My grandpa died on Tuesday.
Because of that, my family was sitting in the back of a van, driving around the graveyard while a guy named Paul told us which burial garden options are most expensive. Grandma was in the front, dazed, asking questions. My dad, my cheeto-scarfing-1-year-old and I took the middle row. My mom, sister, and 5-year-old were in the back-back.
As we drove by a giant carving of The Last Supper, my five-year-old said she was hungry from the back row, and my dad somberly responded, “Let’s all go out to dinner after this. That okay, Scarlet?”
I nodded as my eyes scanned the headstones and heard my 5-year-old from the seat behind me say a little too loudly and little too excitedly, “Dinner? At a restaurant??”
I nodded again, gravely, and looked in her direction.
Her skinny little arms shot up and her hands turned into fists, and in full outside-voice volume she shouted, “THIS IS THE FUNNEST DAY EVERRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Yes, of course I see the humor in it, now. But in the moment, my sister and I wore matching horrified faces, and bugged our eyes out at my 5-year-old to communicate, “YOU DON’T SAY THAT THE DAY GRANDMA’S LOVE OF 60 YEARS DIED IS THE ‘FUNNEST DAY EVER!’ DON’T YOU KNOW THAT?!”
Then, we all cracked. The whole car shook with laughter. My innocent 5-year-old was oblivious to all reactions as she was still trembling with giddiness at the idea of eating at a restaurant.
And then, my dad said, “You’re right, Ever. Grandpa is with Jesus right now. For him, this is the funnest day ever.”
Crisis averted. Truth remembered.
I didn’t cry much when I got the text that afternoon – that my grandpa had died. We’d all been expecting his death for a long time. He suffered horribly for years. But, of course, death is a shock. You don’t expect it, even when you think you’re expecting it.
I had just finished my 5-year-old’s ballet bun for picture day and was in the midst of the leave-the-house-checklist madness. Ballet shoes? Check. Change of clothes for everyone (that has it’s own sub-checklist)? Check. Baby cheetos/pouches/sippy cup? Check. Diapers? Check. Wipies? Check…
I was in an overly fantastic mood, texting my sister-in-law about something very happy when I got the text from my mom.
“Grandpa died. 11:20.”
My daughter saw my tears, and when I told her Grandpa died, her face scrunched up and she said, “Why are you crying, Mommy? Isn’t he in heaven now? Isn’t that what you said?”
She got over the fact that we needed to skip ballet pictures pretty quickly and we sped over to my grandma’s house and walked in right as my grandma was shifting Grandpa’s body around.
When we had been at the house for a while, I found myself beside the deathbed and I did something I’d never done before. I held my grandpa’s hand.
I loved my grandpa, but we just weren’t hand-holding-level close. He was a faithful man who loved Jesus, but not the cuddly type.
But, as I stood by his vacated body and grabbed his hand, I was overcome by how close I felt to him, for the first time. I imagined him in his perfectly functioning glorified body, and was overcome by the reality that soon, my glorified body, free of barriers and fear, might run and jump into his arms, crying tears of joy and disbelief.
Grandpa taught my mom that Jesus is the hope of the world. And she taught me. And I’m teaching my girls. And Jesus is the reason we’re not falling apart.
My grandpa was known for a lot of things – being a great gymnastics coach and P.E. teacher, serving in the military, being in vaudeville, loving the circus, being a faithful husband for 60 years… but the legacy he left, to me, is that he taught our family about the hope we have in God.
Last night, when I was finally alone, trying to go to sleep, fear crept in. It is always looking for a chance to do that. But, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 1:18)
Jesus loves my grandpa perfectly – the same way He loves me and everyone I shared a van with as we drove around the cemetery on Tuesday. We were able to laugh and sing and make jokes the day the patriarch of our family died. Why? Because he didn’t die. Yesterday, he started living. And soon, we will too. And it will be the funnest day ever.