A grandfather’s lessons

At the beginning of the month, my grandfather Richard passed. His earthly body lay vacant of his life when I walked into his room minutes after his last breath. Grief is always felt because you will miss the person so much. But his room was not filled with grief alone. Hope, love and peace also filled the room. I’m the oldest of grandpa’s 11 grandchildren. Grandpa lived worked and breathed for Jesus first and then his family. I wanted to speak at his Celebration of Life, but at first I wasn’t sure what to say. When reflecting I realized grandpa had given us a road map for what showing Jesus’ love to others looks like.

Grandpa wasn’t perfect at the definitions of love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, but I never heard him boast about the beautiful homes he built. And though he had pride in his work, he was not a proud person. He wasn’t being self-seeking when he listened to God’s direction moved the family up to Alaska. I think Grandpa was best at teaching love through his kindness and his service to both strangers and his family.

“Love is kind” is the second definition given in 1 Corinthians 13. Grandpa exemplified this through helping others. He would drop everything and help anyone he could, especially if it came to a need for your home. But he wouldn’t just come fix things, he taught you how to do it yourself. Then if the next time you felt comfortable fixing it on your own, he leant you the tools to make it happen. After he passed, his boiler went out in the middle of the night and all his daughters realized the one they usually call was gone. Before they could explain the problem to someone else, they found grandma in the garage in her PJ’s saying, “What? He showed me how to fix it.”

When helping others, Grandpa didn’t judge — he’d just love. Over the years he employed several paroles on contractor jobs. He even had some living in his home. If someone had a need, he didn’t say he’d pray about it, he’d help meet it, or gave them a job so they could provide for their need. If it was truly out of his ability to help, he wouldn’t just pray for them, he’d pray with them. Just over a year ago, grandpa at age 74, alongside grandma, were found day-after-day on their knees laying hardwood flooring through an 8-bedroom transitional-living home for women just out of prison. There were days grandpa could barely get out of bed the next day, but the two of them would go serve people, others would despise or undervalue.

It didn’t matter who’s home he was in, a recent prisoner, or a grandchild. During the breaks in work, he’d talk with you about your relationship with God. He didn’t preach. He talked with you and listened. He understood, its not what you tell someone, its what you show them about God. Its not great if they just believe there is a God, he wanted to know you were working on your relationship with God (whether you were a new believer or a 70-year-old who grew up in church).

Grandpa wasn’t perfect, and he knew that. In fact during his last hospital stay I asked what his biggest piece of advice was after 55 years of marriage? He said he wished his tongue wouldn’t have been so sharp at times. I know there are people in this room who may have witnessed that tongue, especially if you were on a job site. Grandpa wasn’t afraid to tell anyone if something wasn’t the way he desired. He corrected with that tongue, but also taught us love.

Grandpa and Grandma taught us how to care for our family until the very end. Grandpa gave up his bed for his mother, and also for his mother-in-law. That way grandma could sleep with her mom, who was deep in Alztimers when she came to live with them. Death isn’t a scary thing in our family. Before great-grandma died the room was peaceful, family lined chairs and sat on the floor of the nursing home room singing the hymns she grew up with. Though she hadn’t spoken in over a year, from her stripped memory, she spoke the day she died. I’ve seen many miracles happen as a part of this family, not because we deserve it, but because we are looking for them. My grandparents gave God the credit for each unexplainable event. (They wouldn’t chalk it up to luck or even say someone was looking out for us. They thanked Jesus.)

As the family gathered by his bedside after Grandpa went to heaven. My cousin’s first words in the room were “Strongest man I ever knew.” Grandpa never complained. When things were tough he worked harder (up to three jobs at times). When the pain was bad, he remembered to look forward to the pain-free life waiting for him in heaven.

Grandpa’s last lesson on love he taught by allowing us to serve him. He needed help with everything those last couple days but I never heard him complain about us helping. I will always treasure the picture I have of my brother lifting him. Grandpa humbled himself enough to allow his family to serve him. Even mustered up a joke at times. Grandma and their kids did most of the work, but he let several of the strong cousins help lift him, let me come give back rubs, one of us cut his hair, let us cook meals he not longer could taste, and he’d muster up a look at a phone for a Facetime chat with one of us wanting to say I love you from afar. He allowed us to learn love, by allowing us to love him the way he had for our great-grandmothers.

He showed us that even in bad times our hope and love for God should continue, that we shouldn’t just pray, but we should praise God for what we had. I asked him a week before his death what he looked forward to most about heaven.  He knew he would understand difficulties he didn’t before. He said in his heart he thought: “It will be just like a big picture opening in front of me and I will be able to say Oh God, now I understand why all these things had to be. And how you were working in the background and everything was for my good.” He wasn’t sure what it would be like but said, “It will be a heap better than here, I know that.”

Well now I can imagine his deep laugh and see the glossy twinkle in his blue eyes as those words come true. My grandfather showed us love, but he showed us how to love others best. He loved not because he was a good man, but because he loved God and allowed God’s love to reach other people through his work and actions. Now I try to  teach my children the same. Love is so powerful.