Today would have been my Grandpa’s 90th birthday.
As a kid I thought my grandpa would live forever, perhaps not forever, but his death seemed a long way off. He worked as a doctor until he was 80, travelled to Thailand twice during his final decade, drove across Sydney for committee meetings and chauffeuring his friends to doctor’s appointments, he dabbled in Facebook and ensured he always had a working printer so he could (first print, then) read his emails. He was invincible to me, as a child and then as an adult.
As he neared the milestone, we started thinking about how we could celebrate such an occasion. Unfortunately we celebrated his life a few weeks ago at a thanksgiving service, without him. It’s a shame all those who came gathered in his absence, what a joy it would have been for him to have everyone in one place.
It’s widely known I’m not a feelings person, but truth is I am. I am just absolutely terrible at expressing and processing them, so supressing them is just the easier option. This afternoon I listened to a recording my cousin made of one of his last conversations with Grandpa. I had had it for almost 6 weeks, but I wasn’t ready to hear his voice, his laugh. It was hard to listen to. I’m thankful I live in a suburb people regularly walk the streets with an absent mind.
Listening to Grandpa speak about this life on the recording, and hearing others speak of his life at his thanksgiving service (and the recording we’ve been pulling together), I look up to him. I place him on a Philippians 2 pedestal, one of his favourite passages of scripture.
In his 70-year medical career, 15 years in the Thai mission field, and then near 60 years as a Father and near 30 as a Grandfather, he exemplified humility and gentleness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests by each of you to the interests of others.”
As I child I remember his devotion to the Word, reading it in bed before he rose for the day. His affection for my Grandmother was evident in each reference to her as “Darling” (even when expressed in haste). He watched sporting games, sat through countless awards ceremonies and graduations. He was the calm spirit standing on the edge of the room, looking and befriending the outsider. He gave Christmas gifts to the one who was forgotten.
I wonder if I got any part of his genes, knowing full well I got an overdose of initiative and tenacity from my paternal grandmother. Reflecting on his life make me reflect on my own, although I have not reached even a third of the length walked this earth for.
But I also see the peril in placing Grandpa on such a pedestal. And I know he would loathe such a thing. In the recording he went so far as to share a story of how he wasn’t supposed to get into Sydney Uni’s medical school. The rules changed and and extra 150 students snuck in without meeting the minimum requirements. He also shared he would have failed his gynaecology exam, should not a fellow student had told him answer as they passed in the hallways prior to the exam. He admitted he wasn’t good enough. I also know from my own father their relationship wasn’t perfect. He was a flawed man, like us all, but he has now been made perfect in Christ.
Grandpa is now with Jesus in the highest place. Although he lived nearly 90 years on this earth, what feels like eternity for a even me at 26, he is now truly living eternally. I’m thankful we have the recording, as hard as it was to hear his laugh knowing he’s no longer here. I’m sad I didn’t take time to ask more questions. How comforting it was hear him breakdown as he shared the love, peace and joy found in the Spirit.
One of the last times I saw Grandpa I had flown to Sydney on a whim. I sat in his hospital room while he slept. Eventually it came time to leave. Although plagued with delusion in his final days, he broke free from it to pass on the ‘Lord’s travelling mercies’ before apologising: “I’m sorry I wasn’t better company”.
Grandpa, you were wonderful company. Happy (earthly) birthday, but what a wonderful everlasting life I know you’re now enjoying.
At his thanksgiving service last month, I said the following prayer on behalf of his 17 grandchildren. I stand by it.
We give you great thanks that you are good and your love endures forever. Thank you for giving life to your son and our grandfather Arthur and your grace and mercy shown to him at the cross. Thank you that as we remember the life he had here and give thanks, we know he is now home and at rest with you.
We know the love of you as our Heavenly Father from the example he was to us. As young ones we knew love from endless supplies of ice cream and sausages in summer and a forgiving spirit when more water was outside the swimming pool than in. As adults we remember his wit, but also his wisdom shared and constant support for our endeavours.
We remember and give thanks for his humility and faithfulness. A man of prayer and devotion – he was always quick to share his indebtedness to you and your blessings on his life with us. Thank you for your spirit at work in his heart.
Many of us are now embarking on our own adventures of marriage. We thank you for the 50-plus years of love and sacrifice Grandpa showed our Grandma, particularly in her final years of illness. In times of struggle and pain, he loved her in everyway – with patience and gentleness. We praise you for the steadfast love and generosity he had and the model it was for us.
As we now grieve the loss of his gentle and witty presence with us, we turn our eyes to Jesus, the one his life pointed to. Grandpa is now free from pain and spared from the brokenness of this world. Thank you for holding him in your care for nearly 90 years.
But while we remember, love and give thanks for the faithful man he was, we acknowledge he was not perfect but made perfect in your son, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. We have joy that he is now at home in your presence because he sought after you. We look forward to the day when the world would be made new and those who call upon your Son’s name will be saved. We long for Jesus to return to make all things new and to be reunited with our Grandfather but ultimately you, our heavenly father.
To you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!