I received word Wednesday that my Grandfather had joined my grandmother in heaven. I cried on and off through the course of the evening…sad because I miss him already. Happy, because I knew he was ready to meet the Savior He had served for so long.
I saw him last just a few days before. He lay in bed in the dim light of my aunt’s living-room-turned-hospice-care. He was weak, his speech was slurring, and he confessed that he could not remember my name. Even so, I could tell he loved me and was grateful I came though neither of us seemed to have many words.
I gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek and spent a few minutes plucking out hymns on the piano by his bed.
At 101, I think we would all agree, he lived a full life. If you’ve read my other blogs, you have some idea of the incredible man my grandfather was, serving in World War II, then as a missionary in Japan, then as jack-of-all-trades in his rather long “retirement.” He was fun, hard-working, and all-together inspiring.
We loved his annual visits growing up because they were always punctuated with lots of ice cream. But since they didn’t live nearby, I actually got to know him more as an adult than I did as a kid–making long drives to Jacksonville on the weekends.
We biked, talked, swam, danced, and played lots of dominoes as they plowed their way through their 80s and 90s.
Over the years, his hand gradually grew heavier on my shoulder as he walked. Then eventually, walking had to be traded for a golf cart, a then a tricycle, then a motor chair, and finally, a bed. Aging was difficult for a man who had always been so strong and independent. Sometimes, he let it be known that he was done with this life and ready for the next.
My mother and four aunts have been amazing and over the last year have traded off spending weeks at a time caring for him instead of dropping him off at a nursing home to spend his final days smelling like moth balls and staring at a television set. [They have set a high bar for my generation. :)]
After receiving the news of his passing, all of them gathered at my aunts’ house and I joined them for a few hours. We missed seeing him in the next room, but though it was quiet, it was not an altogether somber atmosphere. Most of what needed to be said had already been said. It had been a long goodbye.
In many ways (and acknowledging that the death of no two saints will be the same), I felt this is what it should look like–no regrets, no greed, no fighting, no despair. Just a life remembered.
Today was back at work; business as usual. This evening, I busied myself with cleaning my kitchen and scrubbing the bathrooms. It was just another day.
But as I was cleaning, I came across a plastic box that Grandma had sent home with me after one of my frequent visits to Jacksonville. I thought it contained mostly legal papers she wanted me to go through so I had never really opened it.
That was the beginning of hours on my bedroom floor pouring through letters, articles, and even a few comic strips, photos, and newspaper clippings.
The clock was turned back seventy years.
My Grandfather has always been a good correspondent and a creative writer. I have saved many letters he wrote me over the years.
But now, I found fascinating his letters written to his mother from war in 1946 and to my grandmother (his girlfriend) in 1947. Some handwritten in his masculine cursive on stationary supplied by the Red Cross; some typewritten on thin sheets of tissue-like paper. Some still had envelopes stamped “U.S. Army Postal Service.”
He loved his mother. He loved my grandmother. But most of all, he loved Jesus.
Nearly every thing he wrote was woven with Scripture, his work, the gospel, and the lives of others around him. Even his love letters are beautiful expressions of a resilient faith.
In one letter he wrote of rescuing three Japanese injured in a motor crash. In another, of traveling 30 miles–by train and foot–to see comfort a desperate mother trying to care for her dying son. He wrote about purity. He wrote about burnout and the struggles faced by an Army chaplain and other chaplains who had effectively given up.
He kept a few clippings of articles he wrote–published here and there–and even kept a few of the prayer letters from the mission field (and even after their retirement). He wrote after he moved to Florida that he expected that he would fade away.
I remember seeing him the summer of 2001 and him commenting how he probably didn’t have many years left to live. He felt like the greatest failure of his life was that he had not led enough people to Christ.
I think he was wrong in both accounts–he had rich years left; and he has no reason to regret his life. He reached other teens as a high schooler; he didn’t give up as a chaplain; he pressed on as a missionary; and he didn’t fade away in retirement. He followed hard until the end.
And I’m so glad he wrote about it.
I hope to take his letters with me as we celebrate his life together on Sunday. But I also want to publish some of the highlights of his writings here…mostly for family but also for anyone interested in reading snippets of a live well lived.
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.