(Photograph: Pia my daughter who is a person with special needs and her beloved grandpa who gave her a lot of love).
It would be almost three years from the time this picture was taken to the day of his death. Each spring and summer we would spend as much time as we could with Pia’s grandparents in Poland; their home tucked between hills, vast fields and forests; each spring a stork couple would return to a perfect giant nest high on top of their green house lovingly nurtured with organic lettuce, parsley even red peppers. I loved going there so much! But at first, I did not!! Country farm life was a tad too real for a spoilt city girl like me and I’d almost reluctantly join Pia’s Dad, my then boyfriend on the very long drive from Vienna to Poland. I’d teeter around in very high heels even amongst the chickens and rabbits with lots of make-up and get really annoyed in the morning stumbling into their kitchen for coffee just to find a neighbor or two, even a family member already in the kitchen at 7 a.m.! I wanted my peace and quiet, I did not want anybody God forbid, to see me without make-up.
As the years went by and especially after Pia’s birth, all the issues we had with her premature birth, the heartache of knowing she would always be a person with special needs, Pia’s Dad’s family circled around her with love, so much love! I had started walking barefoot among the rabbits and the chickens and could not wait to go downstairs to meet everybody for coffee early in the morning, the make-up got a bit less. I had changed. Love and the love the family gave Pia changed me. I always knew though, that those long summer days and fun nights with family and friends in Poland around the fire late, late into the night – I knew in my heart they were too perfect. I knew they would come to an end … I just did not think so soon and all one has to hold are pictures.
Even in the earlier years, I started hanging out with my then father-in-law way more, he was not a perfect person, no one is, but he had a generous heart. We had a good connection. Sometimes we would just sit in the summer sun, birds chattering in the trees surrounding their huge home, not saying a word. Just hanging out. Later even more so and especially when I heard of his illness. No one had told him that Drs predicted he only had two to three years to live and me, I tried to hold on to times I knew were slowly slipping out of my hands. The very last time I saw him, I told him “thank you for being the father I never had. You know that I love you”. He never spoke much, he looked at me and said in Polish “I know”. The next week he left. I was on a bridge over the Danube on a rainy day in Vienna when the call came through.
After he left, everything changed. I am so grateful that I came to my senses early on to realize that people, relationships, situations are not perfect – they never are and the moments we have with loved ones, friends … it’s important to consciously realize even remind ourselves daily, that they are not forever. Time slips away and faster than we think. The way things are today all too soon becomes the way we were, tomorrow.