Me and My Grandad

I lost my Grandad in May of this year.  The following is the unedited Eulogy I delivered at his service (very badly, with no composure whatsoever and plenty of tears and snot!)  It has taken me a long time to want to share such private grief, and perhaps to acknowledge he really is gone.  

Grief is the price we pay for love, and I was gifted with a whole lot of love. 


Me and My Grandad

I was blessed with a Grandad with whom I’ve had not only longevity but also spent a great deal of time- moments both ordinary and very special. When I was born he was just 46 years old. During the first part of our lives together, we lived in Christchurch, New Zealand, he in what seemed to me to be a enormous and imposing house in Brenchly Ave.

As a child, he was a giant of a father figure, especially as my own Dad lived in another city and later, another country. Nana and Grandad were like a second set of parents: it would be rare that my sister and I wouldn’t see them at least every week, sleeping over in bunks, snuggled up with hot water-bottles and cups of cocoa before bed.

He was such a strong man, a great thick head of hair, a great cheeky grin, and I remember being awed by seeing him drink 3 glasses of water one after the other on a hot day when he had been working outside. I was 5, and I didn’t know such a thing was humanly possible. He completed this picture of strength by asking me to punch his stomach as hard as I could with my tiny 5 year old fists (I pulled the punches, scared of hurting him!) I discovered just a few days ago that he was a boxer in his youth.

When I was a child, Grandad was a milkman: he went to bed early and got up at 3am for the milk-run, and on the weekends, if we had stayed over he was often home by 9am, when my Nana cooked him a huge breakfast- eggs bacon grilled tomatoes and fried bread a plenty.  Emma and I would hover by the kitchen table, like little chicks with their mouths open and say “Cheep cheep Grandad” and he would share bits of his bacon with us.


Grandad and Winnie

He was very clever with his hands, renovated successive houses as we slowly grew up, all with a Rothman’s ciggie hanging out his mouth. And when he wasn’t working, playing golf or making things, we would snuggle with him on the couch and watch TV shrouded in cigarette smoke and accompanied by his dog Gigi and later a magpie who terrified the bejeezus out of us.

Grandad loved cuddles and affection, and grandchildren are made for such things. In fact, in the last 10 years, I have been greeted with “Where’s my hug?” every time I have seen him. I’m already missing those hugs.

My early memories are a happy blur of family camping trips in caravans, lazing around rivers, tobogganing in the snow in Kaikoura, and visits to the rugged West Coast of New Zealand- childhood days that felt like they would last forever, filled with swimming laughing and Nana’s scotch eggs.

He gave my sister and I our first driving lessons, sitting on his lap in the milk truck, aged 7 & 8.

In my teens, Nana and Grandad were the core of the family. When I was 13, (in what was to be a lifelong trend), I lived with them, and Aunty Niki, for 6 months before moving to Tasmania to live with my Dad. Once in Australia, we talked on the phone, and they were always keen to hear our news, no matter how minor. In my mind Grandad was as strong as ever, always jolly when we spoke and seemingly immutable.

Nana died in 1997 when I was 24 and on returning to New Zealand, my studies enabled me to live in Christchurch for 6 weeks, and I stayed with him and Lyn and my then partner Pete. Grandad was noticeably older, and our relationship shifted slightly. He was as wise and clever as ever, if a little softer and sadder as if humbled by the loss of Nana.  The first time we went to go somewhere, he handed me the keys to the Daihatsu Charade, and I don’t think he ever drove me anywhere again although he certainly drove himself (god help us all!) A highlight of this time was Lyn, Pete, Grandad and I going to the West Coast of New Zealand, and having a lovely long weekend away.


Deep-Sea Fishing- “Iron-Guts Al” in the 5% who didn’t lose their breakfast

In 1998 he stayed with me in Brisbane for 3 weeks where he charmed my friends and stayed connected with my Dad and his wife Heather, and crept into the lives of my younger sisters, Erin, Ni and Tah in what would be the beginning of their mutual affection and Grandad adoption program. He stands out famously in this time for going on an adventure with me to find my friend Melina at the end of her last Uni exam, before taking her to the RE (Royal Exchange) drinking her under the table, and heading back to mine with a carton under the arm to carry on!

In 1999, he came to stay with me in Melbourne, as I finished my legal prac training, and the owner of my house was delighted to find that while I had showered, Grandad had weeded her entire previously unusable and overgrown courtyard, and went on to repair all her outdoor furniture!

Grandad moved permanently to Australia around 2001 and in 2003 took a train from Adelaide where he had been bunking with Aunty Niki, to the sleepy suburb of Somerville in Melbourne, where he stayed with me and my partner Dave for three months. As he stepped off the train, he handed me half a packet of cigarettes, and a lighter, and said “Throw those in the bin, I know you and Dave hate smoking” and he never touched a single one while he stayed with us. I remember waking up the first night he stayed to hear a strange tearing sound, not unlike like possums rustling in paper, and got up to investigate.  Grandad, unable to locate any toilet paper, was tearing up newspaper to take care of business!Me, my Grandad, and toilets, was also an emerging theme.


Valentine’s Day 2016

Back then, I felt somewhat ill-equipped to deal with an older person: I lived in fear that I would find him dead in his bed each morning. If only I had known then he would kick on for another 15 years, I could have spared myself some significant anxiety!

Also during this time, I discovered he was probably a zombie…the light was always on in his room and assuming he was asleep, I would turn it off only to get an “oi” as he was reading.

He eventually returned to Perth, but in 2005, after Lyn had married the wonderful D-Wayne and moved to Nevada USA, Grandad fell and broke his hip (a moment which resulted in his quitting smoking forever, no mean feat for a man who’d smoked for 50 odd years) After nursing him Niki was moving back to the UK, and so we bullied (or rather BPP’d) him in to coming to live in Brisbane, to be closer to Mum and I.

Dave and I had purchased a house in Corinda, and we set Grandad up in there. He took custody of my cat Maddison, and I stayed with him nearly every Thursday night. This was a new era in our relationship: though he was largely independent, he needed more help and had definitely taken over from me as the accident-prone member of the family.

In San Francisco

In San Francisco

In 2008, both Grandad and I headed for the land of the free: me to teach American kiddies horse riding at summer camp, and Grandad to build a house in Washoe Valley Nevada and to worry about me being eaten by a bear in my post camp solo camping travels.

I called in daily to assure him I had not been eaten, and if I was in bear country he would always say “Sleep in the car! Sleep in the car!”

At the end of my gallivanting, I flew to Nevada, and Grandad, Lyn and I made our first trip together to Yosemite National Park and San Francisco, and also to visit the giant redwood forests of California, where it astounded me to learn there was something older than Grandad. Apparently, he’d had a pterodactyl as a pet when he was a child.

We flew back to Brisbane together, and he moved in to a cottage in an independent residential village in Corinda. This was a period of dinners and day trips. During this time, he cooked his own food, and although Mum, Neil and I ate with him once a week, when at his, we did everything we could to avoid eating his cooking. One of my friends had named him “Iron-Guts Al”- not everyone could cook a stew at 10am, leave it sitting on the stove until 6pm in the Brisbane weather, eat it and live to tell the tale!

In Sqaw Valley near Lake Tahoe

In Sqaw Valley near Lake Tahoe

In 2011 Grandad and I decided to visit the USA and see Lyn & Dwayne, and the very day I booked the tickets, he fell and broke a bone in his hand and in his neck. That was a long day in the hospital, but stoic as ever, he worked hard to get better to be able to make the trip.

Flying with an older and injured person does have its perks. We were upgraded to Premium Economy, and enjoyed together what felt like rock star treatment, got priority boarding and a speedy ride through airports in the US.

Highlights of our trip were travelling to San Francisco, dining at the Bubba Gump Shrimp company, not getting locked up at Alcatraz, breakfast at Sausalito, visiting the beautiful Carmel Valley and D-Wayne’s brother Jim, hiking Yosemite National Park, visiting Hearst Castle, and Lake Tahoe including a spontaneous wine tasting in the Sqaw Valley.

There is no doubt his humour, dubbed “bad jokes” by well…everyone who knew of them, will live on. He was extremely quick witted, and delivered some absolute pearlers, my favourite of which came one evening when we were heading out to dinner, he got out of the car, and spied something on the ground.  Not being able to quite make out what it was, he gave it a couple of pokes with his walking stick. “Grandad” I said “don’t become one of those old men who goes around poking everything with their stick” to which he replied “ I used to be a young man who went around poking things with my stick.”

A few months after our return began the saddest change in our relationship.  Mum had moved out to Mt McEuan, and I helped Grandad with grocery shopping and doctors appointments. One day, he rang me, which was unusual (he never wanted to be what he thought as a ‘bother’). I asked him how he was, and he replied not too good- he couldn’t remember the last few days, and there were things broken in the house. This was the beginning of a number of memory episodes, where grandad would have ‘blanks’ and forget a few days, and after each episode he seemed to lose more of the last 2, then 5, then 10 and 20 years. This was heartbreaking. He was a man with a terrific memory, and a long full life, and without it he was a little lost.  It distressed him that there were gaps, and so many things he couldn’t recall. While utterly stoic when it came to physical ailments, the change in mental capacity weighed heavily on him. By some ummmm… miracle, however, he somehow retained ALL of those bad jokes and sayings.

At his 89th birthday this year

At his 89th birthday this year

The last few years saw Grandad accrue significant frequent flyer points at the PA Hospital. After Lyn returned from the USA, he moved in with her, and his body and mental care were closely managed by the Sheriff of the BPP.

I moved to London for a period after this, and kept in touch through numerous postcards from all my travels, including a plethora of the Queen, as I tried to convince Grandad she was his new girlfriend (aint grandchildren wonderful?) and through Facebook- Grandad loved to follow all our antics on facebook. It is with significant pride I would tell people my grandad, in his 80s, was on social media.

On my return from the UK, I lived with my Grandad one last time, for a period of 3 months, a time filled with hugs (requested at times in a slightly petulant tone if they weren’t delivered quickly enough) family dinners, crosswords and rounds and rounds of Jeopardy and other quiz shows.

Though my sadness at his wholly expected, but yet still entirely incomprehensible departure, is overwhelming right now, in time I know it will be replaced with an tremendous gratitude for all that we experienced together, and the extraordinary and unusual relationship we shared that few are blessed to have with a grandparent for reasons of time, geography or simply the willingness of one of the parties.

My last birthday gift from Grandad was a mug with the words “Let life be one big bold daring adventure”

So, as I continue on this adventure called life, I will take my Grandad, and all our special memories, with me.

Allan Hunter Campbell born 15 January 1927

took his last breath, and then his other last breath

at 5.45pm 16 May 2016

surrounded by his closest family

July 2015

July 2015

About The Tina Sparkles Experience

Apparently, there are people who go traveling and just see things and nothing weird happens. I'm not one of those people....come on holiday with me and find out why!

One Response to “Me and My Grandad”

  1. A beautiful true story of love.

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