I’m not a religious person, but my grandpa was a devout Christian all his life.
Last February, my family gathered at the Nashville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where my grandfather was in hospice on life support. My grandfather was a pillar of strength in my life, so much so that I saw him more as a father figure. He took good care of his body and was an avid runner into his late 70s. At one of his last 5K races, the event organizers had to make a new category especially for him (75-plus). We’d try to run together, but I’d always lost my breath after 100 yards. We decided to stick to walks.
I stayed with my grandfather through his last night. I talked with him until the morning, hoping he could hear me even though he was unconscious. At 2 a.m., I opened my laptop and pulled up Iron & Wine’s 2004 album Our Endless Numbered Days. “This is my favorite album,” I told him. “I thought you might like to hear it.”
It’s hard for grandchildren to ever truly know their grandparents, who they were before they had children of their own. They know us, of course, but we mostly get a filtered version of them. And as we grow into adults, they may continue to see us as they did when we were young. My last wish for my grandfather was to share a piece of my genuine self with him, the part of me he wouldn’t live to see made whole. As “Sodom, South Georgia” played in his hospital room that night, his last night, the lyrics spoke what my tears could not.
The chorus goes:
Papa died smiling, wide as the ring of a bell
Gone all star white, small as a wish in a well
And Sodom, South Georgia woke like a tree full of bees
Buried in Christmas bows and a blanket of weeds
Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, “God is good”
White tongues hang out, “God is good”
My grandpa did die on that Sunday. On the drive back to Illinois, I listened to “Sodom, South Georgia” over and over while writing his eulogy. No time will ever feel like the right time for someone to die. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something divine about the timing of his death.
When he died, I thought I’d given everything I had. He showed me how wrong I was. In his life and in his death, my grandpa taught me I have more inside me than I could ever realize. That I’m stronger than I’ll ever know. He always knew that about me. I’m just trying to catch up to him.
Previously: The Christian Life