Today is the sixth anniversary of your grandfather’s death. For most of yesterday, I kept thinking about him and what I was doing six years ago on my last day with him. I remembered comments he made about his death in the months leading up to it, and my thoughts went to an email he wrote me in the month before he died. Immediately, I knew I had to find that email and share it with you here.
My words will fail to express the amount of grief I feel over my father’s death. He was cheated by cancer and those damn cigarettes, which, in turn, cheated you of the gift of knowing your grandfather. What a priceless gift you will never receive!
It is now my honor to be the one to tell you about him. I hope I have many more days left in my life in which to tell you about my parents and my brother, so you can get a glimpse of who they were and how much they would have adored you. I’ll start with the last words he wrote, which were a response to a request I had made for him to discuss his impending death with me. I am forever thankful that he responded by email so I could save it for you, and so I could get all my tears out of the way before I replied!
Thank you for your beautiful message. I am happy to talk and write to you about my death; my fears; my excitement and my desire to prolong the end. I would enjoy an open dialog with you about any of these things. I know that you feel you weren't ready when Jackson died and not completely ready when Brenda got sick ( but I think you got squared away before she finally died). I will discuss some of my other thoughts later but for now my greatest anxiety is my worthiness. I, as most Christians, have talked a good story all my life about the promises of the Bible and my belief in salvation through Christ. I believe that, but I am not good enough!!!
You question how I feel at this point in my life. Am I scared? Yes! The fear is of the unknown. I will never forget when Jackson called me at the GWPCA conference in Columbus, GA. He had just accepted the fact that he was going to die and he was petrified!!! I talked to him at great length. I finally used the analogy of his first parachute jump and told him that he wasn't afraid of his first parachute even though he wasn't sure that the chute was going to open. That makes a good story but it doesn't help with my fears. Yes I will continue to be up tight right up until the end. But hopefully with my family around me holding my hand, I will relax and go peacefully.
Excited? Hell yes!!! The thought of being with so many loved ones and old friends is beyond my comprehension. I am not sure how, but I see it as being exciting and peaceful both at the same time. I do have problems with leaving my children and grandchildren. And, obviously Maureen! My entire life has been wrapped around my children, wife and now grandchildren. Being loved gets so intense when it is by your Children and Grandchildren. Especially Grandchildren! They accept you with all of your warts and blemishes and never see the faults that your children and spouses see. The other side of the same coin is the effort we put in to love and make happy our children and spouse. (And our disappointment when we fail to meet their expectations.)
Enough for this session. I'll discuss anything that you want to discuss. I hope that you will be ready when the time comes. But, get used to the idea that the time is coming. Hopefully months away, but it is coming!!!
I love you,
I, of course, sent Dad a REALLY long email in reply. This letter from him opened up a huge dialog for us and I had lots to say and ask! He sent me two more emails before he became too unaware of himself as death came closer, but neither of those emails were as substantive as the one above.
One of the last things I wrote to him is this: Take this last thought with you: even if there were nothing after death, that's still not the end of us. No life begins or ends without touching someone else's. And even if our family name were to end with you, you still left a mark, an impression, on every single life you touched here on earth: your friends, your enemies, your spouses, your children. You will live on, here on this earth, throughout eternity. You are a link in the long chain of life! Your father and mother were the portal for your life, and you are the portal for mine. Your life made possible the lives of three children and three grandchildren. I never knew your father or his father or his father's father, but their presence is still here, through me, every day of my life, and every day of Katie's, Hannah's, and Peyton's lives. That is your purpose--and my purpose--even if everything else crumbles with the passing of time.
Here’s my last thought for you, Katie and Jackson (and Hannah and Peyton): Steeley would have, simply put, ADORED you. I can just imagine his booming voice bragging over the amazing things you do and the funny things you say. This morning, I would have called him to relay how Katie said to me at the breakfast table: “What is a cyclone? It’s a tornado but also when you make a copy of something, right?” No, Katie, that’s just a clone. Steeley would have belly laughed over that one. And, oh! He would have embarrassed the crap out of Hannah and Peyton by showing up to a soccer game with more camera gear than a National Geographic photographer. He would have the longest zoom lens you’d ever seen, just so he could capture the extreme close-up of his granddaughters’ winning goals. Jackson, I think he’d be especially enamored with you. He’d burst his buttons with pride simply because he had a grandson; someone he could relate to like the son he lost.
Oh… oh. It’s almost too much for me to bear. When I think of the three people and all that we lost when they died, it breaks my heart wide open all over again. I’m so sorry, Katie and Jackson. So very sorry for your loss.