Thursday, August 13, 2009

More than a Grandfather

Written by Shannon Leigh

Last Friday, August 7th, we lost our beloved Grandad to Cancer. He was just shy of his 77th birthday. In 3 short months Grandad's otherwise healthy and robust exterior faded into a forlorn body ridden with this dreadful disease. you may hear the phrase "stupid cancer" mumbled among the breath of his remaining loved ones.

I have put off writing about him and my experience mostly because I wanted his passing and the memories of the past week to be soaked into the deepest part of me. I want to remember it, just as it happened. Not forgetting a single portion.

The last couple of days before his death, I was lucky enough to be there and "walk him home," among so many others who loved him. It was strange making that very familiar 1 and a half mile drive down Pleasant Plains Road from my parent's house, knowing what awaited me. Going to Grandma and Grandad's house usually meant fun, family, and food. This time is meant sorrow and grief. However, there was a strong sense of peace over the entire house and even over Grandad. A peace that only comes from knowing our precious Savior and the bright eternal life that awaited our darling Grandad.

By the time I got there Grandad was barely responsive. I sat next to him on his bed and touched his hands and face. I got to tell him, while fighting back the tears, "Grandad, I want you to know that if we have a boy, we are naming him after you. And I hope that he is half that man that you are." Through strained breath and a sagging face, Grandad whispered "wonderful." I will cherish his last words to me forever.

In his final days, he requested music from the Plainsmen (a 1970's gospel quartet made up of my dad, uncle, and other local musicians). Grandad only wanted to hear the most upbeat music and he wanted his funeral to be called a celebration. He sang the song "Too Young" by Nat King Cole, a song that he and my Grandma adored in their youth. They were married at 19.

When Grandad took his last breath, Grandma was right by his side. I know how heartbroken she was, but how strong and faithful she was too!! I am so proud to be her granddaughter. She said to me “Oh it was just perfect, praise the Lord!” I’d have to agree.

After Grandad passed, someone patted my stomach and said, “You better hope that’s a boy in there.” I said “I don’t know, Grandad liked little girls an awful lot.” And it’s true, he adored his granddaughters, I can speak from experience. I was trying to think about what made Grandad so special, SO many things set him apart. I think the most important thing was that he wanted to KNOW us. Not just know us, but have a relationship with us. He sat on COUNTLESS hard bleachers during basketball and volleyball games. He even sat through boring chorus and band concerts, bless his heart. He suffered through my solo rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miserables and he was there when I placed second at the state track meet in the 100 meter high hurdles. I remember his big toothy smile as I ran to him and hugged him. I always knew that Grandad would share in my joy (and sorrow for that matter). He felt it too his core, I feel blessed to have inherited that trait.

It didn’t stop there, however. When his grandchildren got married and moved away, he and Grandma came to visit no matter the distance. He wanted to see where we lived. We would give them a tour around town and you could see how proud he was. He was my biggest blog fan, a reader that I will miss every day.

There were as many as 800 people who came to Grandad’s visitation. Many were his contemporaries, some were old farm hands, others were those who sat next to him on the bleachers. One man, a little younger than my dad came and talked with us and told us something that really resonated, “Wade treated me like I was a rare peace of gold.” He treated everyone like a rare piece of gold. I was one of many grandchildren. I was nothing special, but that was just how he made me feel.

The funeral started with a video montage of old pictures and video footage from Dudfest (thanks Aunt Karla and Uncle Rob). I think all of us will treasure the video for as long as we live. The pastor read excerpts from letters that each of us had written to Grandad before he passed. It ended with the Dudley Family Choir, at Grandad’s request. The whole family clamored into the choir loft where Grandad had sang so many times before and we belted the lyrics to “I’ll Fly Away.”

We all sat around the table talking about how other people just don’t get it. “It’s only a Grandparent” they may say. But all of us know he was so much more than that. He inspired a church member to write a poem titled "No Greater Christian Man than He.” We all have a piece of him in us, a lot larger than genetics (although I am honored to have his brown eyes). He taught us to know Jesus and to love one another more than anything.

I still feel cheated. Cheated because my child will never have the pleasure of knowing him and cheated out of the next 10 years or more with him. But then I remember that God's timing is perfect and that if my child knows the Lord then he will know Granddad someday, dancing on the streets of gold.

You can read what he meant to other family members HERE, HERE, & HERE.


amy said...

wow shan, your grandad seemed like an amazing man of God. i got teary just reading about him. how blessed your are to have been so close to him!

Dani said...

Shannon, I'm so sorry to hear about your Grandad...loosing a grandparent you're that close to cannot be easy, and it's not something I'm looking forward to, even though we all know it must happen eventually. But how wonderful it is to know that you'll see him again and that he's left such a legacy. The way you've remembered him is the way I'm sure all of us want to be thought of after we go. I'll be praying for you and your (growing) family :) love ya!

Cher said...

Shannon, you wrote about him so eloquently. I was crying big fat (hormonal) tears. His love for you and the Lord shined through your writing. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Shauna said...

You gave him more earth-quaking belly laughs than any other grandchild, hands down. He was smitten by your exuberance from the first time you ever toddled around in water wings. I'm glad you got to have one final talk with him. Love you, gal.

The Wickershams said...

So sorry to hear of your loss, but gain to Heaven! This story reminds me of when I lost my Gram almost three years ago...they are so much more than Grandparents!

Mark and Lori said...

Oh Shannon. thank you for writing so in depth about Grandad. I wish I could have been at the visitation. I know how much you all will miss him. Know that I am praying for you all. I'm so happy to know that he loved Jesus and is with him now. Send Grandma my love when you see her next.