The drive from Michigan to Ohio that Sunday afternoon, 10 years ago, wasn’t ideal by myself with two little ones. I kept the volume low to avoid waking up the nappers, so I strained to hear Sandra McCracken’s lyrics, prayed, then passed around snacks, and started videos. My mom would call with updates of how Grandpa was doing and of who was stopping in to say their good-byes.
As much as I wanted to see him, I also dreaded getting there. So maybe I was fine if we had to stop for another potty break or to clean up another spill.
This was so different than those Friday nights growing up when I couldn’t wait to get to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I felt safe with them. Grandma would invite me into her relationship with God (it was mysteriously holy and yet unabashedly ordinary) reading the Bible to me in bed and letting me hear her pray for all that was on her heart.
Grandpa might let me ride along with him to 84 Lumber the next day or hold the flashlight for him while he worked on the car. Maybe we’d sit at the table for his mid-afternoon cup of coffee and Pitter Patter cookie or Twinkie break.
I didn’t care. I was with them and that’s all that mattered.
After Grandma died, I’d still go stay with Grandpa, keeping him company or helping him clean.
He always had a To-Do List and a very particular way he would accomplish everything on that list.
He didn’t value words and so he didn’t use them very much.
Instead, he was a man of action. He married my grandma with her one year old on her hip, and didn’t just tell her her loved her but made her his wife and her child his daughter by adoption. Their last names became his.
And, when that same daughter came home as a teenager with a baby daughter in her arms, he didn’t just tell her he loved her, but gave his new granddaughter his last name, too.
Now here we were – me and my mom – without a drop of his blood running in our veins, standing with him to the end like he stood with us when not another man would.
We didn’t fuss over him. He would’ve hated that. We took our lead from him, remembering talk isn’t always cheap, but it can be, so we were simply there. Like he was for us. Present. . .through his long last night of labored breathing, his body succumbing to the effects of his disease.
Around 5 AM, his breathing started getting more sporadic and it startled us out of our dozing. We hurried to his bedside and knew he was no longer present with us, but present with the Lord. We were looking at him, but he was looking at our Savior!
On this 10 year anniversary of his passing, it’s amazing the ways he still seems present. In Old Spice after shave and VO5 hair gel. At Walmart when an older man asks me to read the avocado label to see if it’s American grown. In the experience of bitterness’ hands gripping my soul trying to strangle me and wrangle me away from Jesus.
I hear him in “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Jackson,” and anything else by “The Man in Black.” I see him in exercise class when I check my form in the mirror. And, I remember him when I’m trying to whip God, and yet am simultaneously assured that he is faithful to me even when I am faithless. (2 Timothy 2:13) He cannot deny his own, and, neither could Grandpa.