January 16, 1966
My Dad’s father passed away on January 13, 1966. I was twelve at the time, getting ready to turn 13 the following month. In a way, it was probably a merciful death. Grandpa suffered from Alzheimer’s and had come to the point where he didn’t recognize Dad or many of the other family members. He wandered away from the nursing home, without a coat, in January, was found by my uncle, returned to the home, caught pneumonia – and died several days later.
Still, Dad, who was the youngest child in the family (he had two older brothers) was close to his father and they had worked together for years in the extended family business until Grandpa had retired. But we lived almost an hour away from where my paternal grandparents lived in Park Ridge, northwest of Chicago, and we we really didn’t get to see them very often – let alone know them very well.
Dad told stories of his childhood and that help close the gap between what we experienced and how my grandparents were in the earlier years. But to be brutally honest, I didn’t much appreciate the time we spent at Grandpa’s. At times, he could be gruff and to himself. But he loved gardening and some of my fondest memories were spending time with him in the yard, cultivating the crops. I probably got my love of growing things from him – I always marveled at how things progressed throughout the summer.
My own father was not overly sensitive. He talked about the past, but it was more objective than subjective and it was unusual for him to add much emotional commentary into his recollections. I always looked at Dad as the stalwart guy who always knew what to do when the chips were down.
So it took me by surprise – no, it stunned me – when on the day of Grandpa’s funeral, January 16, 1966, Dad completely fell apart. I don’t mean he was a little sad, or he was mildly weeping – he was inconsolable. I actually worried about his health – I thought his heart would break… in fact, I cried because I saw him crying – he was in so much agony. I even remember that I was embarrassed because I couldn’t stop crying. It was the most vulnerable that I had ever seen Dad.
Now remember, I wasn’t that close to Grandpa, but it bothered me to my core than Dad was so upset. There was nothing that I could do to help him – and for the first time in my life, I saw Dad helpless – carried away on waves of grief that I remember to this day – 54 years to the day after Grandpa’s funeral. That day is indelibly imprinted on my brain and will probably never be forgotten. I just couldn’t process the dichotomy of the father I knew so well and this unknown side of him that was revealed to me that day.
January 16, 1966 became a pivotal day in my life for a variety of reasons. And as Dad himself got sick eight years later, and finally passed away in 1978, I couldn’t help but recollect the day of Grandpa’s funeral years earlier. On June 5th, we laid Dad to rest less than 50 yards from where his father’s grave was. and eventually, in 1998, Mom joined Dad at Ridgewood Cemetary in Arlington Heights, IL. That’s the day that I realized that I was finally an orphan…
Another thing that I realized at Grandpa’s funeral was that his death was the first time that I was exposed to the passing of a family member. So that was the first time that death touched me in a very real way – and the first time that I realized that life would never be the same. It was the start of the passing of a generation that would forever change me. Now, as I look at the world, I am the grandfather… the oldest generation – the next generation to naturally pass on and leave the world to those youngsters who are coming after us.
While things change from our earthly perspective, one thing never changes – and that is the steadfastness of God. Our verse for tonight is from the Psalms. In this particular verse, we are told about how the knowledge and precepts of God are passed from generation to generation – the passing of the torch. We are told, in Psalm 78:4-7, “… we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers
to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.”
My encouragement this evening is that we can count on God to be the same throughout all the generations. That is only one of the awesome attributes of the Godhead. My prayer is that we will all make sure that we pass on our knowledge of the love of God to our future generations. That is a responsibility that we all have! After all, the love of God transcends everything else. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…