Just spoke to my grandfather. He's a cantankerous old bastard at the best of times; he was a cantankerous young bastard before that. Now his mind is going, and, worse, he has begun to recognise it.
He didn't recognise me on the phone; didn't even remember whose child I was. "You're one of the big ones, is that right?" he asked. Yes, Nonno, your oldest grandchild. Things came back, suddenly. "You're the university professor, and I think you should know that everyone in the family is very proud of you. You should be proud of yourself, it's an achievement," he began to pontificate.
I was calling to tell him that I'm trying to arrange to go up and see him. My grandparents live in skiing resort in the Swiss Alps, a ridiculously unsuitable location for two mentally-failing 80-somethings. Their closest family member is my aunt in Buccinasco, a suburb of Milan. Nonna is in a nursing home, recovering slowly if at all from a bad fall before Christmas. I'm going to come up next month, Nonno, and visit you both.
Oh, no, he said, I'm not sure about that. He sounds more Lancashire now than I remember. He explained that it wasn't that he didn't want to see me ("although you're practically a stranger to me now") but that it was inconvient, difficult, stressful... no, just no basically. Careful and repeated explanations were irrelevant. "You see, your grandmother's health problems are actually nothing compared to mine. In fact, mentally I'm in a worse state than she is," he said. True, perhaps, but no more welcome self-knowledge for that.
He begrudgingly conceded that "if you're in the area anyway, for other reasons" I could pop in to see Nonna in the home. He gave me her room number and her visiting hours. "Don't try to make a special trip," he said, "only if you happen to be in the area." (estimated distance from my home to hers= 815km). But as for himself, "much as I'd like to", it would be absolutely impossible to meet up. Under any circumstances.
Here I should insert some concluding philosophical point or emotional insight or consolatory message or suchlike but I don't feel like it. More wine, I think.