Sweetheart of Mine

You went on holiday and never came back.

When people go on holiday, they are supposed to return with a suntan and a box of fudge and a pebble from the beach. They are supposed to walk through the door in creased, summer clothes and put the kettle on and tell themselves how much they love their own bed.

But you went on holiday and never came back.

They telephoned from a hospital hundreds of miles away and when my father began to cry into the receiver, I ran up the stairs and hid under a bed, where the words couldn’t find me. I have seen it since. People who cover their ears and escape down hospital corridors. People who shout and beat the air, needing to hold on to a few more seconds of hope.

 If I don’t listen, it isn’t real.

My father drove down to the coast and fetched grandma back in our Hillman Hunter. I had never seen grandma without you before and I was angry with her, as though she’d taken you away and lost you somewhere, and so I stayed in my room and tried to listen for your voice through the floorboards.

Each day would hit me with never-do-agains. Who would teach me to paint and play the piano. How would I know what the trees and flowers were called. Who would say sweetheart of mine and scoop me up like ice-cream into their arms. My never-do-agains stretched through the years. Even now, when I see a golf course or eat chips from a newspaper or hear a twig snap under my boots, my never-do-agains reach out and pull me straight back to you.

I could see your house from my room. Before I went to bed, I would flick the light three times and you would do the same. Goodnight, sweetheart of mine. Our special, secret code.  Now I know how you must have stood and waited in the dark, not wanting to disappoint me. Now I know a lot of things.

They decided I was too young for funerals and so when I looked out of my window that morning I saw a car filled with flowers parked right outside your house. I couldn’t understand how it could be anything to do with you or me and so I made myself as small as I could and pressed my back into the skirting board.

     If I don’t look, it isn’t real.

And that night, I flicked my light three times and I stared out into the darkness and waited.

Before you went on holiday, you came to say goodbye, but I was lost in the pages of a book.

Goodbye, sweetheart of mine

you said from the doorway, but I was too busy to look up. And so the story I read stole away my very last chance to ever see your face.

I rang your house when no one was watching. Whilst everyone was talking and pouring tea and making decisions, I crept into the hall and turned the dial on the telephone as quietly as I could. I was sure you would answer if you knew it was me.

Two, Four, Five, Six.

Even though I am three times the age I was when you died, I remember the number. I telephoned you each day, every time I was sorry for reading my book. Again and again and again.

Two, Four, Five, Six.

I am wise now. I know that people slip out of each other’s lives like shadows. I know that people flicker and falter and disappear without a goodbye and yet still, still, I don’t always look up.

After all the years of never-do-agains and all the twos and the fours and the fives and the sixes, even after all the aching years of wishing away my own selfishness.

You think I would have learned my lesson to always look up, wouldn’t you?

My long-ago, faraway, sweetheart of mine.


  1. Cindy
    June 6, 2011 / 5:12 pm

    awww Jo (hugs).

    I was very close to my grandparents (both sets) and had the good fortune to have them live with us when I was younger. I remember the day each of them died like it was yesterday. …and all the… never -do- agains…

    very special people, grandparents are….


  2. June 6, 2011 / 5:17 pm

    Yes, people do slip in and out of lives.

    And many times, one doesn’t look up.

    Despite knowing better.

    You had a wonderful sweetheart of a grandfather.

  3. June 6, 2011 / 5:19 pm

    You did it again..I am going to start invoicing you for tissues ! Seriously, what a beautiful beautiful piece. Grandparents are a hugely special influence and today I think of my paternal Grandpa who died 28 years ago today. God bless them both xx A-C

  4. June 6, 2011 / 5:46 pm

    Just beautiful and achingly sad xxxx

  5. June 6, 2011 / 6:18 pm

    I love your writing – very sad and very poignant. I was adopted and not fortunate enough to know my grandparents. Now a grandmother myself I know the importance of that role.

  6. Hazel Katherine Larkin
    June 6, 2011 / 6:26 pm


    This is a beautiful piece – well written so it’s not maudlin, but it does tug at the heart-strings. You had a wonderful, special relationship with your grandfather – and you’ve rendered it finely here.


  7. clarekirkpatrick
    June 6, 2011 / 7:45 pm

    Jo, you write so beautifully and, like your other commenters, I’m now sitting at my laptop crying. I’m so sorry you were so hurt.


  8. June 6, 2011 / 8:25 pm

    Beautiful piece – again, Joanna. It’s my maternal grandmother who I still miss almost fifty years after her death – nobody ever made me feel so special.

  9. June 6, 2011 / 8:54 pm

    I’m sitting here with big fat teardrops brimming in my eyes. I’m thinking of my beloved grandparent, who I miss very much all these years after they died. I’m thinking of my own two grandchildren, due to be born this coming autumn and winter. I’m feeling all the love that holds us close and passes through us from generation to generation to generation, so that people who aren’t even alive at the same time can still be bound to one another with ties of love. I’m thinking of you and your sweetheart, and the living love that you still share. And my tears spill over.

    Thank you, Jo. Love and hugs to you.

  10. Alan
    June 6, 2011 / 10:22 pm

    You had me on the opening line this time. Then there are so many poignant thoughts and beautifully-observed details, which make me look back on my own life and remember comparable situations – things that I have long since put out of my mind, but should have me feeling just as guilty as you did. This is very special writing indeed!

  11. Ann Patey
    June 6, 2011 / 10:24 pm

    Just beautiful…

  12. June 7, 2011 / 7:59 pm

    A lovely post Joanna, as always.
    *Hugs and grabs tissue*

  13. June 8, 2011 / 8:28 pm

    This is more than beautiful, I’m glad you had that love and relationship in your life even though it hurt when it was taken away…
    I am jealous of your writing. I want to read a book filled with it x

  14. June 10, 2011 / 2:04 pm

    Fine writing born of fine emotional reflection. He’d have been proud of you.

  15. June 11, 2011 / 6:57 am

    So incredibly sad. I feel the lament and the loss echoing down that phone line.

    Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.

  16. June 11, 2011 / 7:05 am

    Amazing. Just amazing. I don’t have any words. None that would do this justice. Thank you. x Bern

  17. June 11, 2011 / 7:38 am

    Oh, this has bought tears to my eyes. They are truly irreplaceable, these grandparents. Beautiful but sad.

    (Visiting from the Fibro.)

  18. June 12, 2011 / 9:49 am

    This is so painfully beautiful. I love it, but it makes me cry so!

  19. June 21, 2011 / 6:11 pm

    Aw, Joanna. What a lovely piece of writing. What a lovely tribute to your grandfather. I too wanted to ring my Nan’s number after she died… even years afterwards I wanted to call. I never did, but I like to imagine she would have answered and said where have you been all this time?! I still remember her number by heart as well.

  20. Kim Milward
    July 1, 2011 / 1:36 pm

    So poignant. Reminds me that I did a very similar thing. Buried my head in a book the last time I saw my grandfather. Didn’t want to believe that the shrunken grey husk attached to machines was my big strong granddad. If I didn’t acknowledge it, then it wasn’t real. Still wish. I could toss aside that book and give him a hug (can still remember the title). Also sure there was a flicker of sadness in his eyes. Whatever it was, I’ll remember it forever. Thank you for such heartfelt prose xxx.

  21. July 11, 2011 / 6:26 pm

    This is so beautiful, and it’s made me cry as it’s brought back memories of my grandparents. I even used to wonder if they would answer the ‘phone if I called their number. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be possible. Heartbreaking.

  22. July 11, 2011 / 7:04 pm

    You’ve done it to me again too! Made me cry that is. Not for a grandparent but for a sister. I was not reading a book but a comic. I wish I’d looked up. And your words about the funeral spoke to me too – I saw my aunt get in a car wearing a big black hat and wondered where she was going.

    You write beautifully.
    Alison (aka deerbaby )

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