About a year and a half ago, a friend of about 50 lost his father.
He described the memorial service and the expected expressions of loss and sorrow featured in the shares from the late man’s family.
Then it was my friend’s turn to address the room. His was a message of gratitude and celebration.
“He had a long, full life,” he stated to the attendees.
What more can we ask out of life? How can one not be happy with the best one can expect? These were the questions he posed.
By that measure all my grandparents have had fortunate lives, yet it isn’t with happiness I learned that my grandfather, who’d been in hospice care, passed away Thursday. It’s sad not because his life was cut short. He lived 83 years. It’s sad because we, his living loved ones, feel a hole in our lives.
No Grandpa Freyholtz? I haven’t known such a concept in the 37 years I’ve been alive. This seemingly abrupt change disturbs the illusion that Grandpa’s days, my other loved one’s days, and MY day’s are limitless.
The illusion of permanence, I call it.
So easy it is to allow this mirage to lull us into lesser living! Not taking the chances or seizing the experiences at our disposal and in our imaginations. It seems only when we’re reminded–and often, by necessity, in an unpleasant way–do we snap back into the reality that moments are precious and few.
Yet better late than never, and I took the past few years spending more time with my Grandpa Freyholtz.
A widower six years ago, the stoic, private man began to relish company. And with his neurological disease advancing, he knew he was in life’s closing chapter and enjoyed reflecting out loud about the years of his life and his passions in life.
In describing his love of ideas (how to be a good communicator) and concepts (the size of the universe), the lifelong farmer once said to me, “I’m a writer who doesn’t write.”
A knack for the abstract, I dedicated my book to him (as well as to my Grandpa Ferdig).
Over the past couple of years, I’d visit Grandpa Freyholtz each time I visited my family in northern Minnesota. On these occasions, he’d share about his boyhood on the farm, his courtship of Grandma, his desire to make a life for himself away from his parents’ farm, and his struggles in the present making friends. We once drove to a nearby park, where he explained to me the difference between white and red pine. Another time he pointed out the sharpness of his long-term memory, listing off popular songs he grew up with. (Then I’d shock him by effortlessly finding and playing such songs from my phone.)
But in the end, he’d surprise me the most by singing a song he learned when he was no older than 10. An old country-western tune, as best as I could tell, sung with tears in his eyes.
“How precious those boyhood years were!” his tears cried.
In all this, I felt enriched–not just because I learned family history or because I was able to be there for Grandpa. But also because by seeing such intimate, profound traits expressed from my grandfather, I could feel these same kinds of traits resonate within myself. It was as if he was passing them down two generations, instantaneously.
I wrote last week when sharing about my weekend with my Grandma Ferdig:
I hope this post can inspire you to appreciate your grandparents–to connect with them if living, to reflect on them if not, and to embrace the experience if you are one.
Today, one day after my Grandpa Freyholtz’s funeral, I echo those same sentiments loudly.