These words have filtered through my mind time and time again over the past few weeks. I am just now setting them free. Maybe the reason it was so hard for me to let them go is because once you experience loss, you hold on to everything a little bit tighter.
Today marks two months since the passing of my grandfather. These past two months have been hard and beautiful and everything all at once. It has become a cliché that we never know what we have until it is gone. For me, this is true. I never truly understood the bond that my grandfather and I had until now.
You’ve probably heard about the stages of grief before. I don’t believe in that. Grief is not some neat process that you follow step-by-step. And there is no denial. I do not deny my grandfather is gone. But it still shocks me when I think about it. It is more a sense of disbelief than anything else.
“Each life that touches ours for good / Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord; / Thou sendest blessings from above / Thru words and deeds of those who love.”
– “Each Life That Touches Ours for Good,” LDS Hymn Book #293
My grandpa was spiritual sunshine. When I was younger, I would often say that everything my grandparents ever did was church-related. I even said that he was “booming with church.” If you ask me, he boomed with church until his very last breath. I have never met someone who loves Jesus Christ as much as my grandpa. I am not saying this because I’m biased, I’m saying it because it is true. His testimony was so clear. There was no doubt in his mind that he had a loving Heavenly Father and Savior. Often, when bearing his testimony, he would use the phrase “I testify to you.” That is how real this was for him. He was a special witness of the gospel in every way.
My grandpa served as president of the Columbia, SC LDS temple years ago. I loved hearing him talk about the temple. He would testify of the spirit that resides there and the importance of attending often. He would especially emphasize the importance of my cousins and I remaining worthy so we could attend the temple when we were old enough. My cousins and I sang “I Love to See the Temple” at his funeral.
My grandpa sealed one of my older cousins to her husband for time and all eternity in the temple. When I was younger, I thought he would one day do the same for me. When we discussed this one time, he told me that I “better hurry up.” I guess I didn’t move fast enough for him. But, I was still blessed to receive my patriarchal blessing from him. Mine was one of the last patriarchal blessings he was able to give. This was such a special experience for both of us. It was one of the last things I talked to him about.
Grandpa was a University of Virginia graduate, and a life-long fan and supporter of his alma mater, as well as Thomas Jefferson, its founder. He passed this love on to me at a young age. For years I insisted that I would one day attend UVA. I broke his heart when I decided this was no longer my plan, but I’ve always held a special love for the Cavaliers. Though I have come to admire many past presidents and Founding Fathers as my love of politics has grown, Thomas Jefferson was the first to truly capture my heart. I still love him to this day.
“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine. I will recur for proof the days we have lately passed. On these indeed the sun shone brightly.”
– Thomas Jefferson
As my grandpa got older, he got sick. Among other issues, he experienced kidney failure, and had to receive dialysis treatments three times a week. I never knew the toll dialysis took until I saw him go through it. It is bittersweet to have the very thing that is keeping you alive cause you so much pain. But this strengthened our bond even more. Grandpa came to understand my chronic health issues more than he had before. We would joke about being in a competition to see who could see the most doctors, take the most medicine, or require the most needle sticks. I always knew my grandfather loved me, but it was during the last few years of his life as we shared this commonality that I began to truly see how strong this bond was, and how much he wanted me to stay strong.
Grandpa always made me feel important. He was an engineer, had served in multiple important church callings, and was extremely intelligent, but he valued my opinion. He would always ask me what I thought about the latest headlines, especially during the 2016 election. On one of my last visits with him before he was admitted to the hospital, we shared a laugh about the shirt I was wearing. It read, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate.” He had the best laugh.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
– Winnie the Pooh
A few weeks ago I became worried that I would forget the sound of his voice. It was then that I realized that I will never, ever, as long as I live be able to forget the way he said, “Hi!” when you walked through the door. He was an eternal optimist. Even on his worst days, he would tell you that he was feeling well and doing fine.
As a history and politics enthusiast, I have developed a great love and respect for Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and their relationship. They were incredibly close, especially at the end of President Reagan’s life when he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. My grandparents are my Ronald and Nancy. They are the real relationship goals. Their bishop said that my grandpa’s two favorite topics were the gospel and my grandma. It’s true. I cannot explain the love he had for her. It is the kind of thing that you had to witness to understand.
My grandpa always taught us, in everything he did. He was not going to let the weakness and frailty of his last days stop him. On Christmas Eve, with all of the family members in town at the time standing around his hospital bed, he gave each of us an individual parting message before pleading with us to live righteously so we could be together again. It was the last time I would have a coherent conversation with him. On Christmas Day, there were no presents or pajamas or carols. We were at the hospital, and he had taken a turn for the worst. All we cared about was each other. In his final time on earth, he was teaching us what Christmas really was, and what family really meant.
I have struggled with accepting my grandfather’s death. I miss him so much. I will hear a song, or see a certain scene in a movie, and think of him. It is still hard not to cry. But I have also felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Perhaps it is his last gift to me. Perhaps when he reached the other side, he asked the Savior if He would mind helping me through. We don’t know about exactly what’s going on in the spirit world. I don’t know what Grandpa’s doing right now. But I know he is watching me, and helping me, and walking with me. He never left me. And he never will. He will be with me in spirit until I see him again, face-to-face.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
– Revelation 21:4