Last week I attended my grandfather’s funeral and had the chance to speak for a few minutes. I had the blessing of having both set of grandparents for most of my life, only to lose them in the last ten years. In many ways, what I said about my grandfather applies to them all. I forgot some of what I wanted to say when I spoke, so here is a slightly expanded version of what I said:
I was told to be brief, so I will be succinct—just like my grandpa.*
One of the saddest stories I’ve ever read is Lord of the Rings. Sad because you get to walk with Frodo through the good, the bad, and, sometimes, the very very boring. Then Frodo boards the ship and sails into the west. You turn the last page and close the book. His story is done.
Now I only knew my grandpa for a third of his life, so I had to learn to walk with him through the stories that he and other people told me about his life. Stories of growing up on a farm in Indiana. Stories of meeting my grandma. Stories of serving as a cook and driving the chaplain around in Korea (and even getting kissed by Debbie Reynolds). Stories of starting a family, of living with a wife, four daughters, a mother-in-law, and a sister-in-law—all at the same time! Stories of working day and night to provide for his family.
Then there are the stories that I remember. Stories of our vacations to see him in Tennessee. Of moving back to Michigan—I vividly remember helping my grandparents move into their new house. Of mentoring my cousin and helping him get his life back on track before his untimely death in 2007. Of his love for the Detroit Tigers: listening to the radio broadcast of the game and keeping his own stats even when he was at the stadium! Or the time he called my dad in the final minutes of the 2000 NCAA mens basketball championship to tell him that Tigers started spring training. Then there was that subtle smirk that would appear when he asked you if you knew of or about “X”, which meant he was about to tell a joke. And finally, the stories of the sudden death of his wife and of his battle against cancer.
But now he has turned the last page and closed the book. His story is done.
Actually, if you knew my grandpa, you would know that he would say that his story is not done. You see, at the end of Lord of the Rings, Frodo says goodbye to his friend Sam, the one who has travelled with him through the good, the bad, and the boring. When Frodo boards the ship and sails to the undying lands in the West, Sam returns home and starts a family. But those who read the appendices know that after Sam has lived his life and grown old, he too boards a ship and sails to the undying lands in the West.
If you knew my grandpa, you would know that he would say that if you know Jesus, you too will one day board a ship and sail to undying lands as he has. My grandpa would say that his story isn’t done. His story has just begun.
*My grandfather was never succinct.