Clockwise from top left: Grandpa’s military photo; Grandpa holding me as a baby; Grandpa reading me a story; Grandma and Grandpa holding baby David
Several months ago when we planned our trip back to Washington for Christmas we knew that it would be a special time for us to spend with our family. I had no idea then, however, how perfect God’s timing was going to be.
When I got off the plane on Saturday afternoon after a very full day of travel my mom gave me the unfortunate news that my grandpa (my dad’s dad) had taken a turn for the worse. He has been ill for quite some time now so the news was not shocking, but the urgency in her voice told me that this was serious. We decided that the very next morning I would drive down to see him one last time.
So, after a fitful few hours of jet-lagged sleep, my mom, sister Jessica, and myself drove 2 hours south to Grandpa’s home in Longview. When we got to the care facility where he has been living for the past few months, my dad, Grandma and Aunt Rose were already there at Grandpa’s bedside.
It was a difficult but wonderful day visiting Grandpa. He was mostly unconscious, but there was a good bit of time that he woke up and was able to make eye contact with us and even whisper a few words. I got to tell him about Ireland and how big his great- grandsons are getting and reminisce about some of my favorite memories with him. I got to hold his hands, pray over him, and tell him that I loved him. I got to give him a hug and a kiss and say goodbye. It was God’s grace to me that I had that rare day with Grandpa, and I will forever be grateful for those last moments we had together.
Then, just two days later, early in the morning of Wednesday, December 18th, Grandpa passed from this world. My dad was with him at that moment, and he said that Grandpa went out the same way he lived his life: courageously and lovingly. He had truly lived every minute of his 90 years to the fullest. The phrase that Grandpa kept repeating on that last day I spent with him was “Wow”. I can only imagine that at this moment Grandpa is sitting at Jesus’ feet whispering that same word: Wow. Forever and ever, Wow. And, while I’m mourning his loss, I know that I am lucky to have had 30 years with my grandpa.
Grandpa was my real-life hero. When Grandpa was a small boy he was put into foster care because of his unsafe home with alcoholic parents. He grew up on a farm in Ohio during the Great Depression and was about as poor as they come. He should have had a terrible life and left a terrible legacy for our family. But he didn’t. Grandpa rose above his situation because he wanted better for his future family than he ever had for himself. When he was still a teenager he enlisted in the Marine Corps and courageously served our country throughout World War II. He returned from war, fell in love with my grandma, and they married in 1947. They had 3 children and were happily married for 66 years.
Grandpa went on to study education at the University of Washington. The poor farm boy who literally had to share a pair of shoes with his brother so they could take turns going to school earned a Master’s Degree and was a science teacher to hundreds of students throughout his career. He literally built his family a home with his own two hands–the home that my dad was born in and that my grandma still lives in to this day. He cared for his family, loved his wife, and served his community. He was a man who others respected and admired and loved.
Some of my favorite memories of Grandpa are just the time we spent together: holidays, birthdays, graduations, my wedding, the births of my babies. Growing up, we would spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house fairly often. In the morning, he’d always ask me how I’d slept. The correct answer was always, “With my eyes closed!”–I guess I get my unique sense of humor from him!
Grandpa was also a dependable pen-pal and we exchanged letters throughout my life. All growing up, Grandpa would send each of us handwritten letters and clippings from the newspaper. I always looked forward to receiving Grandpa’s letters, even if his handwriting was nearly impossible to interpret! I have to credit a lot of who I am–my love for writing, my sense of humor, the fact that I became a teacher–to who Grandpa was and how he helped to shape me.
As we were looking through some old papers this week we came across several of Grandpa’s letters. In one of his letters addressed to me, he wrote about his dreams when he was younger. He wrote, “I wanted to have a loving helpmate and our own home. Also, I wanted a family so I would enjoy watching the kids grow up in a family situation…and YES! My dreams have come true!”.
Yes, Grandpa, your dreams came true. You lived a remarkable life, and you will live on in our hearts and our memories forever. Thank you for who you were, for your influence on our family, for your beautiful legacy.
I love you.