The Passing of a Generation
It was on January 13, 1966 that I first experienced the death of a grandparent – my Dad’s father. I wrote about Jacob Toussaint last year on this date, so I won’t go into great detail about him specifically, but suffice it to say that it marked a profound moment in my life. Because as a 13 year old, I had never lost anyone in the family to death and this was a first.
I was curious about death. What did dead people look like? What would it be like to see my lifeless grandfather – how would I feel? And what about the reality that Grandpa’s death signified our mortality and the fact that time was marching on? This was all pretty heady stuff for a 13 year old; and remember, I had never seen death up close and personal before. In a way, it still wasn’t that personal to me. My Dad’s parents didn’t live close to us and I only saw them several times a year at most. Grandma was very religious and Grandpa, well, Grandpa seemed to take orders from Grandma.
He puttered around in his garden, but other than that, I thought of him as some distant person who required positional respect from me – not that I knew him very well personally, that is. But he was my Dad’s father. And that was enough to show me that Grandpa was someone who I was to be obedient around – but I never sensed that he cared that much about me, or my brothers, for that matter. Perhaps if he had lived longer I would have developed more of a relationship with him.
Even Dad acknowledged that at times he had difficulty in his relationship with his own father. Recalling Christmas mornings as boys, Dad and his brothers had to go into the bedroom to open their presents because Grandpa didn’t want to join in the festivities in the living room. And when they worked together in later years, Dad thought of his father as something of a curmudgeon – a little difficult to get along with – very dedicated to work, but not really enjoying life in the process.
And when Grandpa developed Alzheimer’s, we watched him slip away – not recognizing my grandmother or even my Dad for that matter. I know that hurt Dad deeply, but I had no idea how much until I witnessed my father at the wake and subsequent funeral. Dad was inconsolable. That was somewhat difficult for me to understand. After all, I had witnessed Grandpa’s distance for years, yet here was Dad, heartbroken… I wondered why Dad never showed his affection for his father – or visa versa. I guess it was a complicated relationship that I just didn’t understand, at least as a young man. To be sure, nobody in our family showed much emotion in public, so it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary to me. But slowly, and it has taken years, I have tried to change that perception, at least about me.
I think outsiders would probably see my relationship with my own father the same way. Certainly not outwardly expressive, but I loved him deeply. In later years we were much closer, and I don’t know how it would have ended up had my father lived much past my 25th birthday. I like to think that we would have continued to grow closer throughout the years.
Andrew, our own son, and I have much the same relationship. When the chips are down, I know he, and Kristin and Jill, are always there, but there is a distinct difference between daughters and sons – at least that’s my observation and my own personal experience. That old adage, “A son’s a son till he takes him a wife, but a daughter’s a daughter for the rest of her life” holds a kernel of truth for me. In fact, Andrew and I have committed to have dinner together more often and deepen our relationship this year. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I want to make sure that we grow closer with age – not more distant.
But all this started with the death of Grandpa back in 1966. Who would have thought that I would be here, 47 years later, still thinking about the passing of a generation and the beginning of it all on that cold winter day? And who would have thought that event would shape so much of my own thinking about loving well; and relationships between grandfathers, fathers and sons?
Even though there are many references in the Bible to fathers, there is really only one reference to “grandfather” in the Scripture, and that’s in the NIV version. It has to do with the grace afforded Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan; and the grandson of Saul.
In 2 Sam. 9:7, we are given the words of King David, “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” It was because of the legacy of Saul and Jonathan that King David extended offerings of peace and took care of the grandson. Sometimes in our lives we need to remember that we are in part a result of the families that we are born in to.
My encouragement this evening is that someday your children, grandchildren and maybe even great grandchildren will form their own thoughts about life based, in part, on their relationships with you. My prayer is that you will consider this trust an honor bestowed on you by God and that you will make sure that you are a great role model for the generations who will follow – now and well into the future.
Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…