Yes, this will make two very long and rambling posts back to back this week. Hopefully you'll bear with me. Obviously I'm feeling a bit introspective these days.
I've been thinking about my Grandad a lot lately, as it would have been both his 78th birthday and his and my grandmother's 56th anniversary this week. We lost him to cancer on December 28th, 2005, a date that I think will always stand out as a turning point in my life. Up until his death I had never had to deal with loss, had never really truly mourned. Sure, I had been to funerals, I had dealt with the loss of family pets, but this was the first time I had really had to come to terms, as an adult with the full understanding of what it meant, with the loss of a beloved family member. I realize how lucky that makes me, that I would be within sight of my 30th birthday with all four grandparents alive and well and active forces in my life. But it also made the moment all that more shattering when it came.
My Grandad was much more to me than a kindly old man I visited on school holidays or a shadowy figure who sent annual birthday presents, the way I hear some of my friends describe their grandparents. He was very present in my life, an inspiration, a source of laughter and comfort, in every way that matters a hero to me, and to all who knew him. He was a minister in the United Church of Canada and his quiet, unshakable, simple (in the best sense of the word) faith shaped my understanding not only of God but of the world in general. My cousin L said in his portion of the eulogy that Grandad was one of the few people who truly believed that it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game, and he demonstrated that to us every day, simply by living as faithfully and as well as he could. His loss has left a huge hole in our lives and our family, one that will never really be filled. I think of him, and miss him, every single day.
What follows is a portion of my eulogy from his funeral ... I don't think I could say it any better than I did that day to honour him.
How do we mourn someone who lived so well and died so loved? Love is the first word that came to mind when I started to think about what I wanted to say today. Love, for me, is what defined Grandad, and certainly love is what I will remember most about him. His family, his God, his Newfoundland home, his St. Lawrence river … his love for all these things and many more just shone out of him and shaped every day of his life. As a grandchild I felt the full force of that unconditional, unending, unlimited love. I will never forget how his face would light up whenever one of us would come into the room – even the last time I saw him. I walked into his hospital room and he turned and smiled at me and said “Good morning, honey.” His relationship with his grandchildren was most decidedly a mutual admiration society.
He had a store of love that just expanded exponentially to encompass every new thing and person who crossed his path. I always knew how much he loved me and how much his family adored him, but what has really struck me in the last few days is how much every person who ever met him treasured him. The messages that have poured in from people who knew him 40, 50, 60 years ago have humbled and awed me. My Grandad, the man who once dropped his pants in the middle of Christmas dinner to show us his new Christmas boxer shorts, is the same man who inspired such love and respect from all these people? Not that I didn’t believe him worthy of such accolades, but my focus tended to be more narrow, more concerned with what he meant to me personally. To realize he meant so much to so many people has made me prouder than ever to call myself his granddaughter, and I know it is something I will carry with me all my life.
There are no words I can think of that will do justice to all he was and all he meant, and continues to mean, to me. His humour, his smile, his faith, his stories, and above all his unceasing, boundless, overwhelming love. All these things I will carry with me, and all these things will give me strength and comfort in the days to come and for the rest of my life.
A card I was given recently puts it best, I think. “A remarkable man is gone now, and this world seems a little lessened somehow because he is not a part of it. A little less wise and great, a little less good and brave.”