So, I decided to process the deaths of the men in my life before I get there, hoping that while I’ll still be my messy, human self that morning, perhaps I can preserve a bit of the face I’ll paint on since I definitely don’t have the complexion of a soap opera actress and I get rather red and puffy when I’m tearful.
I’ve done enough funerals to know that those who have died and gone on to glory were still human. As a wise Methodist pastor once said, you don’t make a saint out of a sinner at the funeral. You honor who they were. And we are all sinners and saints, simultaneously, falling short and beloved of God. So here goes:
I have such great memories of my grandpa, many of which I tried to share by sending him cards as the end approached. I wanted him to know that I remembered him even before he’d gone. He was a gruff man, never saying, “I love you.” He was a war veteran and didn’t sit with his back to any room. He had some falling out with his parents and left home. I always wonder about the unspoken stories of his life since he shared so many other wonderful stories. I remember lingering around the table after dinner when I was growing up to hear him talk about family I had never seen, tell dirty jokes, and laugh. There was always so much laughter.
This saint always believed in me and was so proud of me, no matter how I fumbled along the way. If I said I thought I might go to Dartmouth after my undergraduate work, that Christmas brought me warm gloves for northern climes. If I said I might like to buy a house after seminary, my graduation present was a significant gift toward a down payment. If I asked him to walk me down the aisle, he did so, even though he never liked being the center of attention, making jokes and letting me know if I wanted to turn around right there, it would be ok. He may have been a cantankerous old man and hard to understand at times, but I know he loved me deeply and truly. That is a gift to me, solid ground in a stormy world.
It’s hard to conjure up memories of my dad because he left our family when I was entering middle school. It was better for my parents to divorce, but I never did understand why he couldn’t or didn’t love his children enough to stay in our lives, in whatever way he could. I remember my dad taking me fishing – I would run up and down the creek banks, eating wild blackberries, while he trolled the eddies trying to entice some crappie to bite. I remember helping him grease a brown paper back with Crisco in preparation for the Thanksgiving turkey that would bake in the oven. I remember the bite of his belt and his admonishment not to cry. I remember him leaning over to kiss me good night with a halo of alcohol around him. I remember the faded green tattoos on his arms and the scars from many surgeries wrapping around his body. And then, later, when I was a grown up, I remember seeing him small and frail and weak and I felt the fear and bitterness toward him evaporate, leaving me with only regret and pity.
This saint reminded me that we are all broken, struggling in our own journey and often bruising those closest to us as we grope toward grace. When he died this year, the 20 year estrangement was finalized and I was left to wonder that that was all there was to our story. Really? That’s it? The man who helped bring my flesh and blood into being and I have no more than a handful of memories and some scabbed over scars to show for it. It’s a cautionary tale for how I am in relationship with others.
This story was over before it started. I remember so many things, though, like the joy of seeing that positive pregnancy test and always knowing the start date of my last cycle before his conception since it was my birthday. I remember drinking so much water I thought my bladder would burst so that I could be sure to see my little baby at a 13 week ultrasound since I was nervous that it might be twins, which run in my family. I remember wondering why I didn’t get the super-sniffer or the thicker hair that had accompanied my first pregnancy. I remember being startled when my waistline disappeared almost immediately, although I was losing weight. I remember the joy I shared with my husband, son, and mother when we got to see his ultrasound at nearly 21 weeks, and I saw that I was expecting another son. I still have the list of names we were considering and there’s a closet full of baby things in the room that would have been his.
This saint reminded me that I’m not in control of my life, however much I may struggle to grasp it, mold it, and even at times convince myself that I’m the boss in my corner of eternity. This world is broken, twisted and contrary to the good creation God made, and we all feel the aftershocks of sin. My heart continues to break and I still cry a good deal, but I also feel stronger, more faithful, and more compassionate. In this loss, which shook me to my roots, I had to reach further down, further into true reality, to find my bedrock in God.
I encourage you to take time this day, this week, this season, to consider what all the saints in your life have given you – good, bad, or indifferent. We are who we are because of them.