Ten years ago I attended the funeral of a woman who wasn't terribly kind. At her funeral the priest asked if anyone would like to say a kind word about her and no one moved to speak. No one. Not her family, or the scattering of friends inside the church. The silence was deafening. Everyone turned and looked around for a brave soul to stand but there were no words to be said. I left with a heavy heart and a sick feeling of a life wasted.
A very short time later I attended the funeral of my grandfather, perhaps the kindest man I had ever known after he left us suddenly in a car accident. The same priest asked for volunteers to speak and person after person stood and recounted the many ways that this man had impacted their lives. The fullness of his life reverberated off of the walls in that sacred space and there was a reverent silence among us as we took in the measure of a life well lived. We all left with full, if sorrowful hearts, certain that he had left his mark on the world before he departed. It was the first time that I pondered what may be said after my final breath.
I have thought of this final lesson everyday since, and it reminds be to be kinder, live fuller and love more.
My Grandpa taught us to be humble. His humble spirit probably shrugged off the kind words spoken on that day, if indeed he heard the words from his new angelic home—in his mind sure that he should have done more. I wish that I had told him more than just an ‘I love you’. I wish that I had told him that he was the greatest man that I ever knew. He would have just shaken his head in embarrassment, but I wish that I had told him anyway. I did not tell him in life, but I did tell that room of people those exact words, among others.
You know that expression, that someone would give the ‘shirt of his back’. That was my Grandpa. He lived his life gifting his time, his money, his life to others. He gifted silently and many were not aware of the ways that he was out there saving the world, one person at a time. As a father who, before his time-- would change a diaper and do midnight feeding, as a firefighter, as a business owner that donated his time and money to many causes, as a friend whom you could count on even in the middle of the night, as a grandfather that would love you as fiercely as anyone could…he lived his life serving others.
He left us on Memorial Day in 2006. He was in what seemed to be a minor car accident and was ever so suddenly gone from this Earth. Memorial Day seems such an appropriate day for him to leave us- we have remembered him every single day since. In many ways, the ways that we live our lives is a memorial to him everyday.
The lessons that he left will live on forever. His eight children, seventeen grandchildren, his great grandchildren and friends and family will remember forever his kindness, love without boundaries, humility and willingness to learn new ways even until his last days(he taught me that there is no wisdom without open-minded learning) will stay on this Earth at least as long as we carry on his ways.
Thanks for the final lesson, Gramps. I love you even more today than the day you left us. Ten years have passed but your lessons remain.
I’ll see you on the other side.