My Grandpa Leonard, my mom’s dad, died a year ago today. After having several minor strokes but being cleared to leave the hospital, he died unexpectedly. Because of the strokes, many of the family members who lived close had been able to have their last moments with him in the hospital. With two small children and the thought that everything was okay, I had not made the trek from SC to MO.
Grief is a funny thing, creeping in during both lonely and happy moments. I cried the night I found out, while I talked to my mom, and again the next day when I talked to my Grandma Pat. I still tear up occasionally when I see my cousin, who was named after him, posts on my FB wall. The last time we visited MO, I stifled the tears when we pulled up to his house for the first time since he passed, and instead found comfort in talking to Will about whether he remembered the last time we were there when Grandpa Leonard had taken him on a walk to see the neighbors’ horses.
I think of him often, especially after spending time with my dad.
Last week, I got a letter in the mail from my Grandma Pat. Inside, she had tucked these:
The note enclosed told me that she had been going through Grandpa’s clothes, and as she went through his suit pockets before donating it to charity, she found those two napkins folded in his inside pocket--from the last time he wore his suit. At my wedding.
Napkins are not sad things. My wedding was not a sad event. But I started weeping. Uncontrollably. In my kitchen. While I made macaroni and cheese for my kids. Will asked me what was wrong, and I quickly started to wipe my tears, first with the backs of my hands and then fittingly, with the napkins.
I miss him.
The day after he died, when I called Grandma Pat to let her know we were getting on the road and would be there for the funeral, I did what made sense at the time and asked if I could say something during the service on behalf of his grandchildren.
I found the eulogy today and want to share it as a way to continue to celebrate a life well-lived. Thanks for letting me share.
After I got the call on Sunday that Grandpa had passed, I found myself late into the night looking at old photos and I noticed two distinct things. First, I and most of you in this room, had little to no fashion sense in the eighties. Secondly, as I flipped through pictures of Grandpa Leonard at weddings, on Christmas Eve, holding one of his grandbabies, or sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard, I realized that whether the picture was from 1984 when I was 4 or more recently with my 4-year-old son, Will, Grandpa looked exactly the same.
There he was in flannel or pearl button shirts, usually with a pair of brown pants, his hair combed back and wearing glasses, his expression one of quiet contentment. One positive thing about looking at things through the lens of grief is that we can focus intensely on those aspects of the ones we love that make them legends in our minds. And Grandpa Leonard, from my perspective, was nothing short of a legend.
Over the years, I remember sitting at the breakfast table while he drank his first cup of coffee, listening to him recount stories of arriving in Japan days after the bombs were dropped. When I heard about him chopping enough wood to warm all of southwest Missouri or climbing on his icy roof to make sure it wasn’t going to leak, I never thought it odd even as he increased in age because my healthy-as-a-horse, strong-as-an-ox grandpa shared an invincible quality with the likes of Paul Bunyan.
In the days since he’s passed, though, as I’ve contemplated with shock and awe that this hero of a man was gone, it was not the heroic larger-than-life stories that brought me comfort. I found myself back at the breakfast table, eating eggs and drinking orange juice while Grandpa spread jam on his toast. I found myself sitting at the foot of the Christmas tree, waiting for my gift from Grandpa’s hands. I found myself watching from the living room chair as Grandpa added wood to the stove before sitting down to a game of dominoes or Aggravation. I found myself cozying up on his lap while we read books or watched Wheel of Fortune, his long legs spread out below mine, his bare feet exposed and warming next to the gas furnace.
It wasn’t the moments of legend that brought me strength and consolation; it was his very human moments, the moments when he was simply my grandpa, a man who snuck me hard candies and peanut butter cups even after my mom had already told me no more, who brought out toys and puzzles for me to play with that had been played with for decades by all the children and grandchildren before me, a man who worked hard, the only way he knew how, every day of his life to provide for his family.
Eleven of us called him dad. Thirty-five of us called him grandpa. Fifty-five of us called him great-grandpa, and even three called him great-great-grandpa. We are bound together by the legends, and responsible for carrying on a legacy that was bigger than a man. We must move on together, searching for ways to live without him in our daily lives, but more importantly by remembering him through our own actions. We’ll see him at our picnics, hear him in gospel music and the laughter of our children at Christmastime, taste him in our coffee and butterscotch hard candies, smell him in burning firewood, and feel him forever in our hearts.