My grandfather passed away unexpectedly yesterday morning, on his 92nd birthday. (Something symbolic in the way he left the world the same date he entered it) I'm still pretty shocked.
Were at the hospital for hours yesterday and my mind wandered to writing. I thought about cliches associated with writing on death. Because they were all true yesterday. The hospital room smelt sterile. His body became cold (a different kind of cold to anything else). He looked pale and peaceful. And his family stood around, holding his hand and crying. Reminiscing about his life and his fulfillments.
Although every death is unique, there are still cliches that cannot be avoided. It takes a good writer to write about it originally.
Here is the beginning of a story I wrote about my grandfather in 2008. It is about how he got to Australia after World War 2.
It was 1945 and he was in Austria. The war had just ended and my grandfather, Bernard, who was twenty-eight at the time, had lost almost everything. He was alone, weighing thirty-eight kilos and suffering from Tuberculosis (TB), a contagious disease of the lungs he inevitably caught during the war. The Nazi’s had separated his entire family, putting them all into different concentration camps around Europe; Bernard was the first to be taken on the 1st of March 1942.
The first camp he was in was a forced labour camp where he was made to work vigorously for most of the day, building the road ‘Outbound’ from Berlin to Krakow. He recalls now, his voice cracked and aged, one of the men he worked with, whose body was so weak from starvation (they were only rationed a ladle of food in the evening and 33 grams of bread); he dropped a brick and was consequently strangled to his death in front of them all. For years he witnessed these callous murders, feeling himself getting closer to his own demise.
The other three camps he went to were concentration camps “just to kill people”, where he remembers his friends and family-friends from the Jewish community being taken into gas chambers and only coming out from the chimneys. “The minute you came to the camps, the world stopped,” he explains, in both the physical and mental meaning.
His comfortable life and happy family were now just a memory he clung to with clenched fists; the attainment of this past a dream that kept his heart strong and his body moving.
After the liberation of the camps in May 1945, Bernard, who had been in them for three years, found the names of two of his brothers and two of his sisters on a short list detailing the where-abouts of survivors. His parents were not on the list, nor the rest of his family. They had been murdered in the gas chambers – their body’s mass cremated - in Auschwitz, a place where the most unconceivable and unfathomable inhumanity occurred.
His younger siblings in Germany came to meet him in Austria, where they all began the gruelling process of mourning and recovery. Bernard was in hospital for eighteen months suffering from TB and a deathly low body weight; crammed into wards with other holocaust survivors, their bodies like gaunt ghosts and their minds scarred by brutality. His family, the only thing left to him and fortunately without disease, came to visit him daily.