Last week my dear Grandpa, a man who had always been so full of life, let out his final breath with peace and dignity. It was probably the quietest day he had ever lived. My Grandpa was an enthusiast, and being such, he sang loudly, made audible sounds of approval during meals and throughout his morning coffee, laughed with body-shaking exuberance, and talked as often and to as many people as possible. He even slept loudly, snoring from the bedroom he and Grandma shared downstairs, a clamor that floated easily on the summer air, up the stairs, and onto the ears of my sisters and me. His big personality was easy to spot in a crowd and his presence was always known without his trying. I don’t doubt that when his presence left the hospital room last week, his absence was immediately felt by my extended family waiting beside him, lovingly encouraging him to go home.
My Grandpa had always been on the other side of encouragement. He had 7 granddaughters and never let on that a grandson would have made the family complete – an encouragement in itself. Grandpa could give a pep talk like no other. It was always a long pep talk because Grandpa could talk the leg off a horse, but you’d walk on air afterward, not so much convinced you were the world’s most special snowflake, but confident you could acquire the strength and knowledge necessary to one day become what you hoped. As far as Grandpa was concerned, his granddaughters were going to change the world for the better. He believed we could, and he encouraged us to be individually awesome.
Grandpa had built his family’s house and instinctively knew how to fix anything. I’d bring him my broken, damaged somethings and he’d say, “Grandpa fix.” And he would. His basement workshop had every tool imaginable, all of them organized and stored with care, oiled, cords carefully wrapped, and ready for the next project. I was not allowed in the workshop – it was not a place for a child – and I only remember looking inside from the doorway, eyes carefully surveying the secret room of mystery and metal. I knew my wooden sandbox and tiny dollhouse furniture had been crafted in that workshop.
Toys, playing, and the easy enjoyment of youth was important to Grandma and Grandpa, and their house had plenty to do. Depending on the season, the backyard had a plastic kiddie pool to splash in, a stomach-dropping hill for sledding, or plenty of room for chasing lightning bugs. If the Ohio weather wasn’t conducive to outdoor play, which it often wasn’t, there was a piano in the living room (but no pounding the keys), a collection of old records, and a drawer of antique games. There were dusty stacks of National Geographics – saved with the intention of sparking wanderlust in each granddaughter – and shelves of classics, biographies, Golden Books, and comic books. Grandpa and Grandma’s house was unrushed and easy like a library or a museum: Content today; inspired for tomorrow.
I wonder if Grandpa’s satisfaction with today steadied him all those years when Grandma’s hands, crumpled with arthritis and rendered quite useless, required Grandpa to be Grandma’s hands. Little Grandma, a quiet, mild-mannered sweetheart and retired elementary school teacher, a loving wife who had taken care of Grandpa for many decades, needed his help for the simplest of things. He never complained. Even without Grandma, Grandpa remained upbeat and life was good. For real good. “Well, I can’t complain,” he would often say, followed by, “But what I want to know is, how are you?” That was Grandpa. He wanted to hear all about you, about something you’d learned or something you read, about a skill you’d honed, or a place you’d been, or the exquisite dinner you had last night. And of course, he wanted to hear about his great-grandkids. He wanted to know anything and everything, if at all possible. Grandpa loved learning almost as much as he loved people.
But the image I’ve recalled most over the years is the memory of Grandpa and Grandma at the kitchen table after breakfast, Bibles open, united in prayer. Those prayers were loooonnng. My sister and I would respectfully stay hushed and out of the kitchen for that sacred hour, wondering if Grandpa and Grandma were going to pray the entire day away. We couldn’t understand how prayer could take so long. As children, we didn’t understand the immeasurable value of those prayers, that those specific prayers for each of us were love in action. We understood love in physical action – our grandparents had that down – but what we would come to understand as we grew older was that those wonderfully selfless prayers, with eyes closed and nothing moving but mouths, were a beautiful picture of the heart in action. Every morning the words of Scripture were being written deep on the hearts of my grandparents, so that encouragement and patience, satisfaction and gratitude, joy and love were genuine and pumping through every vein. Daily prayers for their children and grandchildren were a discipline not for the sake of discipline, but for the sake of love. They were building a legacy; something that would last. For each of us.
My grandparents loved us in the right now moments, they hoped for our futures, and they prayed passionately for our faith – a distinct family trait of faith for generations, a faith so strong it would join us all in forever. My grandparents understood what we all know, but don’t dare think much about: Grandparents aren’t with us long enough.
The legacy and lives of every one of my grandparents continue to encourage me and remind me that for all our efforts here, all that will remain is faith, hope, and love. Life is a treasure, people are a treasure, and our best investment is prayer. Let’s continue the legacy together.