The last week and a half has been such a whirlwind, and as I sit here, preparing slideshows of pictures from his 87 years of life, I still struggle to accept that he’s really gone.
You see, it was just 12 days ago that Grandpa went to the doctor because he hadn’t been feeling well. That evening, he was in emergency surgery to remove fluid that was surrounding his heart. And in the process, they found cancer.
As the medical team began to investigate, we quickly learned that the cancer was already stage 4, but that we probably only had a few months left with him. As each day passed, it became evident that the cancer was far more aggressive than we could have dreamed, and the prognosis went from months, to a couple of months, to maybe a month, then weeks, then days. And just like that, 10 days later, he was called home to be with the Lord.
I am so thankful to have been able to spend those last days with him (and the rest of our family) with him in the hospital. We heard old stories rehashed, stories that were new to us, and he shared his incredible faith that God had bigger plans for him than he could understand with anyone and everyone who walked into his room.
We helped him eat when he was too weak to lift his arms, cheered with him when he was able to eat a donut on his own, and laughed when he was feeling sassy enough to try to bite those of us who dared to put our fingers too close to his mouth.
He told us how he decided to enlist in the Air Force, but didn’t have a birth certificate (because he was born at home) so he and his mother drove all over Southern Illinois to find 5 documents that would be accepted by the state in order to have a birth certificate issued. They drove from town to town, and were able to come up with exactly 5 documents, no more, no less. Then they were off to Springfield to submit the documents and get his newly appointed birth certificate. The next day, he hopped on a train, knowing no one, and went to St. Louis to enlist.
While he was stationed in Nebraska, he and my grandma were dating and wrote letters to each other almost daily. He told us how his buddies talked him into asking my grandma what her thoughts were on “procrastination of interdigitation before marriage.” In grandma’s reply, she told him that she would have to wait to give him an answer to his question with the long words in it because she’d need to find a dictionary with those words in it first. (Spoiler: It means holding hands)
Of course, we asked if they kept those letters after all those years. And of course they did. One box with the letters that he wrote, and one box with the letters that she wrote back.
My grandparents are the definition of couple goals, and I am so grateful that they were able to celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary together the day before he went to the hospital.
Growing up, we spent a lot of time at their house before and after school and during summer vacation. During the school year, grandpa would always pick us up from school and take us back to their house (where we would immediately indulge in our daily after school ice cream).
One story that he loved to tell (and was sharing with his nurses just a few days ago) happened when I was in junior high. One day, they evacuated us to the intermediate school due to a bomb threat in our building. Parents were called to pick up their kids, and grandpa came to pick me up, but they wouldn’t release me at first because he wasn’t my legal guardian. He told them that they were basically a second set of parents to us, and that their home was our home away from home. Needless to say, I went home with him.
He loved his afternoon naps, enjoyed giving me a hard time about the way I ate corn on the cob (one kernel at a time) and loved telling others about my weird quirk, and had a tendency to always include a chunk of his finger in the pictures he would take. I loved spending time with him in his workshop as he’d build a new piece of furniture or a new toy for one of us grandkids. I loved the smell of the sawdust (and playing in it, too). When I was young, he built me an amazing play kitchen that blew away any kids kitchen that you could buy. He made us all an assortment of cars, trucks, and boats over the years, countless end tables for their own home, VBS decorations out the wazoo, and even a custom built table for my students to work at in my classroom when I was still teaching.
He had his signature catchphrases:
-“Hay is for horses.”
-“Drink coffee, it’ll make your feet black (or put hair on your chin).” He always wore black socks, so he would always tell us as kids that drinking coffee turned your feet black.
-And if anyone asked how he was doing, he loved to reply with, “I’m always good sometimes.” Naturally, this was accompanied by a mischievous grin and a twinkle in his eye.
And he had a signature style that he carried with him over the years: navy pants, his SAS shoes, a striped or plaid button up shirt, and his trademark suspenders. (And a hat if he was outside)
For years, he thought that computers were silly. I vividly remember sitting at their table when I was in high school (and social media was still pretty new), hearing him talk about how he just didn’t see the point of that “MyFace” stuff. Several years ago, he finally gave in and got a computer, and I’d always give him a hard time when he’d tell me about a video he’d been watching on YouTube or a picture that he’d seen someone share on Facebook. And he always made a point to tell everyone happy birthday (usually in all caps and posted to his own wall).
Last night we started the process of putting together a slideshow of pictures to be played at his visitation. We’ve gone through hundreds, if not thousands of pictures, scouring for those perfect gems of the man who liked to document his family so much that he was rarely in the pictures himself.
As the family has been looking for important documents and paperwork, they ventured into his safe. Tucked inside, they found a tiny 2GB SD card from his digital camera. Last night I popped it into my computer and found hundreds of family pictures that he had taken over the course of a few years—family birthdays, grandkids visiting, Grandma in the garden, VBS decorations he’d help build, and pictures from my own wedding, including a picture of the two of us that I’d never seen.
If that doesn’t give you the perfect summary of my grandpa—a man who loved his family and church so much, that he stored a tiny memory card in a safe to keep pictures of them protected—I don’t know what will.
One of our favorite family traditions was Grandpa reading the Christmas story from the Bible every year before we’d open presents. As a kid, the time that it took to read felt like an eternity, but as an adult, I grew to have such an appreciation of it. As the years went on, Grandpa became more in touch with what I’d call his “squishy marshmallow filling” and would get so overwhelmed with emotion when he’d talk about the love God must have for us to send his Son to die to save us. And I am so thankful that we have several videos of him reading the story over the years.
Several days ago, we were gathering some of his things to take to the hospital to remind him of home. As my sister and I scurried around the house picking up pictures, his favorite candy (horehound), and a comfy blanket, she told me to go look at his desk.
There, sitting next to where his computer normally lived, was a notecard written in his handwriting (something we rarely saw) that said, “To help me be like Christ. To love every one as Jesus loves me.”
I am so grateful for the time we had with him and the wonderful memories that we’ll get to cherish. And while I missed his tight squeeze of my hand as we prayed before dinner tonight, I know that he’s walking the streets of gold and is at peace and the world will never be quite the same.