But things are changing, and when I go to visit him he’s folded neatly into a hospital bed, nasal specs draped uselessly round the plastic armchair. His mind wanders, perplexed as to who we are and where he is.
Gentle attempts at orientation seem to work for a while before petering out, and Grandpa is left pottering around amid his bewilderment.
I wonder, as we sit round in a semi-circle on our plastic stacking chairs, whether Grandpa had noticed the date, some days previously. It had been my father, his son’s, birthday, and he would have been 64.
And I wonder if Grandpa remembers the day his son was born, at the tail end of the Second World War. Did he go to work and come home to find the drama already over, and my father safe in my grandmother’s arms? Or did he pace about downstairs, horribly mindful of that day in 1943 when their firstborn, a girl, was stillborn during the Blitz?
Does the venom of such memories fade to leave only a dull ache, or is one able to find bittersweet thoughts within the sadness?
I don’t know. But I wonder if whether the subsequent loss of his son had ever been acknowledged. Did he and Grandma mark the day quietly between them? Should we have done so the week before?
Or would that have contributed to the mix of emotions he must be feeling? Was he, in fact, unaware?
I kiss him goodbye and stack my chair neatly away. We walk down the echoing too-shiny corridor out into the freezing London night. And I wish I could make him better.
Arthur Penwarden died a few days after this article was written
Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden is a newly qualified staff nurse in Devon