On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, my grandfather completed his journey on earth. Reflecting on the weeks leading up to his death has deepened my faith, and opened my eyes to his living example.
My grandfather and I had many conversations during his final weeks. They often centered around God’s will. “Why doesn’t the Lord just take me now?” he would ask me.
“I don’t know,” I’d tell him. “But I do know that He doesn’t work on our schedule.”
We say it every day: Thy will be done. Living it is more difficult. It’s hard to give oneself over to the will of God. To surrender to the reality that God has a grand plan for us.
He told me to always stick to my faith as it will get me through anything. He told me to take care of my grandmother, and to enjoy my life.
I laughed with him. I cried with him. I laid with him in his hospital bed. I held his hand. I prayed with him. I brought him Holy Communion every Sunday. I brought him his last Communion.
My final reflections are best expressed in the eulogy I gave after his funeral:
Often times when we hear a eulogy of someone, it can be compared to a canonization. How often have we heard things like, “He went to church each and every Sunday” and “He always had a smile on his face, and never said an unkind word about anyone”?
Look around you. That isn’t true of anyone in this room. Even Jesus killed a fig tree, and flipped over a few tables in the temple. We are not perfect. We are flawed, broken human beings who are called to emulate Christ, and live the Gospel to the best of our ability, in spite of our flawed nature.
In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
How do we love one another as Christ loved us? Listen to what Jesus says next: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He is describing love beyond self, a selfless love, an emptying of oneself for the benefit and greater good of others. This is the example He set. This is the commandment He gave us.
My grandfather followed that commandment to the very best of his ability. He laid down his life by emptying himself of his own wants and desires so he might fulfill those of his family. He selflessly loved my grandmother for 64 years of marriage. He selflessly loved his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family and friends every day.
He fostered an environmentt of love in our family – immediate and extended – with gatherings, trips, food, and most notably, music.
St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.” Our family learned how to pray from my grandfather.
The final and most poignant example of my grandfather loving as Christ did, loving selflessly came in his final weeks. His suffering, his agony was about those who his illness affected. He was concerned that he was a burden on us, though he wasn’t.
He hurt because people were changing their schedules because of him. He regretted not being able to take my father to dinner and celebrate his retirement. He apologized to my fiancée because he wouldn’t be able to dance with her at our wedding.
In his own decline, in his own death, he cared far more for others than for himself.
We were given a great gift in our opportunity to chat, share, embrace, kiss and love my grandfather in his final days. We were given a great gift in his example of selfless love, an example we must follow. We must love one another as he loved us. We must empty ourselves for others.
This is my grandfather’s legacy. Let us carry it on as this week he closed his eyes for the last time on earth, so he might gaze upon the face of God in the heavenly kingdom. We embraced him for the last time in this earthly life, and now he feels the warm embrace of Christ and hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”