Yesterday, I boarded a plane to come home after three years of living abroad and being a little more than a face on a screen, one of the 14 grandchildren my grandparents sometimes remember that they have. By the time I landed, my grandfather’s heart had stopped beating and he had left his earthly dwelling to be with the Lord: quietly, silently, without a fuss, just the way he lived his life.
When I was 6 years old, my parents divorced and my brother, mom, and I moved out of the house on Grace Street to live with my grandparents, who were fresh into their retirement. Suddenly, my grandfather was back playing referee, chauffeur and cook, this time to two hot-tempered grandchildren. I don’t remember him ever showing his disappointment in the interruption but I’m certain it wasn’t the retirement he had pictured. Yet my grandpa provided a solid footing in my otherwise completely unstable childhood. I remember sitting with him in the mornings, eating shredded wheat before he became wholly committed to oatmeal for breakfast (at which point, I ate that too).
In the evenings, after watching Jeopardy and Rescue 911, Unsolved Mysteries or some other entirely terrifying tv show, I would often fall asleep in my grandparents’ bed – cuddled up on my grandpa’s side I would listen to the waves lap on the shore and watch the number tiles fall on the clock as each minute passed until sleep would find me. Then later, even though we were both too old for such a routine, my grandpa would carry me to my own bed down the hall. I remember how he would drive me to and from school and how his car smelled of scotch mints and… something else, which to this day I am not sure is common knowledge so I won’t disclose. I will never forget the day that he picked me up from the ferry terminal after I had been kicked out of camp and he told me that he was disappointed in me.
I am sure that all my cousins who lived in our town share the memory of looking up into the stands or on the side of the pitch and seeing grandpa cheering us on at hockey, baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer and field hockey. The difference for me was that often he was the only one cheering me on, probably because he drove me to the game in the first place…just like he drove me to all of my auditions in downtown Vancouver for acting and modelling gigs. That right there is love.
One time my grandpa even drove with me 12 hours, through the mountains, back to Bible College for a new semester, the same Bible college he graduated from 50 years earlier. I remember stopping at a McDonald’s in Banff and having to order for him. It was the day I realized that he was getting old and instead of him doing everything for me, I needed to help him sometimes too.
He officiated at my wedding. This is a picture of his…
and my cousin, Hannah’s.
But the memory that I will cherish the most is more recent. My grandparents were already quite declined and experiencing dementia, and I was looking after them. They were still in the beach house and it was an intense week as I battled with my grandma to eat and keep good hygiene. But no matter how unsettling the day, I would lay in bed, and from down the hall, listen as my grandfather would tell my grumpy grandma (who I am very much like) that he loved her, recite scripture, pray, and sing a verse or two of a hymn before drifting off to sleep. He was always singing hymns.
I had looked forward to seeing him again, to taking him a milkshake and showing him pictures of the kids but I was a day too late. I am not sad that he died. He lived a good, full and faithful life and passed peacefully, but selfishly I wish that I had been able to say good-bye. Even though my faith has grown strong enough to be a solid foundation, strong enough to uphold me and my family, a part of the footing on which I stood for so long has slipped away.
But that is the legacy of a life well-lived.
Each meal, my grandpa would pray the same and to-the-point prayer. We pray on in the light of his memory:
Father, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and use us for your service. Amen.