My grandpa passed away nearly two weeks ago, at the age of 94.
When I heard the words come out of my parents’ mouths my stomach dropped—even though we knew the day was coming soon. And even though I understand it means he’s free from pain and confusion. When I found out this person was no longer on earth with me —who I thought of as part of the very foundations of the earth in a strange, illogical way (despite my knowledge of science and human lifespans and history)—my body felt the loss. My brain couldn’t conceive it, but my organs knew better.
When I think of living life well, I think of my Grandpa Helm. He was smart—the kind of smart that starts with curiosity and never leads to arrogance. He was well-read and cared about current events. He read multiple newspapers on a regular basis until dementia made that difficult—from differing perspectives, to get a sense of all sides. He was full of compassion, and kindness and close attention. If you wanted to feel seen and heard, he was your man.
If you wanted some knowledge, or better yet, some wisdom, you asked Grandpa. And then you waited. You might wait a good while, because he let his thoughts simmer, and when he spoke you knew you were getting gold. It wasn’t always fun to wait—as a child I remember wishing Grandpa would hurry up already and just spit it out so I could run and expend all the energy I had stored in my lanky limbs. But all those times I held that energy back, waiting and waiting for his thoughts to finish baking—ding—and then the words to come out slowly, one bite at a time, I got something to chew on for my whole life. That’s how good those bits of wisdom were. And I’m not even being dramatic.
He loved justice. And mercy. His faith was built on loving God and loving people—it was as simple and complicated as that. He was slow to anger and quick to listen and even quicker to smile. He adored his wife and loved his kids, and his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. He loved people because they were his fellow humans, no matter if he had something to gain, no matter if he disagreed with their politics or religion or line of work. In these days of us and them, of determining who’s in the right camp and the wrong, I think of Grandpa and see a different way. One of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
He was the closest thing to Jesus I’ve seen in my lifetime. My very own Grandpa Helm.
Isn’t that spectacular?
I’m thankful to have known him, let alone to have been raised under his watch, his loving hand, his kindness and calm direction. I needed a few days for my own thoughts to simmer, the impact of his long life taking a while to digest. And I’m considering it a good sign that I may be like him in this small way.
He was my grandpa. And now he is gone. That is just so weird, I don’t have the words to say. But goodness sakes if his doesn’t sound like a life well-lived to me.
A life worth mulling over and then writing some measly, thankful words from one of his biggest fans. I love you, Grandpa. Thank you ever so much.