It was a perfect day outside, but I was wishing it would rain, just so I could know that at least the sky was crying with me. The world seemed too happy, and I felt so sad.
I pedaled slowly and mechanically down the normally beautiful bike path, reflecting on the phone call I had received minutes before. I had grabbed my things and raced out of my office before the tears came. I knew what my brother had called to say before he made it past an overly optimistic “Hello”: Grandpa had passed away.
I had a lot of time to think about him on my hour-long bike ride home.
One of my earliest memories is exploring the wonderland that was his farm. There was an adventure around every corner: a piglet to hold close, a calf to lick my fingers, a giant peacock to trail for stray feathers. Then there was his noisy, busy dairy, where I could always find him in his coveralls and cowboy hat putting in another full day’s work for the cows who knew him perhaps as well as we did.
As I grew older, I wandered the farm less and found myself visiting inside the old house more. Both Grandpa and Grandma were always interested in my life. They were always sincerely and immensely proud of me for what I understand now to be trivial accomplishments. After Grandma passed away, our family would spend Christmas Eve evening singing and playing instruments and sharing our annual “talent show” with Grandpa in his living room. He would read us the Christmas story from the Bible and share his most heartfelt gratitude for the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ and Grandpa had a very close relationship.
He encouraged me to serve an LDS church mission, and sent notes of encouragement during my 18 months there via my mom. When I returned, I sat beside his leather rocking chair and held his hand while we talked about the people of Lithuania and my experiences serving them.
When I got engaged, he had me sit beside his chair again, this time to give me his advice and his blessing for the decision I’d made to marry Kendon. He wasn’t able to fly across the ocean for the wedding a few months later, but I could feel him thinking of me, proud of me for choosing eternity.
I was never too old to deserve the words, “There’s a special girl,” in his gruff farmer’s voice every time he saw me. I was never too old for a whiskery kiss on the cheek and a giant hug. Nor was I ever too mature to be shown his favorite “toys” each time I visited: from stuffed mice that jumped out of boxes to “baby rattlesnakes” in manila envelopes. None of his nine children or 61 grandchildren or 46 great-grandchildren or 6 great-great-grandchildren ever grew too old for these treasured experiences.
I thought about how much I’ve changed since those carefree days of wandering the farm. Then again, at the end of the day, change is the only thing that’s inevitable. Today change is causing me pain. It’s taken away the greatest man I’ve ever known. But yesterday a change in his health was causing him pain. For years change has been taking away his loved ones. Today change is giving him freedom. It’s giving him health. It’s giving him back my grandmother, his mother and father, the bride that made him a young widower, and countless more friends and family members whose obituaries he’s been reading for far too many years.
So the question is, will I let this new change go to waste in my life? Or will I remember and revere him by applying the many lessons he’s taught me over the years? Will I see the value and potential of every soul and love each person unconditionally? Will I maintain an eternal perspective in the face of life’s greatest challenges? Will I contribute every gift God has given me to every person I meet until I can no longer hear or speak or stand?
I made a resolve on that bike ride home to ask myself what Grandpa would do; to be the type of woman he would have me to be. And then the cool autumn breeze gave me a big hug, the sun gave me a reassuring smile, and I wiped my tears away. Everything is beautiful. Including change.
Yesterday a great man passed away. The greatest I have ever known.
Thanks for changing me, Grandpa.