No matter what, in life three things are certain: we will be born, we will live life, and then we will die. Unfortunately, sometimes death plays a role way too early in life and we are left to bear the marks of that. Yet sometimes, life simply extinguishes due to time being done on this earth and it’s time to go home.
Some of us have lost friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances to death in one form or fashion. Some have gone early and some have gone after living life to it’s fullest. Some by accident, some self-caused, some due to life circumstances, and some by the fortune of a life fully lived.
And I too, have lost friends. When I was in kindergarten or first grade, my friend TJ got hit by a train as he was crossing the tracks back to his home. And the way I dealt with it at that tender young age was to jump into my mother’s arms and cry and cry when she told me. It’s strange because at the age of six, I knew I would never get to play with TJ again and had an understanding of what death was. I used to think TJ got it lucky, he never had to experience the pains of life and the cruelty of the world. And yet I realize how selfish this was of me, because TJ didn’t live many of the experiences we will all have. His family never got to experience the joys of watching him play sports, graduate from high school, have a family, and all the other wonderful blessings that life has to offer.
During my freshman year of college, I was at a keg party when I got a call from one of my friends that our mutual friend Brian had passed away. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was 19 years old, and on my first spring break fixing to have a blast…. and this happens. I don’t remember a ton from that week, except numbing the pain with a bottle of Jack Daniels and sitting at a friend’s farmhouse playing cards, each of us remembering Brian in our own way. This was my first real experience with death where I had to process what happened and I didn’t know what to do, so I got drunk. And sure, it numbed the pain, the hurt. Man, did it hurt. Death very much became a reality after that and I even lost a couple more friends in college, but none of those instances really prepared me for what it was like to lose someone that was family. Someone that had the same blood running through their veins as mine.
A year ago today, I lost someone that close to me for the first time in my life. I consider that a huge blessing, being 28 years old and having never lost a family member, but inevitably, death caught up to me and took my first grandparent.
I remember getting the call from my dad a few days earlier that my grandpa, Jay Dee, had gone to the hospital with jaundice and they were running tests, and that things looked optimistic but were serious. My dad kept me in the loop and passed along my well wishes to him. I knew there was a ton of family there, so I didn’t call him that day, because honestly I figured between having to deal with the entire family and being in the hospital he was exhausted and I didn’t want to be the guy to call and wake him up while resting and recovering.
It was the single dumbest decision that has haunted me for the past year.
I woke up the next day and got to work a few minutes early and decided to check Facebook. The first thing I see is a note from my aunt that says her father has died. Instinctively I rushed to call my father because I knew why he hadn’t called and my first thought was, “I have to check on my dad.”. He told me how late it was, and I knew he was in the room as his father left this world, so it was something I have never held against him for not calling me that late in the night to tell me the news. I also knew how hard that phone call would have been, and bad news is something no one wants to deliver, so in a way, I’m thankful I found out the way I did rather than having to hear my dad say his father had passed away.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me has been the grieving process. It, honestly, was something I never did until a few weeks ago. My dad had called to remind me to call my grandmother on my grandfather’s birthday and for the first time, it really sunk in he was gone. Even after a family Christmas where he wasn’t there, I never really took the time to grieve. I pushed it down. I didn’t know how to deal with it. For the past year, I’ve held onto nothing but regrets. Why didn’t I spend more time with him? Why didn’t I go out on the boat one last time? Why didn’t I call more often? Why didn’t I stay for dinner that one time? Why, why, why…all questions rooted in something to keep me from seeing the beauty and celebrating life.
I’m not going to lie, it does suck having those regrets, because they were things I could have done. But, no matter what, there’s always going to be something we could have done or wanted to do. We’re never going to escape the ways we think, and regret is part of that.
But what about the good? There seems to come a time, when we lose interest in the bad memories, and instead see the good. I’m a people pleaser and hate disappointment, and I realized I had lived in the disappointment for far too long, mostly because I thought I deserved it. For every phone call I didn’t make or dinner I didn’t stay for that barraged my thought process there were also golf outings, fishing together on the lake, great conversations, surprise visits to graduations, and so many great moments that outweighed the regrets that ultimately brought me so much peace.
I was talking to my mom the other day about all of this, and wanting to check on my dad as well during this time. We ended up sharing so many laughs that evening remembering the things grandpa did and so many smiles at the man he was and the things he instilled in all of his children and grandchildren. To work hard, to take care of others, to love God, to treat others better than ourselves, and that kindness is better than anger. We also both remarked how crazy it seems that he’s been gone a year, when it feels like he’s barely been gone a day. I honestly see that as something so beautiful, that while my grandpa has been gone for a year, it feels more like I’m just on a delay until I see him again. There’s more beauty in that view of death than taking the long road of regret.
We have so many choices when dealing with grief. We all deal with it differently too. My hope and prayer for anybody reading this is that we cling to the goodness that was life and fondly remember the great times. No matter what way death decided to take someone, there is always beauty left from life.
So this is for anyone dealing with grief and for everyone that will deal with grief upon losing someone we love. Do not live in the regret, but instead, see the beauty of times you have spent with that person and cling hard to those. They can literally be the difference in a years worth of pain or a years worth of happiness. We aren’t meant to live unhappy, and it’s ok to deal with the sadness of death. It sucks and it hurts. But no matter what, you’ve got to see the beauty in life, no matter how it was lost. I’ve lost friends to suicide, car wrecks, and cancer. None of those are pretty, but their lives were all beautiful and for that I remember that they brought greatness, if only for a brief moment, in a world that can be full of ugliness. I choose to remember TJ and his smile, Christian and his goofiness and love, Brian and his unshakeable faith and leading me to Jesus, Justin and his love for wanting to tell people about the real love of Jesus, Jack, Kelli, Ted, Erin, and many others that for a blip on my life’s radar, brought me beauty, joy, laughter, and strength, all things I can choose to cling to when I remember them.
This is the end of my grieving process. I choose to remember my grandpa as a man who loved my grandmother to his last day, who impacted countless lives through coaching and teaching, and who instilled a love and reverence for God in his children and grandchildren. I’ll never be able to watch a basketball game without seeing some player with his elbow out and hear the words of my grandpa telling me “Get your elbow in”. I’ll never go on a lake, play a game of golf, or drink a Keystone Light (my grandfather’s beer of choice) without having fond memories of him and the goodness he brought into my life and those of everyone he impacted.
I know I’ll see you again Grandpa, but until that time comes, thanks for all you did for me and for helping form the man I am today. I’ll always remember the great times and the love you so selflessly gave to me, no matter what. I’ll never forget you. I miss you. I love you.