Monday, February 9, 2009

Updated Repost: In Memory

So, today was my grandpa's memorial service. Well, technically his THIRD memorial service (two in Arizona & now the family one up here in Washington.) The man was well loved. It was a beautiful service. I had two favorite parts. First, I thought it was amazing to hear people speak about him & I was amused that several things that I had said about him in my blog were what other people remembered most about him too. My cousin spoke and Oh My Goodness! Was it touching. He described my grandpa to a tee and I wanted to jump out of my seat screaming, "YES! I remember that about him too! Wasn't he awesome?!"

Then, my grandpa had prepared for this. He made a DVD. Going to someone's funeral and then hearing their voice is a crazy thing. The dvd started off with him reading poetry that he had written (beautiful!) with his paintings as a background. Then, several pictures from when he was a very young man to just this last summer. It was great to see a ton of family that I haven't seen in a while and just to hear every one share about grandpa. It was brought to my attention that apparently more people are aware of my blog than I knew and several people had read my tribute to him. So, I decided to repost it so that the family members who were alerted to it didn't have to wade through a couple of weeks worth of posts to find it. So, here it is again:

The world lost a wonderful man yesterday. One of thee best men I've ever known actually. If I had to say what's shaped me into the person that I am today, having my grandparents in my life was possibly the biggest contributor. My grandpa didn't have an easy life, but he made it a fabulous one. In his book Daddy Your Shoes Didn't Fit My Feet, he shares with the world glimpses of his life story (as much of it as you can fit into under 200 pages anyway.) There's no doubt that he was a survivor. The saying "Out of difficulties grow miracles" is one way to describe his life. A lot of people allow themselves to be broken down and quit in the face of adversity. My grandpa used it as a tool to make himself into an inspirational motivator to those around him.

Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, my grandpa lost his father to a heart attack. His dad was only 38 years old and my grandpa was 11. That loss changed the dynamic of their family forever and the next several years would prove to be painful and terrifying for the family. After leaving home at a young age, my grandpa used his persistence and hard work to build himself the life he had always wanted. He proved to be quite the entrepreneur and was running a successful logging company (among other side ventures in real estate and such) when he started having chest pain at age 36. After running tests for the next few months, the doctors gave him a grim verdict: he had severe artery disease and if they did bypass surgery (which was brand new in 1970) that he would probably die on the operating table. They said he most likely only had about 6 months to live. In his usual "grab life by the horns" fashion, he set to work trying to get things in order for his wife and 4 kids. He didn't want to leave them with the same stresses and struggles that his family had faced when his own father had died.

It was then that my grandpa learned a valuable lesson. He sold his prestigious home in town and simplified their life. By being forced to slow down & downsize because of his health, he was able to realize something. Page 138 in his book says:

"The next few months taught me a valuable lesson. Happiness isn't found in prestige houses, big bank accounts, shiny new cars, or diamonds and silk cloth. Happiness is having peace within. It comes when we can accept who we are inside and are willing to trade worldly wealth for quiet time with your wife. It's when you relax before a fireplace while rocking a child that you helped bring into this world and let the sound of his rhythmic breathing bring peace to one's soul. It comes when you walk hand in hand with your five and six year olds, while the sun is dropping behind the evergreen trees, and you don't feel rushed when you stop and watch the hard working ants drag cuttings of cherry tree leaves. He doesn't seem to know where home is. The leaf is much bigger than he is, but he wants it all. I had spent much of my life like the little ant."

I feel so blessed to have come into my grandpa's world after he knew all of this, because all I ever knew of him was a man that acted as if he had all the time in the world to spend with me and made me feel like the greatest treasure. He had this gift for making you feel like you were his favorite person in the world & that you were a person of worth with talents and a purpose. I've never had self-esteem issues and I'm sure alot of that is because of his unconditional love since the day I was born (and technically before because I've read a love letter he wrote to my mom when she was pregnant with me that made it clear that he loved me even before I was born.) For a long time, with the way that he praised me and spoiled me, I thought that I was certainly his favorite. As I got older, I looked around and realized that that was just the way he treated everybody. He was always taking people under his wing and building people up. Now, I frequently run into people who ask, "How are your grandparents doing?" and they tell me how my grandparents have helped them get through a difficult time of some sort or enriched their life one way or another. "If it hadn't been for your grandparents..." is something I hear alot.

I have so many awesome memories of spending time with him. He loved to garden and always grew berries for us. When I eat a warm strawberry off the vine, I think of him. He also loved to fish, and I can't eat smoked salmon without thinking of him either. I remember spending the night at their house, he would always make me a special breakfast and so I also think of him when I think of omelets or waffles. There are so many memories of him tied into food. I think because like everything else he did, he just poured so much love into it. It wasn't really that he was giving me food so much as feeding my soul. Over the years, he became an amazing painter and his eye for beauty and love of nature are documented in his many paintings.

He didn't get much education growing up in Kentucky & Virginia, but he was absolutely one of the smartest people I've ever known and he loved learning. He was always up for a conversation and our talks would usually turn to the subject of goals and how smart he thought I was. He was so proud to see his kids and grand kids succeed and he always made it clear that he knew I had the brains to do anything I wanted in life. I still believe that and I'm so thankful that he instilled that confidence in me. The first mail that I ever received was when I was in preschool and my grandparents went to Arizona for the winter. I loved getting my "love letters" from my grandpa. He taught me so many life skills. Things like how to really talk to someone, how to look someone in the eye and truly listen. He showed me how to care about what people are saying and to have a servant's heart to help them if they need it. The first time I ever drove a vehicle was with him too. One afternoon, he just stopped by my house and said, "Do you wanna go for a ride?" and tossed me the keys. I was so nervous driving his truck, but he was patient as I swerved back and forth over the center line at 10 MPH, just casually talking the whole time and giving me the occasional pointer on driving.

Yesterday was my grandma's 70th birthday. My grandpa had begun planning for it over a month ago. He had arranged for all 4 of their kids to fly down and surprise her. I don't know if he knew then that he was going to pass away, but I wouldn't doubt it. I am shocked and amazed at the poetry of the way that he held on until all 4 of his kids were there and had a chance to say good-bye and be there to support my grandma. I have never known anyone else so capable of willing themselves to live. It was 39 years ago that they told him that he had about 6 months left. He has endured through heart attacks and strokes and heart surgeries over the years and has lost almost all of his siblings to heart disease in that time.

I'm sad for my grandma. I can't imagine losing your spouse after 53+ years of marriage, but I'm so thankful that our family (and community) had the privilege of having him in our lives for 39 years longer than the doctors told him we would. He passed away with the same dignity and with the same inspirational strength and love that he lived his life.

The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.
Thomas Carlyle


Check Out: Daddy Your Shoes Didn't Fit My Feet by Fred Holbrook


  1. That would be so cool to have a DVD like that at the memorial service. Way to think ahead, Natalie's grandpa!

  2. That was so nice, I am all misty eyed. Grandparents are so wonderful and when they are gone we miss them so much!