In the years since my grandmother died, my grandfather has become even more reclusive and introverted, essentially living the life of an eccentric hermit. He rarely ventures outside, beyond the need for his weekly shop or to feed the birds, and his apartment remains largely unchanged since the day she died. The ornaments and trinkets with which she decorated their shelves have gathered a thick layer of dust, and the outdated calendar which hung upon the kitchen wall 20 years ago still remains, pages unturned. Each and every birthday, anniversary and Valentine’s Day is marked by him buying a bunch of her favourite flowers and leaving them on the living room desk. There they have accumulated over the years until now the desk is awash with a skeleton forest of dried carnations.
My grandfather obviously has a tremendous admiration for Grandma. He often describes her as the most remarkable person he has ever met. Evidently he is committed to preserving my grandmother’s memory, much moreso than his own. Lost loved ones live on in the memories of those whose lives they impacted, and the frequency with which he speaks of her carries an awareness that when he dies, so too does any story of her left untold. Pictures of her adorn every room, while a series of her portraits- noticeably more colourful and vibrant than his other works- hang centre stage in his preferred workroom. In the centre of the living room is a lovingly assembled record of her life. This takes the form of a series of leather-bound books, compiling of newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs. These he is eager to peruse when family visit, relaying her achievements to refresh them in people’s minds.
Sadly, in 2006 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and this has provoked a period of sustained introspection, as he now finds himself haunted by the decisions he made during his life. He still paints every day, but in hindsight he sees his reluctance to exhibit as an act of selfishness. He feels he owed it to Grandma, after all she had done for him, to repay her by stepping beyond his comfort zone. She believed his work would amount to something, and not just remain a cathartic exercise in self-expression. But he couldn't do it, and he not only feels he let her down, but he also blames himself for the stress she endured while supporting him.
As the years passed, so too did the influential figures who once were so keen on his work- taking with them the opportunities they represented. He keeps a record of each in the form obituaries cut from the newspaper. Indeed, as he reflects upon a lifetime of accomplishments- hoarded in secret- he is aware that the art world he left behind has changed dramatically in his absence. Art, he believed, was now a message; it was symbolism; a statement; it was something other than necessity. Parallel to this he developed an anxiety over how his ‘old-fashioned’ work would be received today- leaving him uncooperative with any efforts to right the wrongs of the past, and resigned to disappointment.