The last beating of a brave heart

After lunch, the old patriarch sat on his reclining chair as he did every day of his nowadays so predictable life. I may be old, he thought, but I still enjoy a good meal. As he closed his eyes, he thought of the coming Christmas with some trepidation – after all this would be the first Christmas with his two great-grandchildren, and at such a lively age, both one year old! The little girl living in London, he didn’t see her so often, but the little boy he saw every week during the family Sunday dinners, and he was a bundle of joy, lighting up his greyest days like no one else could.

When some of the family members (with the exception of his youngest son who stayed behind to attend to him) went to London to celebrate the little girl’s first birthday he cried. He cried because he felt so helpless, because the pain in his knees would not allow him to walk as he would like to, making any travels too much of an effort. He remember happier times only a few years before when he and his beloved wife had flown to Barcelona for their grandson’s wedding – and even then airport logistics had been complicated, but they had had such a happy time and then a year after nothing would ever be the same with the sudden loss of his lifetime companion.

As he dozed his mind took him further back in time, to a beach in Cascais where he was walking with his then fiancée, the beautiful tall girl he loved; how happy and carefree they were. Someone – he could not remember who – had captured the moment in a photo he still kept in his living room and that invariably caused appreciative comments “My, Granddad, what a handsome couple you and Granny made!” and, also invariably, he would proudly talk about how they had first met and married and started a family and how it was back then…

He was a professional driver and always highly esteemed by his employers. After working for some prestigious companies he ended up working for one of the major Portuguese political parties and of course he knew many stories, many secrets he had never shared. But one day he told me about one of the most difficult moments of his career, one might even say his life: the long ago day – December 4 1980 – when he left Portuguese Prime Minister Sá Carneiro and his partner Snu at Lisbon airport. Theirs was a great love story and they were living together openly even if he was not divorced from his first wife, something that did not go well with the strict morals of the time. The Prime Minister was going to a political rally in Porto and instead of travelling by TAP (the Portuguese airline) as had initially been planned he was offered a last minute ride in a small Cessna by his Defence Minister who also happened to be going north. Sá Carneiro accepted –it was more convenient as schedules went – and he boarded the plane together with the others. As he said goodbye to him, Sá Carneiro asked him to pick them up at the airport the following day at noon. The rest is history: almost as soon as the small plane took off it crashed and there was never a tomorrow for Sá Carneiro and his companions. Even though everyone is convinced it was not an accident, the truth has never been revealed. In a time without mobile phones the old patriarch learned what had happened as he arrived home later that fateful day and all the news on TV were informing a stunned country the prime-minister had died on a plane crash. He was devastated.

Lost in these thoughts he dozed for some time. When he woke up he looked around and suddenly his phone was ringing. It was his daughter, who always called him after his nap. Smiling, he told her he must have overslept today! She said she and her eldest brother would be coming to see him in the early evening, as they did every day. As he hung up he put on the TV and absentmindedly watched it for some time, without really noticing. After all, what is there of interest on TV nowadays he thought, only misfortunes. Then he looked at his watch and saw it was tea time. He got up with some difficulty – damn my knees, if it weren’t for them I would still be having coffee with my friends, every day, I would still be driving – and walked towards the kitchen. In the corridor he glimpsed the lights of the Christmas tree his daughter had so lovingly made for him and again he looked forward to the coming Christmas festivities that would be held in his home – as had been the tradition for many years. And he smiled to himself as he thought of the two children opening their presents, as he pictured the whole family sitting around the table toasting to life, to the New Year, to the new members…he felt contentment in his heart and thought this Christmas there would be no space for sad thoughts, children always bring so much joy.

As he walked into the kitchen he suddenly felt himself  falling, but it was not a bad sensation because he was falling very, very softly, as if he were floating. And then he felt no more, for his heart, his brave heart that had never surrendered, never been beaten,  stopped beating and all was quiet.

As he had been dignified in life, so was he in death. Many people attended his funeral to pay him one last homage, from the best known party personalities to his children’s and family’s colleagues and friends and the friends he used to have coffee with. Everyone was there to pay their last respects, and everyone talked about the man he had been, the father, the friend, the grandfather, the father in law, the professional.

His eldest grandson asked to say a few words about him on behalf of the whole family. Bravely fighting his tears he spoke about the man his Grandfather had been, how his family had always come first, and how tenacious he had been in fighting for them. What an example he had been for all, and how he and his brother and cousins would continue to follow his teachings and pass them on to the next generation, because the values he had taught them would stay with them forever, as would his example of a strong but always kind man.

I do not believe there was one single person in that room that did not have his or her eyes filled with tears as his grandson ended his speech with simple, but very touching words: “Goodbye Granddad; you will stay in our hearts forever. By the way, give Granny our love and tell her we miss her, but also that we are very happy that you two are finally together; from now on the two of you will be watching over us, I know”.

Yes – as his loving daughter told me – instead of one, there are now two little shining stars above. The old patriarch’s brave heart stopped beating but his soul has flown to another dimension, to be reunited with the love of his life. And what a happy reunion that must have been.

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