On December 20th 2013, at approximately 10:45am, my grandfather, Louis Joseph Bertolini, passed away, three days after his 95th birthday.
It was heartbreaking, and still is, but it was also a blessing in disguise. He had been in such bad shape for so long that it was a kindness for him to calmly and quietly stop breathing, with my Dad at his bedside.
The past three to four years were very unkind to my Grandpa, who had never been sick for his entire life. That all changed once he hit 90, though. After getting lost driving, he stopped to ask for directions and fell, hitting his head, which triggered a seismic change in his body from that moment on. He developed what the doctors called ‘Parkinsonism’, which started to affect his body, speech, and health.
Essentially, his body started to slowly shut down. He struggled to walk, eventually moved to a walker and then a wheelchair. He struggled to speak, and eventually moved to single words, grunts, and then nothing at all. He was unable to feed himself, go to the bathroom, get in and out of bed. He struggled to stay awake for anything longer than an hour at a time.
And it was a shame. He had once been a great, vibrant, and loving man. I remember him being a dedicated family man who loved having his family around him. He rejoiced at the births of my children. My youngest is named after him. He was always active, as a lawn bowler and snooker player. He exercised daily. He kept a huge garden in the backyard of their old house.
He always had paper and pencils available when we visited. A lot of my creativity was developed as I drew pictures down in the basement of my grandparent’s house, creating characters and worlds on countless sheets of typewriter paper.
I was lucky as a kid – I had four grandparents, which I think was unusual. I had all four grandparents until about 10 years ago, when my Grandma (my Mom’s mom) passed away. But we were always closer with my Dad’s parents, with my Grandpa and Nanny. They lived closer, for one thing, my Mom’s folks lived in Montreal.
When I got the news at about 11:00 on that Friday, I decided I couldn’t stay at work any longer. I needed to be with my Dad, who was going to be the most affected by this. Although this day had been coming for some time, it was still a vicious blow to think it had happened so suddenly – Grandpa had been taken to the hospital on Thursday afternoon, and died about 24 hours later. I met my dad at my grandparent’s old-age home. My Uncle Phil was with my dad, and I hugged them both, knowing they were trying hard to keep it together, but their red eyes were giving them away.
I went into the old age home with them, and they explained to the staff that my Grandpa had passed away, and they were there to let my Nanny know. But there lies another problem: she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Her memory is broken. She doesn’t understand what’s happening around her a lot of the time. She didn’t understand that my Grandpa was sick, and was in such bad shape. My Dad had to take him once a month to get his catheter changed, and every time they came back from the doctor she would ask if they had fixed him.
I went in with my Dad and my Uncle, and they told her and she wept and screamed and swore and threw things, stuff I had never seen her do before. After a few minutes, my Dad asked me to find the resident nurse to bring her something to calm her down. I left shortly after that, leaving my Dad and his brother to comfort their mother.
My Grandpa was always so sharp, even during the worst parts of his imprisonment inside his own body, if you looked into his eyes, you knew he was still there. He never lost his mental faculties the way his wife did, but he lost his physical faculties. We used to kid that if we could combine them, we’d have one functioning person between his mind and her body.
My Grandpa was incredibly important to me and to my family. He was the head of the family without a doubt, a role that I know my own Dad will move into, and maybe one day, a role that I’ll fill as the eldest son, and my Grandpa’s eldest grandson.
I told my mom I’d like to speak at my Grandpa’s service, and I desperately want to, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to . Even typing this out has been tough, but enough time has gone by since he passed that I needed to get this all out.
I will miss him for the rest of my life. In reality, I’ve been missing him for a few years now, ever since the man he was got replaced by the man he became, but I cherish the fact that he got to meet my sons, the two boys that will carry on the Bertolini name. I know my boys don’t remember him any other way than as an admittedly scary-looking husk of a man, but I will always make sure they know what kind of man their Great-Grandpa was.
My concerns now are for my Nanny, who hasn’t been alone in 71 years (that’s how long they were married). I worry about what her life will be like, and if she will lose the memories of her husband entirely.
But that’s something to think about another time. On January 18th, when we have the memorial service for my Grandpa, I will remember him as I always do – the best Grandpa any kid could have, except for my own kids, who have a pretty awesome Grandpa themselves, my Dad.
Thanks for reading this.
This is my Grandpa, my Dad, me, and my boys. 4 generations together, about 2-3 years ago.