My grandfather died unexpectedly from complications from surgery on Saturday, March 18th. I made it to the hospital in Topeka in time to spend his last hours with him before he moved from this life onto the next.
These are the words I shared at his memorial service last week.
In his last hours of life here with us,
I got to hold my grandfather’s hand.
So big and strong
They were the hands of a man who worked hard each and every day of his life.
They were the hands of a farmer,
hands that knew how to pitch hay,
work a plow,
saddle a horse,
steer a tractor.
Later, they were the hands of a mechanic,
hands that knew how to pump gas,
roll a patch over a tire’s flat,
handle lug nuts with ease,
hands that were big enough and strong enough to lift a 50 gallon barrel
overflowing with oil over his head –
just ask my dad (and then ask him how many times he let that oil overflow again).
they were the hands that filled the bird feeders,
took joy in mowing the grass,
buckled preschoolers into car seats,
hands that felt the natural grain in forgotten furniture
and then brought old wood back to life.
They were hands that knew how to hold a book,
to carefully turn its pages,
so my grandfather, a life-long student of history, scripture and our world,
could take in all the more.
So big and strong,
and yet so gentle and generous.
They were the hands
that knew how to hold a cup of coffee
as he sat with family and friends
that offered countless country waves
to passerby’s from the driver’s seat of his truck
they were the hands that served so many in need
helping to fix the flat
or get the battery going
or provide gas that would see them on their way.
They were the hands that greeted others on Sunday morning,
that hooked up the plow when the snow was deep,
they were the hands this church entrusted with their weekly treasure –
for anyone who knew them, knew that they were hands
that were honest and trustworthy and true.
Those hands were the ones
that cradled each of our heads with such love,
they lifted us into his lap,
scratched our backs,
steered the tractor once more – this time not to work the earth,
but simply for his grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s delight,
they were the hands that loaded those shirt pockets
full of corn candy to be plucked out one-by-one
by the littlest hands he adored.
Grandma, those were the hands
you first grabbed hold of over sixty years ago –
they are hands that have held you and supported you and us all with such love ever since –
and in the days and weeks to come,
I think you will find that by the grace of God,
they are the hands that hold you still.
As I held my grandfather’s hand this past Saturday,
I asked God to help me and us all to let him go
and I prayed that as he went he would know
that we were sending him home with the deep and profound love
he had given to us our whole lives long.
That love is the love that comes to us first from God,
it is the love for which we were created –
created to receive,
created to bear in the world.
At the end of our lives here on earth,
what will matter is who we have loved
in the time we have been given,
the ways we have born Christ’s love in the world.
so big and strong
so gentle and generous
bearers of such love in their 86 years.
In the days that have followed,
I catch myself looking at my own hands – considering their 36 years,
considering the years that are yet to come.
Asking myself, “What will my hands bear in the time they have been given?”
Take a look at your hands.
When the time comes for you to move from this life to the next,
what will their story be?