided attention every once in a while, and how we tend to do that so little in a world that revolves around notifications, podcasts, internet videos, breaking news and materialism.
If life is about asking the right questions, listening with undivided attention might be one of the most important skills a human should have.
Good night granddad.