When one receives devastating news, it’s like the hands of time stand still, frozen for a moment as the weight of the truth sinks in. We deny the reality, our breath caught in our throat, tears spilling in cascades across our cheek, as we realize that our loved one’s clock has run down.
In the early minutes of this Friday morning, my phone rang, and an immediate cloud of dread hung over me, as I picked up the receiver. Nobody calls me this early unless it’s bad news, I thought as I heard the shaky voice of my dearest friend on the other end. This first call was to tell me the state of turmoil our family was in, and an ominous warning of impending doom. Her Dad, a man I’ve known since I was eleven, was found in distress. This was the culmination of several days of unexplainable ailments, and the worst. I prayed with her for a miracle as she mentioned that EMTs had arrived on scene to assist. We hung up, and I immediately burst into tears. I knew. I denied it in my mind, but I felt it in my heart.
“Grief is like an ocean—it comes in like waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”-Vicki Harrison-
Fourteen minutes go by and the phone rings metallically in my ear. My heart tightens in my chest. The second call confirms it. I learned that the man whom I have seen as a second father-figure since the sixth grade, now my children’s “bonus” Granddaddy, suddenly experienced the last moments of his life. I was dumbfounded and in disbelief. What was worse—my dearest friend felt helpless, several states away and unable to rush to his side, and I could do little but listen and cry, commiserating with her. I worried for her mother, experiencing unfathomable anguish, and could only offer up love and prayers, knowing this was going to be a heavy burden to bear. Thankfully, her eldest daughter came to her aide in that moment of darkness.
The other pain was that our six year old daughter had no idea that she was losing this sweet soul in her life, and I knew that it would be my duty to deliver this terrible news. However, we agreed to wait, as she was backpacked up and ready for school. I looked away from her golden eyes, filled with hopefulness for his recovery, worried she would see my truth. To school she went, while we sorted out the particulars, and contacted more family we knew loved him well.
Here’s what I can say about this mountain of a man, who has a special place in my heart forevermore.
If you ever saw someone with infinite patience for all the drama of life, it is him. Surrounded by three type-A females (four, if you add me over the years), he took on all that came his way with a knowing twinkle in his eye and a low, rumbling laughter in his chest. Nothing ever seems to faze him. I realize that he reminds me of one of my favorite literary fathers, Mr. Bennet, whose wit carries him through many a similar situation.
There never was someone who loved his daughters more, and saw them through the rollercoasters of their youth and early adult years. I watched in admiration as he helped them build sets for plays, raise livestock, teach them to drive standard vehicles, and give them the foundation they needed to stand on their own, free of the damsel in distress mentality. He was there cheering them on through school, helping throughout various moves, jobs, and relationships. No matter the miles, the hour, or the circumstance, you could always rely on him to be there.
You’ve never seen anyone who loved to grandfather his grands more, who celebrated whatever milestones they accomplished, big or small. He also taught them all the tricks, whether it was building some contraption, fishing, or just something about their daily lives they needed to know. He even allowed them to use him as a landing pad in their games, or dress him up, let them doctor him, or ride his back like a pony. I saw them melt into his big arms if they got hurt and needed comfort.
You could count up the major events in my life that he was present for, most recently and memorably, the births of our two children. Seeing him there, full of excitement for us, and what lay ahead, makes my heart swell with gratitude. He has held them, clothed, rocked, talked, and laughed with them. They seemed magnetized to his particularly memorable cadence, like the Pied Piper to grandkids.
If you asked for help, he gave it. If I could not reach my own father, I called on him, and he never treated me as just “the best friend”—I felt like one of his own. I came to him with a situation for one of my competition plays, and he drove halfway around Houston and back with me, exploring countless surplus stores, and lending me his expertise. That is my MOST favorite memory of us, adventuring together, and a moment I felt like one of his children. We shared a chicken fried steak meal together that he recommended, and loads of stories, too. Later, we honored him in my play, even featuring a naval officer photo of him on my set, and I beamed with pride at the curtain call, because he was in the audience.
Even though he lived around a whole brood of talkative people, and often stayed silently in the background while they spoke, you could always count on the best stories from him, and they may take a bit, so you knew you couldn’t rush off until they were finished. I sat in my car, sat on his tailgate, sat on their couch, just listening, appreciative that he took the time to share bits of himself with me.
For every photograph of him carrying our daughter on his shoulders as they explored nature together, every image of him baiting a hook for her or letting her hold a fish he helped her catch, to swimming alongside her and making sure she was safe, I will cherish this person who happened to be a forever bonus to her, and me, too.
To the man with the frosty white beard, the twinkling blue eyes, the suspenders and sandals, the Santa Claus in his community every season, and the friend to many, you were well loved.
God challenges us when we experience great losses of those we love, and it is said that our suffering is the “testing room for faith.” It is not for us to know His plan, but maybe the Lord needed this sweet soul with Him to accomplish more good works for others.
I still cannot fathom your absence from our lives, but I know that many will proudly tell the story of your love for us.
Your family will.
My daughter will.
I know I will.
We love you, Granddaddy.
-Kindred Spirit- 8.28.20
In loving memory of J.N.