My grandpa left us last night.
The day before he died, I had a dream. In the dream, I was in a competition of some sort. I was supposed to do something really original to show to the crowd or something like that, and I felt really stressed out because I couldn’t think of anything. While I was trying to think of what I was going to do, I remember feeling really down on myself, like I wasn't good enough. Suddently, someone said, “Jess, your grandpa is here!” I turned around, and there he was. He took my hand, and led me out of the room I was in. We walked outside, and sat down to talk. I woke up knowing that he had come to say goodbye to me, and to tell me that he was proud of me and that he loved me just the way I was. After I woke up, I wanted to keep talking to him, but in seeing him, it was if he was telling me that he would be around to talk whenever I needed to.
I imagine an accurate way to describe my grandfather would be a “surly curmudgeon with a heart of gold.” He was in many ways a paradox, a unique blend of cantankerous stubbornness and warm fuzzies. And we loved him greatly for that. He didn’t give a flying HELL what came out of his mouth or who heard what. He was hilariously inappropriate, crass, and outspoken. He also played Santa Claus at the mall, and brought joy to little kids with his creative stories about the North Pole. He was deeply spiritual, an elder at church. He had a poster in his bathroom with a guy with his pants pulled half way down that said, “Say no to crack.” He had a huge soft spot for his dog K.D. He loved radishes, peanut butter on hamburgers (don’t knock it til you try it), and peanut butter sandwiches dipped in milk. He always had a baseball hat on, and his La-Z-Boy was off limits (though occasionally he let me sit there). He smoked cigarettes despite every person he knew telling him to knock it off. He was quite the craftsman and loved his tools. He loved Big Band music, and sometimes would spontaneously burst into song (he was a deep rich baritone). He said things like, “Fiction or fact from Joe’s Almanac.” He loved lighthouses, and I had always wanted him to come to Seattle, but I imagine he is sitting by the shore looking out across the sea with God right now. While he presented a tough exterior, the man had the insides of a gooey marshmallow. And he always made sure to say, “Well, we’re proud of you kid.” He was who he was, no matter what. And I loved all of these things about him, the complexity of his character and his ability to just be…Grandpa.
I wasn’t there, but from what I was told, when he died, the moment was surrounded by peace and calmness. He was not alone. He told my uncle that he saw the hand of God.
My mom thinks that he knew when he was supposed to go. My brother, mom and I had a chance to talk to him on his last day, to let him know that we loved him, a gift I can’t believe I was so lucky to receive. I was told he cried, because even though he couldn’t talk to us, he knew what we were saying to him.
I always thought about death in a dark and ugly and scary way, but that’s not how it happened. And I’ve always been afraid of death in many ways. But it turns out, that through a tragic, sad, and painful experience, God showed up. Through all the doubts I might have about faith, too much has happened that leads me to believe that there is something bigger than ourselves. God has taken a moment that we look at as horribly painful, but somehow has brought goodness and beauty out of it: the release of someone from pain, the welcoming home for a child of God, bringing a family together, revealing God's self and peace and reassurance to people who desperately need to see it.
Death is frightening because it is the great unknown. No one can come back to tell you about what the experience is like. Someone I knew told me that death is much like our experience in our mother’s womb: when we are in there, we don’t want to leave. It is warm, safe, and it is all we know. And then we are pushed out into the world, a great, big, wonderful world that we never could have dreamt of. And I imagine this is the same way that death works: we cannot imagine anything beyond what we can experience on earth, and while it is frightening to leave what we know here, there is another better world to explore and know. It is the mystery that is the scariest part, but I imagine also the most beautiful.
Love you Gramps. Welcome home.