Writing is one of the ways that I process and grow from emotionally difficult circumstances, so I set out to do just that when my grandfather passed away last weekend. The pastor who presided over the funeral service asked my brother and me for some stories we might want shared. Since I was already writing down some thoughts, I was more than willing to oblige. The following words were read along with my brother’s during my grandfather’s eulogy on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Carmel, IN. I share them with you now in hopes that they might be encouraging and inspiring to you, as the time I had with him was to me.
After 93 years of a life lived to the fullest, my grandfather passed away peacefully with his children surrounding him. Just three weeks before this day, he was up on a ladder cleaning out his gutters. If I could paint a picture of who my grandfather is that would be it. He met life’s challenges with toughness and grace. It’s the kind of toughness and determination, mixed with a bit of stubbornness, that could only be forged from a lifetime of endurance. I hope that describes me at the end of my days, but I expect that I should never be included on the same level with him.
Born in 1918, he was the oldest of 9 and grew up in the Great Depression. He taught his brothers and sisters in a one-room school, was a sergeant and sharp shooter in WWII, and he was the only one of his siblings to go on to college—and later he even earned his Master’s degree in education. He spent 40 years in education, and in fact, I don’t think he ever stopped teaching. He passed this on to the rest of his family. Both he and my grandmother didn’t believe anyone could have enough education, and they made sure it became a priority for their kids and their grandkids.
I don’t remember a time we were together that he didn’t tell me how proud of me he was—whether it was when we were fishing, when he got done watching one of my basketball games, when he watched me graduate from high school, when I told him I had graduated from college and then seminary and got ordained, and most importantly when I told him I was getting married. It will always be an honor and a humbling memory to know my grandfather was proud of me. I never could find just the right words to express how proud I was to share the same family name he has.
I’ll never forget the effort he gave just over a year ago to travel from Indianapolis to Evansville to be at our wedding. It was one of the most memorable and special wedding gifts I received because I know how much he hated traveling as a 92 year old. What an honor to follow a man down the aisle who has seen so much life, raised a son who became an example to his grandson, and taught all those around him how much family means, no matter what the circumstances are. He may have hated getting there, but I know he loved being there.
This past Christmas, Candace and I decided to record interviews of our grandparents so we could retell their stories to our future kids and their future kids. It was quite remarkable to watch and listen to a man who had experienced so much life before I ever met him. His memory was sharp, and he told the stories so vividly. I wish I could reproduce them now, but I wouldn’t do them justice. There were happy stories, like when he saw grandma for the first time after returning from the war. And there were sad stories, like remembering her passing six years ago and when they lost their first son. A theme is clear in all of his stories that allowed him to endure the ups and downs of life: faith.
As I remember him right now, I can think of two lessons he taught me that changed my life forever. The first is that nothing is more important than what one believes and how it should affect his or her life. He was committed to God and to his church in a way that is almost unheard of today. He sacrificed time and money and energy for 40 years into one local expression of the church of Jesus Christ, even though he may not have loved watching all the changes. I cannot imagine a better example of commitment to a community of believers. I’ve already spent most of my twenties in more than 5 churches! How I hope to follow his example!
The second lesson has only struck me since I got married last January. I found it truly inspiring and encouraging to hear my 93 year old grandfather talk about the “love of his life.” Sometimes he would just stare off into the distance thinking about her or how he would communicate something to me about her. He was often lost in his thoughts of her. He was never embarrassed about loving a woman so much or even saying how much he needed her. It brings such joy to me knowing they are finally together again because I’ve heard and seen the depth of his love for her. So the lesson is clear. There is nothing more manly I can do than to love my wife as hard and as long as I can, even up to my last moments.
Thank you, Grandpa. The lessons you taught will go far past the days God gave you with us. We are eternally grateful.