Recently, I wrote on the subject of grief, including the untimely loss of children and the gift of music in times of grieving. These posts involved other families, but now grief has come to our home, too. We received the call early Sunday morning, just hours before our oldest daughter’s birthday party. It was a call we knew would come eventually, but even so, it is always a shock facing the loss of a dear one. One second, a heart beats, the next, it is stilled. No matter how expected, it’s hard to wrap the brain around something so profound.
Grandpa John’s exit from this world followed several years of suffering. There is relief in knowing that suffering has ended. But for those left behind, there will be much grieving ahead. We all will have to adjust to the hole that has been left in the earth through his absence, and it will take some time.
What a broad hole it is! In his best years, Grandpa John was vivacious and jolly, a man whose passions were centered around people and God. This past summer, a gym in the town where he served many years as a superintendent was renamed in his honor. Aside from his service as an educator, Grandpa John served in World War II as a translator of captured German documents. Besides people, he loved nurturing the earth — his gardens and lawn in particular — and giving away the extras. And he loved all of his family, from his dear wife down to the newest great-grandchild.
So how does a parent break sad news such as this to a child? Our first instinct was to wait, to not tell our children until after the birthday party, and yet that felt deceptive to me. I remember when my parents waited until I was 400 miles from home at a music festival to tell me by phone that my dog had died that morning. I understand their wanting to protect me, but I needed to see him one last time. All children are different, of course, but my daughter is a lot like me. Sensitive though she is, I had a feeling she would be okay knowing before the party. She ended up putting the pieces together herself, actually, when her grandmother didn’t talk to her about her birthday party when she called and, instead, asked to talk to her father. If we hadn’t told her, she would have wondered all day what was up. After a brief but intense grieving session, she took a deep breath to go about the business of celebrating her birthday. Later, there will be more time for grieving. That’s the way grief works. It comes in waves, and we will do our best to help our children work through that process while we’re working through it alongside them.
I will have the honor of singing The Lord’s Prayer at the funeral later this week, a gift to Grandpa and the rest of the family (and an honor for me). My husband will be a pall-bearer with the rest of the grandchildren. We will cry, we will laugh, and we will love one another through it.
[The photo was taken at this summer’s naming ceremony of the activities center that now bears Grandpa John’s name. Grandpa John and his wife, Gladys, will celebrate their 67th anniversary in a couple weeks; he, from heaven, and she, with us those of us who remain on earth.]