Goodbye, Grandpa John

Jan 5, 2005Family Uncaged

I said goodbye to Grandpa John this week, but his hand was cold this time.

How I loved that dear, sweet man. How I will miss him. How I will miss the family he helped create. When I think of the visit back to Ohio, I remember his house, remember his family waving goodbye through the living room window. I can’t bear to think people other than my grandparents waving behind that window.

I am glad I went. Glad I spent the money. Glad I considered the lilies of the field who are here today and furnaced tomorrow. Life is too short to have to shoulder regret.

I prayed and prayed about what I would say at the funeral. The verses in Joshua four about the nation of Israel crossing the Jordan, taking up twelve stones and setting up a memorial. “When your children ask your fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground'” (Joshua 4: 21-22).

I placed six stones in front of a small congregation of wet-faced friends and families. “What kind of legacy did John Walker leave?” I asked. “What would be a fitting memorial of his life? What will we tell our children when they ask ‘Who was John Walker?'” Each stone represented his:

  • Work ethic. Grandpa John believed one should work hard, never cheating an employer out of time.
  • Honesty. This humble trait is in short supply these days, something I’m acutely aware of. Grandpa John told the truth.
  • Tenacity. He suffered a severe stroke in the 1970’s and battled back to work. He survived the loss of many of his siblings, his father, his mother, his firstborn son, two grandsons, and his wife. Yet, he persevered. He didn’t let life’s grief get the best of him.
  • Servanthood. His granddaughter Tracy said, “Grandpa had a limp before he died, but he still wouldn’t let me get my own food. He’d insist on serving me, taking care of me.”
  • Love. He loved us all in his quiet way. There may not have been fanfare, or a plethora of words, but we knew. We knew he’d be there for us. He loved his wife (my grandmother Mary). He loved her well. He loved her enough to let her be herself (She shoveled snow in her swimsuit . . . She laughed widely.) So many of us love others for who we want them to be, not who they really are. What a gift he gave my grandmother.
  • Integrity. The inside of Grandpa John matched the outside. He did what was right, even if it meant inconvenience. This is another one of those elusive traits found rare today.

To create this list, I spoke with those who loved Grandpa John: Sharon, Bob, Jack, Fran, Ron, Naiza, Amber, Kim, Tracy, Dawn, Jenny, Diane, Shelley. I was amazed at how consistent everyone was. I count myself privileged not only to share in his heritage, but also congregate with those who share my same DNA, who were blessed to know Grandpa John.

Life, as I understand it, is full of couplets:

Loss and birth.

Joy and heartache.

Fear and courage.

Confidence and trembling.

How we weather these couplets shows what kind of legacy we will leave behind. May it be that we have stones piled high at our funeral, representing how well we lived, how well we loved, how well we laughed. I hope I live such a life.

I concluded my eulogy with this verse: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Lamentations 7:2). We dust our feet on this earth only a short time. Although I hate grief, hate the sobbing it produces, I also embrace it fully. In that embracing, I realize how deeply I need to be in every moment, savoring life.

I hugged my children and husband tighter when I saw them at the Nice airport yesterday. How precious life is. How fleeting. I thank Grandpa John for teaching me this lesson, even in death.

Goodbye, Grandpa John.