Almost three weeks ago, I sat in my grandparent's living room and talked and laughed with my grandpa and gave him a hug and told him I loved him. And then last Friday, I stood in that same living room with my family surrounding him as he drew his very last breath. It's devastatingly strange how life can change so quickly.
I know that I am fortunate to even know my grandparents. Many people don't have that opportunity. But I have lived my life up to this point with all four of my grandparents, and even had the sweet privilege of knowing five of my eight great grandparents. The blessing of this is not lost on me. The greater gift has been watching them all walk with grace through life's joys and difficulties, loving the Lord and their families well.
Over the last couple of years I have been reminded often about the brevity of life - maybe this has something to do with living next to a cemetery, or more so watching several families walk through heavy grief of their own. But I just want to plead with you to remember that life is so short. Don't wait to make amends. Don't wait to say the words, "I love you," "I miss you," "I'm sorry," "Forgive me." Don't let your pride or your anger or your fear hold you back from connection and relationship. Use your words to speak life as often as possible. It will all slip by so fast.
My grandpa lived a good long life, but it doesn't change the sadness I have felt. And while my family has hope in seeing him again - knowing he's more alive right now than ever before - I read one time that, "hurting with hope still hurts." This is the truth I've felt this last week. And since I don't know how to process things except to write them down, I'm sharing with you the letter I wrote and read to my grandpa the day before he died. I held his hand and read it to him so that he would know the truth about everything before he went home to Jesus. More than anything I want to share this with you because his testimony is one of faith and if that's not the point of this life, then I don't know what is.
We found out from the doctors this week that you’re not doing too well. We knew you didn’t feel very good and you kept going to the doctor and they kept telling you they didn’t know what was wrong. I’m a little mad at them for that – for not helping you feel better or finding the cancer sooner. So I’m sorry you have felt sick for so long. I wish there was something we could do but they tell us there is nothing more.
I could tell you didn’t feel well last week when I was over at your house, but you laughed just the same as you always have when you recounted life on the farm where you grew up. You knew exactly what I was talking about when I asked about your childhood home outside of Hickman and you could describe it just as well. I left your house that day thinking that we should have spent more time talking about your childhood – more learning about where you grew up and what your life was like so long ago with all your siblings and your parents. You were growing up during World War II so I imagine your childhood was a bit of a wild ride. We should have spent more time talking about when you met grandma and what your young love was like and what went through your head when you found out she was pregnant. We should have spent more time talking about those kinds of things – the hard things and the ways they forced you to learn and grow. I think we all like to hide those parts of our stories, but I’ve found it’s best if we talk about them a little more often.
There are other things I wish I knew more about now that I’m looking back on all that I’ll miss and all that we won’t be able to ask you anymore. I wish I knew more about your job as a mail carrier – you spent so many years riding the same route. I remember we used to borrow your uniform for a Halloween costume sometimes and you used to tell stories of people on your route leaving you gifts in their mailbox at Christmas. I wish I knew more about the trips you took to Estes Park with my dad and his siblings when he was younger. I just went there for the first time last year and it’s so beautiful. I can see why you liked it so much. I wish I knew more about the things that made you laugh and made you cry and the moments that you were filled with so much joy you could burst.
But what I do know is that you have a really good belly laugh. I have always liked when someone – usually one of your kids – says something really funny and you tip your head back and laugh. Mike or my dad could usually make you do that. But oftentimes you were the one making us all laugh with a quick-witted remark. I know you are the reason we throw around single Dutch words as if they’re a regular part of conversation. I know you love a good slice of sweet dessert and a cup of coffee on Sunday afternoons. I always liked coming to your house and sharing that with you because you never made me feel bad for wanting a second slice – you just joined in. You love Husker football and Everybody Loves Raymond and I’m fairly certain you’ve watched that Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation movie more times than anyone else. You love to talk politics and your conservative values have rubbed off on all of us. And I think you’re probably like my dad in that you know more than you ever say, but we have always needed your words and appreciate them more than you may have ever believed.
Grandpa, did you know that I remember walking paper routes with you and grandma in the summer time when my parents had to work? We were walking in the heat of the day in north Lincoln, slinging papers on to doorsteps and I’m glad I have that memory with you – of how you were a hard worker. I remember you working at the polling station at church during each election. It was nice to see you there, serving and setting a good example. I have always known the importance of voting and participating in our country’s elections and I know part of that is because of you. I remember growing up and having Christmas dinner in the basement and opening gifts and Aunt Colleen reading a funny poem or story that she wrote for us. I remember how grandma always made sure we had drumsticks in the basement freezer if we wanted one – but I think that was mostly for you too because she knows all about that sweet tooth of yours.
Grandpa, one thing I’m really thankful for is your decision to take your family to Lincoln Berean Church one Sunday morning so many years ago. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that choice because my dad met my mom in youth group at that very place. I don’t know what led you there, but I know you stayed faithfully for many, many years and I am so thankful for your example. I remember when you were on a video in the main service talking about tithing and how the Lord always provided for you and grandma. I felt really proud of you for that. You showed us all what it means to trust God and if you didn’t do that we wouldn’t be here today – none of your grandkids or your great grandkids. We’re all really lucky to have you, Grandpa. I hope you know that.
I’m also thankful for your example of marriage. Over sixty years with grandma and I’m sure there were hard times and great times and times that made you cry you were laughing so hard. I’ve seen some of those. But as I enter my own marriage I am feeling the weight of its importance. The weight of what it displays to the world – a picture of the gospel. So I’m thankful that even in the hard times, you stayed. You and grandma always stuck by each other and in a world where that is less and less common, I’m just thankful for your steady heart toward hers. I know you weren’t perfect, but you did the best you could to stay obedient and love well. I read one time that life is all about “faithfulness where you are, a day at a time,” and I think you did that really well and displayed that to all of us.
A couple of years ago, when you first got sick, I wrote in my journal that I was kind of sad I wasn’t married or seriously dating anyone yet because I really wanted that person to meet my grandparents. I know that many people don’t have the luxury of having their grandparents in their life like I do, but since you have been such a big part of my life, I really wanted my husband to meet my grandparents and that was starting to look less and less likely as we all got older and I spent another year alone. I had sort of let that dream go, but the thing is, we have a God who is near and who hears our cries. So when Aaron got to come over to your house and meet you a couple of months ago I felt like that was just the sweetness of the Lord in that moment. You asked last night at the hospital if we were going to have the wedding right then and there and I so wish we could have so you could be there to witness it.
I guess what I want you to know the most is that we’re thankful and we love you – all of us. Your whole family. We’re thankful for God’s gift to give you to us as our dad and grandpa. And we’re so proud of you. I don’t know what Heaven is going to be like, but I was sitting outside today on my break at work – the sun was shining down on my skin and there was a cool breeze floating through the air and I was just hoping that that’s the kind of sweet peace we’ll all feel in Heaven. I know it will be more than we could ever imagine – more glory and comfort and peace. I know that when you get to walk through the gates, you’re going to feel at home – more at home than you have ever felt here. We’ll miss you, that’s for certain, but the real truth of it is you have more life ahead of you in eternity than the 87 years you’ll leave behind. And it might feel a bit scary and unknown right now but I am full of faith in knowing that Jesus will take your hand soon and say, “Welcome home” and any of that fear will be impossible to recall.
You are leaving a legacy of faith and a family coming behind you preaching the same gospel you lived every day. So you should be proud, Grandpa. It’s the most important thing you could have ever done on this earth. I know that when you see Jesus, he will tell you the same. That he’s proud of you. That you ran your race well. That you were a good and faithful servant. Thanks for showing us all the way.
We’ll see you soon. We love you.