My Kung Kung passed away last Thursday and I'm sitting here in front of the computer trying to find a way to disentangle the complexity of my sadness. Real life has its inevitable way of insinuating itself - so yes, I spent this past weekend at the farm with the kdubsguelphtdot crew, laughing and playing games, and yes, I have been thoroughly charmed by the Big Yam's continuing antics, but there have also been times of grief, sorrow, and a torrent of tears.
I spent all Monday and Tuesday sifting through old photo albums with my sister, selecting pictures of Kung Kung that will be displayed on poster boards on easels around the chapel. Poh Poh and Kung Kung kept many many many photos - most of them from when they were young, or on their travels just after Kung Kung retired in the late 60s/early 70s. So many pictures of Kung Kung and Poh Poh, dressed in the styles of the times, a mod green Hawaiian shirt on Kung Kung, Poh Poh in a matching shift dress, her hair teased up and hairsprayed into a poufy bouffant, standing in front of swaying palm trees before a sun-drenched beach in some tropical locale, Kung Kung smiling his characteristic grin, the analog photo bleached and aged with a Kodak-derived authenticity that no number of iPhone hipstamatic filters could hope to truly replicate. So many photos of Kung Kung smiling, smiling, smiling. That smile I know so well after 31 years of being reflected in it. That smile is the constant throughout all the photos - making him recognizable even through the subterfuge played by time and fashion.
Sifting through the photos, the relics of a life, one of the realizations brought to the fore, compounding my grief, is the dawning awareness that he was a person (if that makes sense) separate and autonomous from being my grandfather. That he had friends since lost to the annals of time, that he traveled and had his own jokes, dreams, petty worries, joys - that he was young, that he was like me. Seeing evidence of him with his boyhood chums, beaming with pride as he showed a visiting dignitary around his workplace, wearing a dashiki, sitting straight and tall without a hint of gray in his hair careening around in a bumper car, it makes him both real to me and more of an abstraction. I don't know that man in the photos. I knew a version of him, but there is so much that is opaque to me and will now be forever.
One of the photos shows my grandfather, standing in front of some crumbling Greek temple. It's taken from quite a few feet away and he's quite small in the photo, staring at the camera. I turned the photo over, and written on the back, in his small precise handwriting, were the words,
Portia, here's looking at you.
Oh, how I cried reading that tender, private little inscription - cry for how much he loved my Poh Poh and loves her still. How hard it must have been for him to leave her, after 62 years of constant togetherness, the two of them always hand in hand.
I feel like a bad granddaughter. Like I took his presence for granted. Like I didn't spend enough time with him. Like I didn't take it seriously that he wouldn't always be there and now rue my own hubris. Like I allowed the distance wrought by a generational and cultural divide to prevent me from making him know that I loved him. And I know, realistically, that he was human with faults and flaws that no amount of grieving romanticism will fix - but when someone passes you don't dwell on their human foibles. It is a testament to the essential goodness of people that in death, we honour people with a glossing of their lives; allowing their negative attributes to fade and carrying only their positive attributes forward.
In a way, I'm almost taken aback by how sad I am. I somewhat foolishly didn't think I would be, if I were to ever conceive of a world without Kung Kung. It's so very telling that his presence in my life was so constant that the idea that he would someday die was never more than a distant abstraction.
What I will always remember is Kung Kung's smile and his sense of humour and his matter-of-fact way of discussing things. Everything happened so suddenly - it was less than 2 months ago, over the Christmas holidays that the whole family was gathered around the dinner table at the grandparents' go-to restaurant and he was grilling Bruce Wayne (S-dawg's preferred pseudonym) about road tests. Kung Kung was concerned that he had to renew his license soon and was worried about taking a road test because in his words, "If I am forced to take a road test, I will most certainly fail." LOL! It's not only funny that he was still driving, what with his lack of confidence in his own abilities, but the central crux of his road test stumbling block was because he hasn't parallel parked in about 30 years.
I think he would have found it funny that when my mum was talking to me and the Dotytron about what music will be played at the service, and she said, Rock of Ages, the Dotytron and I looked at each other confused, because this is what we were thinking of:
and not this:
He was always ready with a joke or some kind of mildly insulting jab and I know that, my grief aside, he was lucky to have lived for 88 years with a wife he adored and with family and good friends surrounding him.
RIP, Kung Kung.