Monday, December 05, 2022

November 2022 - a month in review, part 1: Loss

November started with a big loss in our family as Cathy's Grampy, Jim, passed away. We were able to see him in hospital a few days before he died to say goodbye. We had another opportunity to say farewell at the funeral service, which was held on the 21st November in the church in Gloucester he had attended for over 50 years.

I knew most of the stories that were told in the tribute at the memorial service, because Grampy was good at telling stories about his life, often with a humorous twist in them. 

Despite being christened Percival (like my paternal grandfather), he was given the nickname 'Sunny Jim' as a small boy. He introduced himself as Jim all his life. 

Cathy told me that Jim had fought in the Second World War in one of the airborne regiments, but he rarely talked about it. However, later in life he was contacted by a wartime friend and began attending regimental reunions. 

Jim slowly started to talk about his war experiences, including being on Sword Beach on D-Day, and losing his friend from Gloucester who signed up with him and died from mortar wounds. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and later witnessed the liberation of concentration camps.

The extended family all attended the final regimental reunion a few years ago, which included a thanksgiving service at Exeter Cathedral where the regimental standard was officially retired. 

At a reception afterwards, there were some Second World War re-enactors, invited as guests with their vintage weaponry and equipment. Jim saw how one re-enactor was holding a sten gun and told him he would lose a fingertip holding it that way. 

Jim then brusquely took the gun off the young man and adopted the correct position. I watched, unnerved, as the muscle memory laid down decades ago took over and suddenly Jim was in firing stance, holding a gun he clearly still knew how to use. It really brought home to me the way the war he rarely spoke about had shaped him. He also served after the war in Palestine - present in the country when Zionists blew up the King David Hotel that was the British government headquarters at the time - and then briefly in Vienna.

Jim was always very welcoming from the first time I met him when I had just started going out with Cathy, through the many years since. He would always thank me in his broad Gloucester accent for driving over with Cathy to see him. He would always ask me how Shrewsbury Town, and more recently Barry Town, were getting on - although he usually knew already because he kept an eye out for their results. And he was very persistent in trying to feed me cake. (He was frequently successful.)

I grew to love him like another grandparent. Although everyone called him Jim, through Cathy I was also able to call him Grampy, and it was a real privilege to be able to do that.  

I have started to think of grief as the process of remapping the world and we have already started to do that by noticing the gaps. Jim would always ring up on Cathy's birthday to sing 'Happy Birthday' to her. That didn't happen this year, reminding us both of the space that he occupied and has vacated. He will be missed in many other ways and at other times as we remember him.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6/1/23 21:13

    This is lovely to read 😊 I didn’t remember what you wrote about the reunion reception! What an amazing man he was x