My grandfather passed away unexpectedly and peacefully this morning at the age of 86. A mason by trade, yesterday he was still laying blocks with the assistance of a grandson. To say that none of us saw this coming would be an incredible understatement. When my mom called with the news, I responded with “No.” Short, simple. No. He cannot be gone. It was inconceivable.
My family gathered at my grandparents’ home to mourn, to laugh, to honour a man of great morals and faith, to support my grandmother, and find solace in each others’ company.
I’m not a hugger. I have a huge personal bubble. When you get the family together, boundaries seem to disappear. I believe there are 80 of us once all the great-grandchildren are counted. I’m the oldest grandchild. The first grandaughter. I have first cousins younger than my children. Hugs were important today. Tears mattered, too.
It’s not been an easy summer for our family. There’s been loss and bad news and now another loss. There’s also been hope and growth and new additions. Life is like that. There’s good. There’s bad. Through it all you stand. Sometimes you crawl. Sometimes you come to a complete stop and can do nothing but kneel. Often you’re carried by the support of others who care.
We sang a hymn in church on Sunday. It made me think of Pake (grandfather.) I was going to send him a message on Facebook to let him know. He used to digitally “stalk” the family at large and knew everything going on in each of our lives through what we shared. I wish I had sent that message. I wish I had told him that the thought of him made me smile in the middle of a church service.
Instead, I think our last interaction involved him calling me trouble and charging Kevin to make sure I stayed out of it. It was all said in humour and love. He was cheeky and sarcastic and loud and stubborn and wonderful. He had a twinkle in his eye and a smirk that makes me think that if I’m trouble, I came by it honestly. His smile could light up a room.
Once when I was a teenager, I did groceries with my mom. We bumped into Pake shopping in his klompen. His booming voice could be heard across the store. Imagine my dismay as he took me by the arm to the back of the store where he introduced me to a store clerk that he knew and said I didn’t have a boyfriend. There is a mountain of memories of his larger-than-life antics.
I wish I could feel his hands on my upper arms, squeezing as we say our goodbyes, as he has one last word of “wisdom” to share before we drive home. I wish my boys could sit with him having a gentle conversation about life. I wish I had more conversations about his life in Friesland. I wish.
Time has run out and wishes are useless. I mentioned as we drove home that every part of me feels heavy – my eyes, my head, my body, my heart. So while it may be cliche, make the phone call, send the message, ask the questions. Cherish the small things – one day they’ll be the warm memories that fill your heart.
Pake, you will absolutely be missed. Squeezing into the basement for family gatherings will not be the same. You’ve made an incredible impact on many lives. I’ll always think of you when we sing “How Great Thou Art.” Your voice will echo in my head as I hear you bellowing with a sweet and confident devotion, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art…”