Sunday, May 27, 2012


Jeremy and I were married on May 13th.
We went on a lovely honeymoon to the Bahamas for five days.
We drove to a lake house in Missouri.
Monday morning, I got a phone call from my sister that my Grandpa had died.

This high of our marriage and honeymoon was sharply jolted by the reality of death.
The reality that life is good.
And life is so awful.
At the same time.

I've had a difficult time knowing what to feel.
How to act.
What to say.
What to do.
People saying "Congratulations" and "I'm so sorry" all in one breath.

We drove back to Lincoln, packed up our stuff, and drove here to Colorado to be with family and celebrate Grandpa's life.

We weren't expecting Grandpa's death so soon. He'd been fighting two horrible allergic reactions to antibiotics he'd been given. But in spite of his pain, he insisted on coming to our wedding (an 8-hour car drive away).

When I saw him for the first time in Nebraska, I nearly gasped. I'd never seen him so sick in all his 90 years. He looked up at me wearily from the rocking chair he was sitting in and said, "I know I look awful. I'm sorry. But I really wanted to be here for your wedding."

He was in a lot of pain. His skin was falling off of his body. His hands were purple from lack of circulation. His body was failing him. I know it was so hard for him, but I'm glad he came.

It was the last time I saw him.
The last time I saw that knowing twinkle in his gray eyes.
The last time he called me "Heather the feather."
The last time he looked at me and I felt good and worth being proud of.

I don't understand death.
I don't understand how his heart stopped pumping.
His lungs ceased to function.
His body shut down.
And yet his spirit feels alive and real. 
Isn't he still at the farm where he's always been?

Sitting in his funeral on Friday, I listened as people told stories of his life: school, marriage, draft into the war, having kids, working the farm, being Grandpa. In my short 24 years with him, I feel like the best thing Grandpa taught me was the value of complete and total acceptance.

Grandpa was born in 1920.
Before World War II.
Before Civil Rights and Martin Luther King.
Before feminism and the women's equality movement.
Before 75 mph highways and international travel at the speed of light.
Before cell phones, the Internet, and Facebook.
Before life got really busy and fast and complicated.

With all that Grandpa has seen and experienced, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he said, "Oh Heather, you think that's hard, let me tell you..." or "Oh, these kids and their silly toys." But he never did. No. Instead he said, "Interesting" or "Tell me about that."

He never made me feel unintelligent or silly or petty or childish.
He always expressed a genuine interest in what I cared about and what mattered to me.

In our society of harsh and aggressive lines between what people think is right and wrong, good and bad, and how everyone has something to say about "those" people and "that" belief, Grandpa was just plain accepting. Even if he disagreed. Even if he didn't understand. He wasn't merely tolerant. He was loving.

And I will forever remember that about him.

Thanks, Grandpa.


kessia reyne said...

I'm sorry to hear about your sadness. Your grandpa sounds like a wonderful man, a true gift to the world. May he rest in peace.