Some number of years ago, my family members were visiting my grandmother's grave. Without thinking, in front of my grandfather's second wife, someone asked my grandfather if he planned to be buried there next to my grandmother. There was an awkward pause as everyone wondered how my stepgrandmother would react, but she piped up with "Yes, he will, and I'll be buried on the other side so we can take turns smacking him!" To which my grandfather said, "And then you'll see a skeleton go running across the cemetery to escape in his red truck!"
My grandmother passed away 34 years ago, and my stepgrandmother has now also been gone for 12 years, so they've been waiting a long time for Grandpa to join them. My dad has always said that the night we laid Grandpa to rest in little old Milan, Tennessee, there would be a big storm. He was right. It poured all through the service, let up in the afternoon long enough for us to go to the cemetery, and that night, there was a storm with 70 mile/hour winds that blew the rain sideways. I can't help but laugh thinking that Grandma Mary and Martha were part of that powerful welcome!
I had been thinking to myself that if there was such a storm, as my dad predicted, Grandpa would also give us a rainbow. He didn't disappoint!
At the visitation, relatives and family friends, many of whom I had never met, told me how much my grandfather-- also known as J, Uncle J, John, Mr. John, etc.-- meant to them and how much he will be missed. I heard from a lady whose granddaughter loved the tomatoes he always brought over just for her; a family who said he always brought them fresh vegetables when they didn't have much; his ROMEO breakfast club members (Retired Old Men Eating Out) who dined daily at McDonald's; sweet old ladies who were his dancing partners; and neighbors who said Milan hadn't been the same since he left.
I am so proud of all that Grandpa saw and did in his life, like surviving the Great Depression, joining the Civilian Conservation Corps to send money home to his family, and proudly serving his country in the Navy during World War II.
The little things about him are what will really stand out in my mind, like his love for bowling that I inherited (though I'm still trying to master his ability to curve the ball and get a strike) and how on his 91st birthday, he still beat my dad and cousin in a game of pool. He was unable to stand for long, but the minute it was his turn and he had spotted an opportunity, he jumped right up with his pool cue and knocked yet another ball in a pocket. He loved to go dancing, and my aunt recounted how even when he tried to stay in on a Saturday night, he said he'd hear a noise and it'd be his shoes dancing in the closet, so he figured he'd better take them out for a whirl!
Grandpa stayed active through his late 80s, and many of his younger neighbors said he put them to shame with all that he still did. Even when Alzheimer's disease began to take over, forcing us to move him to Texas where we could help care for him, he still wanted to be doing things. I realized that in the midst of a terrible disease that robbed him of so many abilities, we were blessed that he always remembered his family. I have heard stories of Alzheimer's patients who forget who their own children are, and I dreaded when that day came for Grandpa, but fortunately it never did. I don't know if he could have told you my name by the end of his life, but I could tell by the look in his eyes and his smile when we walked into the room that he knew we were family, and that he loved all of us, and we loved him. At the end of his full 91 years on this earth, what more could we have asked for? We know that he is reunited in heaven with Grandma Mary, Martha, and so many others, bowling and dancing and no longer sick, and that makes me very, very happy.
"Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." John 11:25-26