Late night phone calls rarely convey good news and sadly we have received two devastating ones recently. The first was my mother-in-law informing us that my father-in-law had passed away peacefully in hospital. We had been with him all day so were expecting the call but it was still a dreadful shock to hear the words. He had been stoically battling cancer for nearly three years but in the end his passing seemed so quick. We really thought he had longer.
It still doesn’t seem real that he’s gone and that we won’t see that mischievous smile through his silvery beard ever again. He was a wonderful man, full of humour and for all his ‘Laird of the Castle’ status, he was utterly down to earth and humble. I was fairly terrified before I met him for the first time, not having had much experience with castle owners. I think I was picturing a terribly austere gentleman, posh and intimidating, especially when he emerged from the castle in a kilt, but the reality couldn’t have been more different. He was warm and welcoming and chuckled away at me and my husband’s insulting banter over lunch.
Throughout the past three years, since we made the move and took over the estate, he was a rock of support and took quiet pride in all we have achieved. (I say ‘we’, of course I mean my husband. He has now added a hydro scheme to his long list of achievements whilst I am incinerating things daily in the Aga again and regularly fucking up the washing machine*).
It was a joy to witness his relationship with the children. They adored their Bubba Beard**, and he them. I’m not sure how much they understand about death and grief but I do know that they miss him terribly. We often visit the graveyard where he was buried. It’s on the estate and a short walk down the hill from the castle. They love dancing among the daffodils and picking some for Bubba. Sometimes there are questions, “why do people die mummy?”, “why are some people baked***?”, “Can I be a mermaid when I grow up?”, all of which I try to answer honestly. I don’t believe in sugar coating the truth – “No you can’t be a bloody mermaid when you grow up – along with Santa and the tooth fairy, they don’t exist.”
The second heart-wrenching call came two weeks to the day after my father-in-law’s funeral. This time it was a tragedy in my family and one which we are all struggling to come to terms with. My cousin’s 26 year old ski-instructor son had a fall whilst teaching a class in France and suffered a fatal head injury. A month on and it’s still hard to believe this has happened. He was so full of energy and passion and was truly living his dream. There is no doubt he inspired others – tributes have poured in from all over the world. He was such a big-hearted, exuberant guy and through my sadness, it is impossible not to smile at his memory. We shared many, many laughs over the years. He would always tease me about not having a proper job – I was an art student then temped for several years before finally completing a masters and starting a career far too late in life, which was then rudely interrupted by getting married and relocating to a castle in the arse-end of nowhere. We also shared the rare achievement of having pulled a fast one on my granny (his great-granny), in a cunning rouse involving an unfinished portion of mince and tatties.
We are broken. This is new and awful and unfathomable. My husband’s pain is palpable and I can’t even begin to imagine what my cousin and her family are going through. I have attempted to deal with my own grief with lots of solitary wailing in the car and slow trudges up and down the beach, bawling into the wind at bemused seals. It helps, momentarily. Life has continued of course, as it must, just with slightly heavier hearts and longer pauses now and then as we learn to rely on our memories of these two remarkable, and very much loved men. Both gone way too soon, one inexplicably so. Life suddenly seems so much more precious and way too short to get upset about broken washing machines or burnt bacon. Which is just as well.
*Hotpoint Steve, our local engineer is now so fed up with being called out to the castle, he’s trained my husband how to fix the wretched machine. So far he’s retrieved a shopping trolley token, £3.25 in loose change, Princess Twighlight Sparkle’s left shoe, Mike Wasowski from Monsters Ink (mini figure), several rusted hair clips and a foam letter M.
**so named to distinguish him from their other beloved grandpa, Bubba Mike
***cremated. My bad.