My grandfather passed on at the age of 88. I was angry at him for dying. I felt that if he wanted to, he would have lived longer. See, he was strong and had all he needed, if not all he wanted.
At 86 he had an operation and got back up like nothing had happened. He stood at 5’8 with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, no pot belly, and fit as hell. His complexion was so light that when he had flu, his nose would turn red.
When he was younger he shaved his beard every morning and trimmed his hair to the scalp. But in his last days, his beard was snow white and reached his chest and his hair flowed to the back of his neck. He would stroke his mane with so much pride you would think he had worked to earn it when all he had done was grow old. He took pride in little things, that way it would be possible to appreciate personal achievements.
He was a chef when only white men had chefs and African men had never seen the inside of a kitchen. He cooked in restaurants frequented by white men and at their parties. That means he spoke flawless English, wore elegantly cut suits and had a taste for fine whiskey. He picked up western manners too; he pulled chairs, stood to shake hands and used words like ‘thank you’ and ‘please’. From the English, he took up reading; he read anything he could lay his hands on; recipes, newspapers, books and even publications that would get him into trouble. That way as he grew older his mind became encyclopedic.
He would write us letters and at the back of the page he would sketch a face or a farm setting; anything to make his grandchildren smile. I’m not sure he believed in religion but he did believe in God and tried to be on good terms with him. On Sundays he wore a tie and went to church.
When he retired, he chose to run his farm complete with a small ranch. He would go round the ranch ensuring animals were fed, watered and the sick ones isolated.
My grandfather would return to the restaurants he had worked in, this time, he would be in imported suits with his wife in tow. He wanted to dine where he had worked. He would order mostly off the menu and wait to see how much time it took them. He became a critic of sorts. He would ask questions, why his soup was unnecessarily thick, why someone diced his onions angrily, why there was no fly in his soup… okay I lie.
Later on, his thirst for life seemed to start dying out. He made fewer trips around the ranch and cared less about his cattle, he let his hair and beard grow out, he quit buying suits and ate out less. It’s like he was tired of living.
Some old men want to quit while they are still ahead. They are afraid to grow old and be nursed like toddlers. They are afraid to get their diapers changed. They are afraid of spending all day in bed waiting and begging to die. But it is hard for their families and minders to let them die when they please. So it is human to hold on to them and keep them alive anyway we know how. Even when we cannot save them we put in all we’ve got. Even when they are beyond speech, beyond hearing and sight, even when their lips are blue and their tongues grey, we want to stroke them and tell them to get back up. Isn’t it best to let them be?
As told to Collins Mwai