He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19: 26-27)
My dear sons,
This past week marked the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death. Obviously, I have been thinking about him all week, about his influence on my life. It is interesting the connection I’ve noticed with this week’s Lenten study, which covers the final words of Jesus. This week’s study fits perfectly for me in a profound way in that it reveals not only my dad’s gift of love, but also the necessity of community.
Grief is an interesting thing. Loss is so raw, so painful and seemingly impossible to get through when one is initially hit with it. I will never forget saying “goodbye” to him at the young age of 20 (roughly the age you two are now as you read this). I had no idea what his influence on my life was exactly. I just knew I loved him and would miss him terribly and that the thought of him being gone from my life forever was unbearable. I knew it was coming, but denial was definitely my way of coping at that age, even as I cried and said “goodbye” and needed reassurance that he knew I loved him very much.
I remember the day I got the news, just a few days after I said “goodbye.” I was in a meeting at my sorority house and had a feeling come over me that told me to leave the meeting and call home, and I did. My sister answered in tears and told me to call back. I knew but didn’t want to believe it. My mom called back about fifteen minutes later to tell me he was gone. She was so kind to call one of my best friends down the hall first to tell her to please go to my room to be with me when she called. Not only did my friend come, but she also grabbed every sorority sister she could on her way. Therefore, 10-15 friends surrounded me and comforted me while I cried. My sons, those young women took me in as their true sister and held me in a time when I needed it. They beheld me as their sister as they recognized the pain that we all experience in our lives. They recognized that I needed them, and that really, we all need each other. I pray that you find a community with which you can find this sort of bond. If you can’t find it, my sons, please build one.
This passage also means a great deal to me because your grandpa did just what Christ calls us to do – to take care of each other and to take on family as one’s own, especially when there is a need. You see, my sons, I’m not sure when I will tell you this, but your grandpa adopted me and my brother and sister when we were very young. He married my mother and loved us all as if we were his very own. Our biological father just wasn’t emotionally capable of being a dad to us, so your grandpa took over, and we never once felt like “step children.” We were his.
He was quite a character. Everyone knew when he entered a room. His personality was very big, and pretty much everyone loved him. He was handsome, tall, loud, and easy to be around. A bit gruff, but I think that is part of what people liked about him.
Well, I have created a list of specific lessons he taught me by living his example. I’d like to share these with you in this post. I want you to know all about your grandpa, and I know that between now (as I write this) and the year 2030 (as you read this), you will have heard many stories about him – the funny ones, the lovely ones, and the not-so-great ones, as no one is perfect. But here in this post, it is important to me to spell out for myself and for you the details of his positive influence on me as well as on those who were fortunate enough to know him well.
Here they are… Your grandpa’s life lessons as revealed by the way he lived his life:
1. Say what you think/feel – No nonsense!
People found your grandpa refreshing to be around because you always knew where you stood with him. If he thought you were full of it, he’d tell you, and somehow, you loved him for it.
There is a funny story your grandmother tells about an experience they once had in a meeting with their small group from church. One woman was being a gossip and saying negative things about a church leader. My dad said quite strongly, “You need to drop it.” The lady kept talking and bringing it up, so he said, “If you bring it up again, I’m leaving.” Well, she just couldn’t help herself, so he got up and said, “Come on, dear. We’re leaving,” and he walked out of the door. My poor mom had to somehow leave gracefully and shares that she was certain they’d never be welcome again with that group. My parents got phone calls the following day from people saying they had never been so happy after what he did.
Have you ever been around someone and felt like you just didn’t know where you stood with him or her? That never happened to people who knew your grandpa. If he was annoyed by you, he’d tell you, but if he was proud of you, loved you, thought you were terrific, funny, etc., he’d tell you that, too. The compliments meant a great deal when they’d come because they were real. Everyone loved him for it. I try to be like that – upfront and honest. But it’s hard sometimes, I admit. This gives me another reason to admire him.
2. It’s okay to be proud sometimes.
Your grandpa would come home from work and would have had a good, productive day, and he’d share it the moment he walked in. If we got an award or a teacher said something nice about us, he’d share that with anyone near him. If we were performing on a stage or playing a sport on the court or field, he’d yell to everyone around him, “That’s my daughter!”
Now, humility is important. Don’t get me wrong. And I know that pride can be a fault, but in these sorts of instances, it’s okay. It’s more than okay.
3. It’s okay to come home, take off your belt and shoes, sit in your recliner, mess up your well-groomed businessman hair by massaging your scalp to clear out the AquaNet hair spray and eat an entire raw cauliflower as a snack in front of the television. And ice cream out of the tub if you plan to finish it.
Yup. I told you he was a character. Gosh, I loved him. I’d sit next to him on the sofa and take in the joy and relief he was feeling as he was home – at the one place in the world where he could be completely comfortable.
4. It isn’t worth fighting over small stuff.
Your grandpa knew when to argue and when to just let things go. He’d let out his frustrations with no problem, but once it was out, he’d let it go. Often, if he didn’t like something (particularly a decision my mom would make), he’d just go with it, knowing that it wasn’t worth fighting over. He somehow had the perspective in life to know what was important and what was not. I work very hard each day to be like him in this way. Again, it’s tough.
5. Laugh loudly.
Your grandpa was known for his very loud and infectious laugh. It was distinct yet not so loud that it would hurt one’s ears. People would know when he was in an audience if it involved laughter because they’d hear him, even if he were on the other side of the theater. It went with his personality, I think. I can still hear it 20 years later, and I’m so grateful for its uniqueness. He didn’t hold back his laughter, or his tears.
6. It’s okay to cry at heartfelt commercials and “chick flicks.”
That’s right. He was a real “manly man” to others (although I apologize for the description. I think the term is total b.s.), but he had no problem crying when he felt emotional. You should feel free to cry, too, my sons. It is a part of being human. There is nothing weak about it. Unless you think being human is weak, which of course, it is not. It’s anything but weak.
7. Don’t embarrass too easily. It really doesn’t matter what others think of you. It matters more how you treat others. You have no reason to be embarrassed for who you are or what happens to you.
Your grandpa had some hilariously embarrassing moments. I’m sure you’ve heard some of those stories. One was when his pants fell down in front of a crowd at a restaurant buffet. No joke. He ate too much and unbuckled his belt and forgot about it as he carried two plates back up to the buffet. It’s hilarious, but I’m glad I wasn’t there. Anyway, he was able to laugh at himself later as he didn’t take himself too seriously. (As a side note and going beyond that, I have learned from my own experience that although it runs counter to what you might think, not taking yourself too seriously earns you respect from others).
Your grandpa would pray or would encourage your grandmother or one of us children to pray before each meal. We always held hands. I know he prayed in private, but I am so grateful for all of the nights when I was a child when I’d be falling asleep with my door open (along with everyone else’s door in the house), and down at the end of the hall, I’d hear your grandparents praying together quietly. I’d hear your grandpa praying about various circumstances occurring for him personally or within our family and community. Often, I’d hear my name and drift off to sleep knowing that I was being prayed for, as well as those I loved. It was a wonderful way to fall asleep as a child. Actually, it’s a wonderful way to fall asleep for anyone. Boys, I hope prayer is a natural part of your routine.
Your grandpa had no problem with apologies. He knew when he’d messed up, and he fessed up and asked for forgiveness. He also knew how to forgive. He spent most of his adult life forgiving himself, so forgiving others was cake for him. If somehow he had gotten too angry at one of us during the day, he’d either come into our rooms at bedtime to apologize or yell in the hall from his bed during our “Goodnight John Boy” moments (That’s an old expression from an old 70s television show called, “The Waltons”). Now, I know that sometimes my mother would be the one to remind him to do this, but he never hesitated. He knew it was essential and not a form of weakness at all. It takes strength to apologize when we know we were wrong. Don’t hesitate to offer one when an apology is warranted. No one is perfect, so make sure others know when you wish you’d handled something differently.
I remember when he was happy about something, and he’d dance a jig of some sort. I remember giggling when he’d do that, just from the happiness I felt from seeing his expression of his.
Your grandpa was quite a dancer. He and your grandmother would dance and dance at wedding receptions. He could really lead a partner around the dance floor, and when I got old enough to dance with him, some of my best memories are of those dances. I remember when I was 15, and we were at a restaurant that had a great jazz band and a dance floor. I remember that as we waited for a table, he invited me to dance with him, and I did. It was one of my favorite memories with him, and I’m so glad my mother caught the moment on camera.
Boys, I never had the chance to dance with my dad at my wedding or have him walk me down the aisle, but every time I hear his favorite kind of music (jazz), I feel his presence and try to dream up what our dance would have been like, and it brings me back to that time when I was 15. I think we would have definitely chosen jazz, and I would have let him pick the song. At least that is how my pretend memory plays in my head.
Your grandpa chose to live his life to the fullest. Although life wasn’t always perfect as my post might make it seem as I’ve reflected on his influence, it was always meaningful. The overarching lessons he taught just by living his life his own way have been a gift to me, and hopefully, to you. He lived and loved. That was it. I read the following sentence online somewhere recently, “If you fit in, you’re doing something wrong.” I think he pretty much lived by that motto.
I am so grateful after all these years to remember these details about him and to have ridden through the raw and painful grief process long enough to have the emotional ability to write this post with a smile (Okay, and maybe a few tears). I know I will see him again one day, as my post about Paradise discusses. He lived his life as a father to me by truly beholding me as his very own child, and my heart continues to overflow with gratitude. I was and always will be his little girl.
I love you both so, so much!
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