It’s been one week since my grandfather passed away. And it’s been the hardest week I have ever endured. Some of you knew my grandfather. Some of you knew him as the guy who left a comment at the end of almost all of these blog posts. But I knew him as Gramps, one of the best people in the world.
Even now, one week later, I’m having a hard time writing this in the past tense. I still expect him to come in the room or answer the phone. Gramps was a big part of our big family. A big, wonderful, loving family. And he was always my buddy in the family. When we would all gather together I would find his eyes through all the chaos and chatter and he would smile. I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing (and also because we had talked about it many times before), we were so happy just watching our family and being surrounded in a room of so much love. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I flew home and spent the days leading up to his funeral and during the reception searching for his eyes, trying to find the most unique pair of eyes I have ever seen, smiling right back at me. All the while knowing he would have absolutely loved sitting in a chair and just being there. Because he loved people. Every people. And he treated them like family.
Gramps was the type of person everyone needs in their life. Everyone, especially now, absolutely needs a friend like Gramps. He was the most genuinely kind soul I have ever known. Not kind because he needed to be or needed something from you, but kind because Christ was kind. When he asked how your day was going, he honestly wanted to know. If you were happy he wanted to celebrate in that happiness. If you were going through a hard time he wanted to help. He helped by listening. He always made time for you, no matter what he was going through. You were his priority. He helped by sharing his wisdom, some of the best wisdom you could ever hear. It was simple and easy to comprehend, but somehow he explained it in a way that never dawned on you until he said it. He helped through his words. He was the writer in the family (with a novel and a textbook to prove it) and he knew the power of words, the power they had to heal and the power they had to bring joy. But mostly he helped by opening up his heart. It was yours the moment he saw you. You didn’t have to look at him, say anything, look a certain way, have a certain color skin or even crack a smile. His heart was open for you. For no reason other than you are a person, and you deserve to be loved.
This week I reread a letter Gramps wrote me for my 21st birthday scrapbook-of-wisdom my mom made me. And like Gramps, it was brilliant and warm. He said “in order to find what you were sent to do with your life there are a few rules to follow: 1. You must really enjoy what you do. It has to be something that makes you wake up everyday thanking God you get to do it again. 2. It must help others. It must make their life better, either more enjoyable or more profitable. 3. It must be legal. Which includes it must be something you are not ashamed to do. 4. It must make you enough to sustain your way of living. You do not need to get rich but you need to be able to make your own way.” Also like Gramps, this lesson was honest and wise.
I learned so much from Gramps that it’s hard to even get it all down. He taught me how to say “make it a good day” when I hung up the phone instead of “have a good day”, because you can always always make things good again. He taught me how to dance “The Charleston” and how to make a nickel appear from behind my ear. As much as he liked telling the same stories over and over again he also liked listening to your stories, even if he had heard them a thousand times. You could always find him singing. At church he was an especially loud singer, partly because of his hearing aid but I also think partly because he just plain loved to sing and he knew how happy it made people around him. He taught me what loyalty to your school looks like. And that you can never have enough burnt orange clothes in your life. He liked to sleep. A lot. But I also think he liked to close his eyes and listen. He always had a game of solitaire open on the computer because he knew the importance of work breaks and making time for fun. He knew no person would ever be good enough for his kids and grandkids, but once they found their person, he loved them like they had been his own kids and grandkids all their lives.
Watching the way he loved Granny, his children, his grandchildren, his friends, neighbors and strangers might be the greatest gift he ever gave me. This week was filled with Gramps stories, and it’s funny which ones stick out in peoples minds when their loved one is gone. My cousin told a story of when Gramps woke up early and saw him out the door before a big job interview, and said “knock em dead pal, I love you and I’m very proud of you”. My mom said she was sure there was a time when he told her “no” or that she couldn’t do something, but she couldn’t remember a single time. Another cousin shared a story of when our whole family took a week long trip to Disneyworld. On the last day when we were all headed to the vans, Gramps looked around the lobby searching all over for Granny, asking everyone where she was. When he saw her come out of the shop, he lit up, like it was the first time he saw her, not like it was the actual 1,000th time he had seen her in the past 5 days.
This was his legacy, a legacy of what love looks like.
Even though I know it’s still there, I’m going to miss that love. I’m going to miss hearing his sweet voice. Hearing the same start to every voicemail where he identified himself, as if I couldn’t recognize his strong southern accent immediately. I’m going to miss him calling me “sugar”. I’m going to miss him asking if I had a boyfriend and then telling me, “it doesn’t count unless he’s from Texas”. I’m going to miss him telling me about his job. Even though oil insurance never made any sense to me, I could listen to him talk about it for hours. I’m going to miss him talking about how proud he was of every single one of his kids and grandkids. And watching him tear up talking about every one of them. I’m going to miss his laugh, his close his eyes tight and grab his stomach laugh. I’m going to miss his eyes opening up so big and his mouth even bigger when he was pretending to be surprised. I’m going to miss his loud and wonderful singing. I’m going to miss the way he talked about Granny when she wasn’t around. I’m going to miss the way he talked about Granny when she was right in front of him. It was one in the same. I’m going to miss him telling stories. All the stories. I’m going to miss sharing Diet Coke’s with him. I’m going to miss helping him clean up his office, which I now understand is where I get my seemingly never-ending piles of things on my desk from. I’m going to miss Christmas with him. I’m going to miss him dressing up like Sherlock Holmes, magnifying glass and all. I’m going to miss him telling me my favorite story of why his password was what it was, which is the last story he ever retold me. I’m going to miss him lighting up every time a grand-kid or great-grand-kid ran through the front door. I’m going to miss him sitting on the end of our pew at church. I’m going to miss him eating whatever he wanted and always ordering a thimble of ice cream at the club after Sunday lunch. I’ll miss him telling me he “aspires to inspire before he expires”.
Well Gramps you did. Ten times over. I know this because of the insane amount of people who have sent letters, food, flowers and kind words this week. The crazy number of people that attended your memorial service, burial (in the middle of the day, in Texas, in July) and the reception. I have never seen so many people in one house. It’s because you inspired them Gramps. You inspired them through your passion, love and kindness. I see you in everyone of them. Which is the most amazing thing. I see you in Granny, in your children and in your grandchildren. In so many different ways, you left your mark on everyone you came across. And we are all better for it.
It was a gift being your granddaughter Gramps. A gift I will never be able to repay, but I thank God for every day. You always told me we are not here by accident. Well it was no accident you were in my life. Your daily example of pure joy, helping others, unending support, knowing what is important in life, unfiltered love and contagious humor was something I will never ever forget. Thank you for being who you were and thank you for shaping me. As my sister said, you’re in a far better place with far better company, and that is the greatest comfort of them all. Enjoy dancing “The Charleston” and telling everyone up there how worthy they are of love. I’ll always miss you. And I love you.