Monday, November 7, 2011

My Tribute to Grandpa

Yesterday was a difficult day for my family. It certainly turned out to be a day of "heartache and rejoicing". We miss Grandpa dearly, but we are so happy for him, and jealous that he is face to face with our wonderful Savior and Father. 

The following is what I said at the funeral yesterday before singing "It is Well With My Soul" with my dad. I've also included the arrangement of the lyrics as we sang it. It was the hardest song I've ever had to sing, and it had nothing to do with the difficulty of the song. My desire was to honor Grandpa. I hope I honored him well.

Here is what I said:
Grandpa Wayne was a strong man, not just physically, but also in his love for his country, his dedication to his family, and His faith in Christ. He was simple and straightforward—you always knew where he stood no matter the topic. He could be quite stern, but he could also be just as silly and fun-loving, especially with children. He delighted in his grandchildren. He loved to make us laugh. His life wasn’t easy, but I know he would tell you that it was a good life.

No matter what you could say about him, that he was a proud veteran, a hard-working farmer, a delighted grandfather, dedicated father, devoted husband… all of those pale in comparison to good and faithful servant. We always used to joke that the food would be cold before Grandpa would finish saying grace. His prayers were long-winded, but they were sincere. This is something I’ve always known, but I really came to understand it a couple of months ago. In September, I had the opportunity to go through his books with my mom. There were a few books from his Navy days and a few related to farming, but the vast majority of his modest collection reflected his faith—Bible commentaries, Sunday school manuals, Christian biographies, and the like. On the same day, I found the Bible that he gave me when I was seven years old. It was the only gift I can recall him giving me directly. The day he moved into the nursing home he told me that there was something so special about God's Word, that it moved him in a way no other book could.

           When I found the Bible he gave me, I opened it and realized he had written something in it which I’d like to read to you:

                                                                        October 1, 1982
            To Stephanie: from Grandpa.
            Dear Stephanie,
I want to give you this Bible so that you might have it to read and enjoy during the years of your young life. The Bible is God’s written Word and we should believe all of it from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus said, “My Word is truth, and the truth shall make you free indeed.” The psalmist David said, “thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” So it is not what man says that’s important but rather what God says in His Holy Book. If any person tells us things, or teaches doctrines that disagree with what God says in His word, then we should not believe or follow them.
                                                                        Love and best wishes always,
                                                                        “Pa-Pa Wayne”

           Grandpa is now at peace. He has taken his place in Heaven’s grandstands, cheering on those of us who share his faith in Christ. As Mom says, he is dancing a jig before his beloved Savior. And one day I pray all of us here will join him.

          Grandpa’s greatest legacy is his love for Christ and his sincere service of our Lord. I’m so thankful for my Grandpa Wayne and the true Christian heritage he has left to us.

This is the arrangement we used for the song. If you don't know the story behind this song, it is worthwhile to take the time to read it. I think it will take on a much greater depth of meaning for you when you know the story. You may notice that we did change the verses around a bit to shorten the song a little and to utilize the lyrics that best fit the situation. Here, also the Brian Doerkson version of the song, one of the best I've heard.

It Is Well With My Soul 
by, Horatio Spafford 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul. 

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.


It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Goodbye for now, Grandpa

Today we bury Grandpa. Today we say goodbye. It hurts to see him go, but we rejoice that he is at peace.

It's been a difficult year since he was placed in the nursing home. His deterioration due to the Alzheimer's/dementia seemed to speed up a lot. I had hoped to visit him regularly. I only got to visit him a handful of times. Each time was more difficult than the one before. The last time I saw him alive was only for about 10 or 15 minutes. I went in September with my mom and grandma.When we got on his wing, they had all the residents in the community room playing what they called, "Noodle Ball". The residents would bat a big beach ball to each other with swimming pool noodles. It looked like great fun for kids. But, when I looked around that room and realized that each one of those residents had at one time led productive lives with real responsibilities, I was saddened to see what they had been reduced to. We weren't able to stay long because he was very agitated and wouldn't acknowledge us. I think he knew that his life should be more than eat, sleep, be dressed and groomed by someone else, and hit a ball with a stupid stick. I HATE Alzheimer's! It stole Grandpa's life from him and it stole him away from us.

Two weeks ago today, Grandpa was admitted into the hospital with pneumonia. I was upset by the news and that I was so far away. I was at church when I received the phone call. I was blessed to have some of our new church family there to pray with me. From the time I got the news of his hospital admittance until the day last week that it was clear he would not be in this world much longer, I prayed that God would either completely heal him, including the Alzheimer's/dementia, or take him Home. Grandpa had such a strong body. At 87 the only medication he was on was occasional acid reflux meds, and something for the anxiety and aggression brought on by the Alzheimer's. He had never been hospitalized for illness his entire life until he contracted the pneumonia a couple of weeks ago. It would have taken Alzheimer's years and years to kill him. In the meantime he would have forgotten each one of us, who he was, all of his life, how to talk, how to walk, how to eat, until he finally forgot how to breathe. My prayer was that he would be spared all of that. My prayer is that we, his family, would be spared all of that. I'm so grateful to God that he did spare us all of that. Grandpa may not have had the opportunity to die at home on the farm, but he still had some of his mind. He still knew who he and who his wife and children were most of the time. I'm so grateful that he died with some of himself intact and that now his mind is fully restored and he is fully aware once again.

When I received the news of his passing Shawn, the kids, and I were on our way to see him, but we had been delayed by everyday life and we were still hours away. On Facebook I said, "He's gone. We're still hours away and he's gone. I'm so thankful that he is with our Jesus, thankful that his distress has seen it's end, thankful for his life, thankful for his love. I just wanted to see him again, and hug him again, and tell him one more time how much I love him." For some reason I thought I would have enough time to get there. I couldn't speak for a little while. All I could do was cry. I was so glad his suffering was over, but I was devastated. I was within hours of seeing him again and I missed the chance. I know we will be reunited one day. I know he is watching over me and the rest of our family, but I wanted the chance to say goodbye while he was still alive. I know it's selfish. He was struggling for each breath at the end, but it still hurts. My sister and I only have one living grandparent now. I wish I had valued the relationships with my grandparents more, cherished each moment with them as they were happening. I can't let myself get lost in woulda, coulda, shoulda, though, as easy as that would be. I'd rather get lost in gratitude.

I thank God for each moment I had with Grandpa. I'm glad I realized how much he loves me and how much I love him.  I'm thankful for his dedication to his family and his country, and for his love of farming. I'm grateful for his strength. He was a rock for his family. I'm profoundly grateful for the Christian legacy he left us. I am indebted to him for this. I'm so thankful that God put me in Grandpa's family. It's been good to be with family the last few days. I don't think I've ever appreciated them more than I have this past weekend.

I have reposted a couple of articles I posted last year when Grandpa was first admitted into the nursing home. This is a link to his obituary. I will be sharing a few words and singing "It is Well With My Soul" at the end of the funeral. I hope I have the composure to make it through. Please keep my family in your heart and prayers today. It will be a day of heartache and rejoicing.

Visiting Grandpa

*This is edited and reposted from the archives.

I went to visit my grandpa the first evening of his admission into the nursing home. I have to admit that I procrastinated as long as I reasonably could, afraid of what I would find, nervous that I would be alone. I had originally planned to bring the whole family, but Shawn and I decided that if Grandpa was really out of sorts that it would not be good for the kids to be there. Mom, Grandma, my aunt, and my uncle had left just before lunch, and I got there around 5:00 that evening. I'm not sure what he did in the intervening hours, but I think he may have been looking for a way home. An orderly escorted me to Grandpa's wing and told me that he had been wondering when someone would come to see him. When I got to him he had his hat and jacket on, ready to leave. He was standing at the nurses' station, holding his drivers license in his hand trying to get someone to help him go home.

He was not agitated, but he was upset, confused, and disoriented. He didn't recognize me. This was the first time that he didn't know who I am. He seemed to think that I was someone who worked at the facility, and that I would be able to take him home. He kept telling me over and over that he needed to get home and he appreciated that I was taking the time to listen to him. I had to slowly redirect him. I got him to talk about his time in the Navy, his father, his uncle, and I read Psalm 23 to him. Through the course of the conversation he started to calm down. We talked about who I am, and how I am related to him. Then they brought in his dinner tray. Before he started eating I got him to take off his hat and jacket, but he never seemed to resign himself to the idea that the bed on which he sat was now his.

I read Psalm 119 to him while he ate. Several times he would stop eating to listen. He seemed to be deeply moved by the passages. He asked me to repeat a few of them. He told me several times that there was something so special about God's Word, that it moved him in a way no other book could. I got him to tell me about the time he gave his heart to Christ. One thing I forgot to mention the other day is that my grandfather is long-winded. :) But honestly, I had forgotten about that particular trait. He has remained mostly silent when we've been together for so long that I forgot how much he can talk about one topic. (Or should I say preach?) In the past it really didn't take much to get him rolling. There was a running joke in my family that the food would be cold by the time Grandpa got done saying the blessing. I remember squirming through many blessings, waiting for Grandpa to finish so I could eat. The other night he seemed to be exceptionally long-winded. He kept repeating the same thing over and over, forgetting what he had just told me. It was good to hear him talk for so long about something again. A trait that for years had been an annoyance has become a blessing.

He never did fully recognize me. He understood who I was, but that understanding seemed to be only on an intellectual level. Yet I was still very blessed by the visit that I had dreaded. It was very upsetting to see how he was when I first got there, and there were several times I had to choke down the tears, but by the end of the visit I was so thankful for the priceless time we'd had. The Holy Spirit was in that room, and the three of us had a wonderful time together. Before I left I asked him if I could pray with him. He said he would love it if I prayed with him. I prayed for his peace of mind as he transitioned into his new home, yet in my heart I was still rebelling against the thought of him staying there one night, let alone many. He just doesn't seem to belong there. That is not his home. The people there are not his family. But I know that as hard as it is, it is for everyone's best.

Grandpa's Moving Day

*This is edited and reposted from the archives.

My grandfather has Alzheimer's/dementia. We have watched him deteriorate for several years now. It's like watching someone die, one memory, one character trait at a time. Before the onset of dementia, my grandfather was a strong, opinionated, stubborn, witty, funny man. He had, and still has, a strong faith that runs deep and influenced every choice he ever made. He isn't overly affectionate, but you know he loves you by the way his eyes light up when he sees you. From my memories, his great delight was his grandchildren, of which I was the first. He loved taking us for rides on the tractor, showing us the cows, or telling us stories of the gigantic snake that carved out the road the farm was on. My favorite part of that story was when the snake stopped by his house for a drink of water. He told us that story over and over again. Now when we get together as a family he mostly keeps to himself and stays quiet. Still at times he has amazing moments of clarity. At the last family reunion he told us about a rooster they once had that figured out how to jump up and knock food out of the bird feeder. He said, "That rooster was doing exactly what God designed it to do. He was taking care of his hens." I've been fortunate to have him only an hour's drive away most of my life so I've had many wonderful times with him.

The house he lived in was the house he grew up in. That house was as much a member of his family as my mother and grandmother. It was his constant worry and love. Not long after the onset of dementia he became extremely paranoid about the house -- that it would burn down or someone would break into it. He is leaving it today. Most likely he will never live there again.

Of course, the greatest love of his life, after Christ, is my grandmother. He was a hard man to live with, even before he became demented, but she faithfully loved him through the years. She is more intimately acquainted with his deterioration than any of the rest of us. She has had to put up with all the daily difficulties of his disease, and she has done so with dignity and grace. Her devotion to him has been flawless. She is my hero. I cannot imagine being in her shoes, watching the love of your life diminish in that way, the man you invested your life in slowly dying. Her kids have given her several opportunities to take some time away from grandpa. I can only imagine the mixed emotions she must feel in those times - relief to be away, guilt for feeling that way, anxiety for his well-being when she is not with him. And his devotion to her is just as binding. She is his security, his comfort. One weekend recently they were staying with my parents. The aggressive tendencies brought on by the disease had gotten to the point that my mom and her siblings were no longer comfortable with the idea of grandma being alone with him for more than a few hours, especially at night when he is most restless. My dad and grandfather were sitting in the living room and my mother and grandmother were in the dining room. Had he known where to look he would have been able to see her through the doorway from where he was sitting. He asked my dad where she was, and dad said she is right over there. He then said, "I don't want to live if I have to live without Carol." My grandmother has said that she would rather the Lord take grandpa on to heaven than to have to put him in a home. Today they will be parted. She will be with him as often as she can, of course, but they will most likely never be together in the same way again.

My mom and her brother and sister have done what they can to help grandma and grandpa through this time. They have supported them as much as they can and helped figure out the details of his care. I know that today is a very difficult day for my mom and I'm sure it is for her brother and sister as well. They are all going to the home with grandma and grandpa to help with his transition, though I'm sure none of them want to be there. I can't imagine the turmoil of watching one of your parents disintegrate in this way. I think the hardest thing of this for my mom has been seeing his mental deterioration while his body continues to be strong and healthy. Unfortunately this fact has made the need to put him into a long-term care facility inevitable. His body refuses to quit, even at the age of 86, but his mind has not withstood the passage of time so well. It has now gotten to the point that his needs are beyond my family's abilities to care for. So the fateful day has now arrived. The future means spending less and less time with him, and going to visit him in the nursing home with the noxious smells, and unnerving sights and sounds. I have many memories of visiting great grandparents in nursing homes, few of them pleasant.

I wish we could have grandpa back, the way he was five or ten years ago. I wish his mind had stayed as keen and strong as his body. I wish he could have died with dignity at home on the farm. But that simply isn't the reality. I cry and I grieve. I will move on. This Thanksgiving I am so thankful for the times I have had with my grandpa, even the difficult ones. I'm grateful for the investment he has made in my life. I'm grateful for the legacy of faith, love, and perseverance that he has passed on. I hope my life can be a tribute to his legacy.