my kind, curmudgeonly father-in-law

My father-in-law’s funeral is this morning, with this set of circumstances as a back story.  My children, unable to be at the funeral for the reasons set out in the above link, are grieving in their different ways.  They show it and suffer it in different ways.  For one, anger is the current mode of discourse.  Anger against parents who chose to abide by process and procedure.  Anger perhaps at a school incapable of taking a delicate decision correctly, and on a case-by-case basis.  Anger, eventually, at an overarching legislation and – maybe, just maybe – the zeal of one of the most ideological Education Departments it’s been our sadness to witness.

A kind Twitter friend of mine has pointed me in the direction of this organisation: Child Bereavement UK.  In particular, this .pdf is worth a read.  I shall contact this organisation tomorrow.  In the meantime, although I cannot be at the funeral, this is what I would like to say about my father-in-law.

Football was an abiding love of his life.  I first remember him in the park on a Sunday, so many years ago, walking around in the tree-embraced sunlight with his small AM radio against his ear.  His final months were spent in front of his treasured tele, watching a much more sophisticated display of the game.  In the years between, he retired from his job in a building society – and the rock of financial probity on which both his wife and he built their family allowed the latter to survive the pain of a (still) ongoing austerity.

His wife – my mother-in-law – died a decade ago of a terrible cancer.  In retrospect, I think it contributed to my own fall into mental ill-health.  I grieved for someone I found it difficult to get on with; the fault was mine, not hers – and therein my unresolved grief, and the price I had to pay.

And so history was to repeat itself with my father-in-law, with my children’s grandfather.  He was a kind and curmudgeonly man.  (As I try to be myself!)  Some years ago, we asked for permission to take our children early to Spain at Christmas.  He was supposed to be on the edge of dying then.  His curmudgeonly nature refused to give in at that time to the decade-long cancer he was suffering from.  Just because you’re curmudgeonly doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to be loved, or to live.

He lived and was loved, although sometimes in different ways.

At his best, allowed to eat the food he so loved (all Spanish people love eating; there’s a reason, you know), he was the kindest and most genial soul you could imagine.  Dapper, properly dressed-up, always exuding his powerful after-shave, he asked only that he be able to snooze after lunch and occasionally be consulted on matters of family importance.  He kept his mind sharp and alert right to the very end: in that, in his fascination for crosswords and other word games, he was almost English in his persuasion.  I remember his tie-pins and his always quite properly and correctly knotted ties.  They were what characterised his soul.

But life was to play the same unhappiness on him as on his wife.  The cancer that brought him ultimately down in a matter of three weeks was – ultimately – as horrific as they get.  His passing was surely a blessed relief – even as it terrified him; as it terrified him right to the end.

A blessed release, at least, for those of us who believe in these things, to a much better place.

And if you do believe, please say a couple of prayers.  And if you don’t … well … let this be a reminder to the universe that a couple of familial fighters, a couple of honourable souls, a couple of people who deserved a far better end than this, now have the opportunity to reunite their beings with that universe – and, maybe, just maybe, with each other.

A final detail: our sons were in China for a couple of months recently, trying to make their own futures.  They found it difficult, as they might – though they learned many things of a most productive nature.  As befits their Spanish heritage and nationality, they brought back small gifts for everyone in the family, both close and extended.  For their grandfather, a beautifully packaged cylinder of Chinese tea.  Afternoon tea, for him, was a given throughout his life.  And although it was without milk in the most English sense, to my English side it was another aspect which endeared him to me.  So it was that my sons wished him to receive the gift on his deathbed.  So it was that my wife and their mother was able to deliver this gift.

If only our daughter’s school had understood that everyone is deserving of compassion and understanding, whether they form part of the teaching staff or are “simple” Year 11s.  Life isn’t just about cramming for exams, however important.  Life is also about understanding that, occasionally, sometimes, all too often, it is simply not there to be controlled – by anyone.

Not even by a heartless education system.

May el abuelo rest in peace – descansando por fin, alongside his beloved wife.

Y que no sea un “adiós”.  Un simple “hasta luego”, por favor.


  1. Ellie · March 23, 2014

    I’m sorry for your family’s loss. I hope you can find peace during this difficult time.

    • Mil · March 23, 2014

      Thank you Ellie – much appreciated. One of my sons, on reading this piece, said it made him feel better as a result. As I say, we each grieve in different ways, but we must be allowed to grieve in the first place.

      • Ellie · March 23, 2014

        So true. Sometimes people expect the grieving process to be over, and quick. Grieving takes a lifetime, some days harder than others. It’s like with many things, you move forward but it always stays with you in some form.

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