As I said in my last post, my Grandpa Jeffrey passed away last Sunday morning and it hit me fairly hard. Losing both my grandfathers within a twelve-month period was not something I expected. Grandpa Jeffrey was a little different to Pop, however. Pop, my dad's father, has been around since I was born. Grandpa Jeffrey was someone I only met when I was seven years old, back in 1991. How does that work?
You see, my mother was adopted as a newborn baby. She was adopted by a Tasmanian couple who already had two sons and enjoyed a happy, loving childhood. From the age of four, she knew about the adoption (though it came as an initial shock) but was happy with her adoptive family. Her adoptive father passed away when she was 18 years old, and she lost her adoptive mother to breast cancer when I was less than a year old.
Though she still had her adoptive brothers, to whom she has always been very close, she began to want to find her birth parents. It took a number of years for her grief to subside and for her to feel ready. When I was six years old she began her search, with the help of an agency. She discovered her mother's name, and that her mother had travelled from the mainland to give birth to her and have her adopted. She wrote a letter and sent it out to all the women of that name that she could track down. There are strict guidelines for that sort of thing- the agency does not recommend that you write "I think I am the daughter that you had adopted," etc. Instead, she wrote that she was looking for a woman of that name, who had travelled to Tasmania on that date, to discuss a personal matter. Then she waited.
I remember Mum checking the mail every day. A few replies began to trickle in- all return to sender, or 'not known at this address, or 'sorry, but that wasn't me'. Then one day a letter arrived. I remember Mum reading it, and then I remember her asking Lisa and I to go outside and play as she wanted to lie down. It was only years later that she told me that she had sent us outside, whilst barely holding herself together, so that we would not see her sobbing her heart out. Later that evening she explained to us (we were fully aware of her search) that her mother had written to her, but did not want to talk to her again. Many years later, Mum showed me the letter- the letter that broke her heart, but which she had been unable to throw away as it was the only thing her mother had ever given her. It was formal, impersonal, cold and typed.
"Dear Mrs S,
Yes, I did travel to Tasmania on that date. That chapter of my life is now closed and I have no desire to enter into any further communications regarding the chapter.
No wonder Mum was devastated.
Life went on. Mum locked her new grief away as best she could and tried to put this second rejection by the woman who had given birth to her aside. I remember her sadness and her quietness. I remember cuddling her and feeling shocked that someone's mother would not want them. A few months went by.
Then one Wednesday, Mum received a phone call from the agency that had been helping her. We were in the kitchen and I remember her dropping into a chair and the look of amazement, wonder and joy that spread over her face. The agency told her, "Sit down, Debbie, as we have some news...Your father has been trying to find you for the last 33 years."
By that afternoon, Mum had spoken on the phone to her father. She had learnt that her mother had refused to allow him to have anything to do with the pregnancy and had never told him where she had gone to give birth. She had wanted to marry another man and wanted a career and therein lay her decision. Jeffrey had never given up searching. Mum learnt that she had a half sister and two half brothers, and when she tentatively asked about meeting up, Jeffrey announced he planned to fly to Tasmania to meet us all the very next week.
Mum was beside herself with joy and we were so excited, for her and for ourselves at the prospect of a new grandfather. The following week Mum drove to the airport, an hour and a half away, to collect her father, while we waited at home with Dad. When we saw the car we ran out to see our beaming mother, and our grandfather. He wasn't a stranger to us and we ran straight to him, to both be swept up into a tight, tight hug by strong arms. He held us close against his woollen jumper and we laughed for joy. One of the most important things we wanted to know was what to call him. Mum was still calling him Jeffrey- it wasn't until she spent time with her sister that she began to slip into calling him Dad from time to time- and he told us we could call him whatever we wanted to. He told us that his other two grandchildren- our new cousins- called him Grandpa and we quickly decided that Grandpa Jeffrey seemed right.
He was a big part of our lives from that day. Before too long, we had flown to New South Wales to meet Mum's siblings and stay with Jeffrey in his beautiful home in the Blue Mountains. Mum became very close to her half-sister, who she closely resembled, and we were instantly close to our new cousins. Over the years Jeffrey would visit us or we would see him, and he loved to spoil us at birthdays and Christmas. He took us to the beach and would carry us, one at a time, out into the crashing waves and hold us tight while jumping the waves. He never forgot a birthday or passed up the opportunity to see us.
The last few years of his life were hard. Due to several poor decisions, he lost his highly successful law practice and his lovely home and moved into a small flat. He lost none of his spirit and passion. He may have had flaws, but we never doubted his love for us and he has undoubtedly left a hole in our lives. He was unwell for some time before slipping away on Sunday, and though I am sad I did not see him again before the end, I am also glad in a way that I did not see him in a coma. I am glad I can remember him as he was- loud, and jolly, and full of life, jumping the waves and keeping us safe.