My imagination Grandpa left me – Anna Spargo-Ryan

My imagination Grandpa left me

My imagination Grandpa left me

Contains possible triggers

I had another grandfather. His name was Dean. He died before I was born, in 1980.

Dad always told me that he had died of lung cancer. Upon reflection, his story was changeable. “He had a kidney thing.” or “He had a brain haemorrhage.” I imagined what my life might have been like if he hadn’t died, if I had had two sets of grandparents instead. In my six-year-old imagination, Grandpa – that is what my older cousins had called him – and I played football in the park and went to the movies (he always let me get a Choc Top). In my ten-year-old imagination, he listened to me talk about how annoying my little sister was (he always paid attention to me).

I used to ask dad about him a lot.

“Tell me about the tennis,” I would say, and dad would regale fantastic stories about how Grandpa and his identical twin brother would rort the system, with one of them playing as both boys until they were in the final together.

“Tell me about Walaroo,” I would say, and dad would talk about summers on the pier catching blue swimmer crabs in nets and hooking cuttlefish on squid jags and his eyes would flush red.

“Tell me about when he got sick,” I would say.

That day, when I was twelve, dad told me a different story.

“He wasn’t sick, exactly,” he said.

“But he had lung cancer!” I knew this story. Silly dad.

And then my dad put his very warm hands on my shoulders and sat me down.

“Your grandpa was really sad.”

He was speaking in a whisper.

“Because your mum had died.” I knew this story. Silly dad.

“Because mum had died.” He paused for close to a lifetime. “He was really sad.”

I didn’t know how to fill in the unspoken parts, so dad did it for me.

Until that day, I didn’t know people killed themselves.

My imagination Grandpa didn’t die because he was sick. He left on purpose. He pulled his fridge apart and electrocuted himself on the live wires.

Years later I looked through a box of things dad had kept hidden away, and a letter fell out – my Grandpa’s suicide letter. David, he wrote to my dad, because he was the oldest, make sure John doesn’t make a fuss, and look after Margaret.

We never went to the movies again.


  • Krissy

    July 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm Reply

    Amazing as always Anna. Loss of innocence. It reminds me of all the tales I was told as a kid, that unfurled as I got older.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      July 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm Reply

      Thanks Krissy. It’s a strange experience, becoming aware of the truths you missed as a child. Especially about people that you only know through stories. Or that you knew, but not in the way that others knew them. By all accounts, my grandpa was kind of an ass. And my grandma was kind of a bitch. That doesn’t occur to a kid.

  • Jessica

    July 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm Reply

    I do wonder how many men of that generation made this choice.

    …and I wonder how many would-be-grandchildren of *this* generation are angry at them.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      July 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm Reply

      I wonder whether my relationship with my dad would have been different if his dad hadn’t knowingly orphaned him.

      • Jessica

        July 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm Reply

        I’ve thought the same thing – Dad’s been very affectionate, emotional (loving and quicktempered both), and supportive. None of these are traits he shared with his own father. I think he went out of his way to be Different.

        • Anna Spargo-Ryan

          July 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm Reply

          Mine is the same in all of those ways. He is the opposite of an aloof father who would leave his children. He’s like a lioness.

          I did once see him tick “depressed” in a health assessment, and I spent the next two years watching his every move, just to be sure.

          • Carli

            July 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm

            My sister has spent the last 3-4 years watching her ex-husband for similar-ish reasons (that’s totally a word right?). I can’t imagine how difficult that was x

      • Sarah Moran

        July 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm Reply

        Hmmm. Orphaned. I have never heard it put like that.

  • Bernadette Morley

    July 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm Reply

    Tried to write a reply about 6 times now and have deleted every one. None of my words seem like enough. Just, hugs, you know.

  • Kirrily

    July 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm Reply

    Mate. What a huge thing for your dad to carry, simply because he was the eldest. But I was most struck by the reply you left, about watching him closely for the next two years after seeing him check “depressed” on a health form. Wow xxxxx

  • bigwords

    July 4, 2012 at 9:13 am Reply

    I can not wait for the day we can actually be in the same room together. We might sit there quietly, we might chat up a storm. We might not be able to hear each other over the noise of our kids banging on the cupboard doors, but I know I’ll be happy sitting there with you. xx

  • Fiona

    September 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm Reply


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