(Photograph: Pia my daughter who is a person with special needs and her beloved grandpa Jan, who gave her alot 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 at their home tucked between hills, endless fields and forests. Every summer, a stork couple returned to their perfect giant nest high on top of the family green house where lovingly nurtured organic lettuce, parsley, red peppers, garlic and cucumber were growing. We could hear the neighbor’s cows and the chickens being chickeny early in the morning.
I loved going there so much even though it took me a while to reach that point. Country farm life was a tad too real for a spoilt city girl like me; 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! It would annoy me in the morning stumbling into their kitchen for coffee to find a neighbor or two, even a family member already in the kitchen at 7 a.m.! I did not want anybody (God forbid), to see me without make-up. As the years passed by and especially after Pia’s birth, all the medical issues we had with her being three months premature and the heartache of knowing she would always be a person with special needs, Pia’s Dad’s family formed a circle of love around her; by then, I had started walking barefoot among the rabbits and chickens and could not wait to go downstairs to meet everybody for coffee early in the morning; thankfully, the amount of make-up I was wearing became less – it was not all about me and how I looked anymore. I had changed. Love and the love the family gave Pia changed me.
And yet, those beautiful years had something bitter sweet about them. I somehow sensed that the long summer days and fun nights with family and friends around the fire singing, laughing deep into the night … were too perfect. I knew they would come to an end, I just did not think so soon!
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 desperately cling to times I could see were 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, it was almost as if thing ever so slightly, fell apart.
I am so grateful that I came to my senses early to realize that people, relationships, situations are not perfect – they never are. Moments with loved ones even friends are not forever and time slips through our hands faster than we think. The way things are today all too soon becomes the way we were tomorrow with only a picture to show.