My head is full of thoughts this week, which marks 11 years since my dad lost his battle with cancer. Has it really been that long? Then I remember that since his death I have graduated, taught for close to eight years, married and given birth, and it sinks in. Life has gone on. Life has been full. I wish more than anything that my dad were still here to see it all. But when I really try, I can see him smiling, and feel his hand grasp my shoulder, just like he used to do at the end of my track races. Someday I'll go through it all for him again, play by play. And I think he'll be proud.
This week my family also prepares to celebrate the life of my Grandpa Jack, my dad's dad, with a memorial service tomorrow. He died about a month ago, and over the last few weeks, my mom and I have been sorting through photos, meeting with funeral planners, and collecting memories, stories, and songs. It's a lot to do, and it's a lot to take in, but at the same time, the process of reflecting on an individual's life--and a life like my grandpa's--is inspirational. Amidst the sadness of loss, there's gratitude for what he taught me, and continues to teach me, today.
As I scanned photos onto my computer to prep for a slide show that will be shown this Friday, I smiled at the image of little "Jackie," the child who wasn't more than 3 when he began singing and dancing with his brother, Evan, on stages in Spokane. I could almost hear the quick piano music, the beat of those little tap shoes. I imagined a town and life that would have been so much simpler in many ways--with open fields, kids playing outside, running to the corner store to buy Cracker Jacks and candy corn.
But this was also the Great Depression and soon it would be war. I felt a lump form in my throat as I scanned the photos of my grandpa in his uniform. How do young men leave their families and their homes to fight? What kind of courage did he, and all of the others like him, need to wake up with each morning? My grandpa's stories of flying in the Army Air Force as a bombardier weren't his favorites to tell (he preferred to repeat the one about swallowing two nickels when he was 3, and, well, searching for them afterwards). But he was proud of his commitment to our country, and so am I. I think of families today, sending their loved ones away for service and I'm reminded of what true sacrifice is.
I looked through a baby book that my grandma Maxine had put together, not of my dad, but of his younger brother, Brad. The photos of their family of four made me smile. They are so similar in a way to my own childhood photos--four of us, standing in front of the Christmas tree, or capturing a quick moment on vacation. And soon, like my grandma, I may hold my second child in my arms, in front of a Christmas tree. It's snapshot of a joyful life, a reminder that God blesses us in so many ways.
And then it hit me, as I stared at their faces. They're all gone. All four of them have passed on, and all, with the exception of my grandpa, left earth before what many would have considered their time. I'm reminded that we really don't know how long we have with the people dearest to us. Life can change so quickly.
How did my grandparents endure the loss of their son, Brad, in a tragic accident, when he was only 12? How do parents survive this? What fears did my grandparents whisper about in bed at night, as they realized that my grandma's cancer was not going away, despite chemo and radiation, and trips abroad for experimental treatments? What sadness pierced my grandpa's heart when he buried his first born son, my dad? These things break us and make us question God's goodness and presence in our lives. Did Grandpa lose hope sometimes? I'm sure he did. But anyone who knew him would say that he lived a life full of joy. His pale blue eyes always sparkled. He had a fabulous sense of humor. And he was giving--so giving--of his time, resources, and love.
My grandpa's resilience in hard times reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Romans 5:3-5:
And not only that, but we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
I believe my grandpa knew that God's love is poured on us, even when life itself feels like it's pouring on us. I know he found strength in God. It was this strength that allowed him to continue to do extraordinary things with his life.
At age 81, he ran his first marathon. Afterwards, he decided to take up weightlifting and went on to win two world gold medal titles when he was 82 and 83. At age 30, I can hardly motivate myself to do yoga.
losing him back then, and believe God was not quite ready to take him home. He moved into a memory care facility, and although his body was strong, his mind gradually succumbed to the effects of his injury. On one of his last days, I took Miles to see him and say goodbye. He was still talking and held my hand and whispered, "I love you SO much." He was known for his love for his family. "Family," he once said, "is where all the love is."
I feel so blessed to have many memories of growing up with my grandpa. I will always remember his cabin on the river where we spent many holidays and summers, snowmobiling, playing on the swing set, planting vegetables, and having BBQs on the deck.
Perhaps more than anything, I will always remember his loving kindness. That genuine way he would hug me, say "hiya Rach!" and tell me that he was proud of me. I pray that I will be that kind of parent to my own children, telling them how much they mean to me, and never holding back at opportunities to show affection.
Tomorrow will be a celebration of Grandpa Jack's life, I have no doubt. Here's to you, Grandpa! I'll miss you.