On Christmas Eve 2001, and continuing into Christmas day, I spent Christmas alone with my Grandpa. That’s right, just the two of us. My wife and children had gone to my in-laws home; my side of the family was gathering at my Uncle’s house. This Christmas it was just going to be me and grandpa.
Less than two months before my Grandma had passed away. She died in early November, one month short of their 74th wedding anniversary. It wasn’t a misprint, almost 74 years of marriage. As you might have guessed they started their marriage at a young age. After a long drawn out courtship, two months, they were married and began their life together.
In the 1980s my Grandpa had major health issues that changed him. The damage sustained during these days quickly took away his ability to function independently and do the thing he loved the most, preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
By the time my Grandma died Grandpa was extremely feeble. As one would expect the loss of his best friend put him into a tailspin that ultimately put him into the hospital. Throughout December members of my family took turns sitting with Grandpa in the hospital. (This scene is likely familiar to many of you)
I did not live in the state of my birth so once I arrived in town I took the lion share of the hospital visits knowing my family was tired and Christmas was upon us. Now you know where we spent Christmas and why it was just the two of us.
The hospital was all but silent. Staffing was understandably at a bare minimum, no gurneys running up and down the halls and no intercom pages. A number of times I remember closing my eyes and thinking minutes would pass between sounds. The only sounds I would hear that night was the occasional beep coming from the unit hooked up to Grandpa.
I should also mention that my Grandpa was suffering from advanced stages of dementia. As a result he did not know who I was and had not for years. Did that bother me? Not at all, I knew who he was and I was honored to sit with him. So now you know that Christmas Eve/Day was spent in the hospital and there would be no meaningful conversation.
Christmas Eve in Review
As I sat with Grandpa I remembered all the Christmas Eves of yesteryear; several families, including ours, would load up and drive for two whole hours to Grandpa’s house. (Back then 2 hour trips were a big deal) The house would be full of kids and the smells, oh the smells from Grandma’s kitchen.
Grandpa’s house was an old farm style home with lots of small rooms of every shape and size. There were also quite a few cubby hole storage areas making this the mother of all hide-and-seek locations. Every trip resulted in a new discovery of some ancient artifact tucked away in one of those cubby holes.
Without exception every night ended with the gathering of every man, woman and child into the living room for prayer. I have no words to describe the energy in that room as each person prayed to their Heavenly Father giving thanks for what great things He has done.
I am without doubt the most blessed man in God’s creation.
What Grandpa doesn’t tell stories of how things used to be? My Grandpa was no exception, I had cataloged those stories away in my mind and as I sat by that bed I envisioned my Grandpa telling them one by one.
One of my favorites is the story of a rat that was invading the men’s lunch area and stealing food from the dinner buckets. The men on the crew knew it was happening but their working conditions were very strict, the foreman was not interested in someone checking the lunch area during work hours. The rat’s luck finally run out and they caught it in the act one day at lunch. Due to the duration of time of the offense these men were not going to simply kill the rodent; they held a trial and the rat was convicted and sentenced to death. A simple execution would not suffice so these laborers created a makeshift electric chair. (Due to the work they were doing they had access to high voltage electricity.)
I suppose this is rather gruesome but imagine as a young boy hearing your Grandpa tell this story. At that time it was the most fascinating thing I had ever heard.
Some of the stories were truly gruesome: my Grandpa was part of a crew using dynamite to blast coal from inside the mountain. Coal mining is extremely dangerous work today and even more so 80+ years ago. Grandpa told us of a man who wouldn’t listen to anyone, a real life know it all. He was preparing charges and made a mistake, they hardly found enough of him to bury.
There were depression era stories, school years, more coal mining stories along with the many challenges he faced preaching the gospel. I can still hear his voice telling them.
As night turned into day in that hospital I tried to remember every single story and retell them all in my mind, with Grandpa narrating them of course. What a night!
I don’t know how I went through that night without even getting sleepy. The only movement Grandpa would make was every now and then he would clasp his hands together and look upwards and mutter. I wondered “Is he asking God to take him home?”
When he was in his prime my Grandpa had preached tent revivals in and around labor camps. Once a nucleus of members was formed he would seek out someone to pastor them. Usually he would also help them build a building, Grandpa was a carpenter too. By the grace of God my Grandpa planted 14 churches averaging about three years at each place. Now let me tell you these labor camps were tough living. There was no law inside these camps, the law wouldn’t go in them, but Grandpa did, he believed everyone needed to hear about Jesus.
Just before noon another family member came and I left the hospital filled with that peace that passes all understanding.
I can’t say the Christmas of 2001 was my happiest Christmas ever but in many ways it was the most special. In the quiet stillness of the night I was privileged to sit with a mighty warrior for the cause of Christ. As I celebrated the birth of our Lord I also celebrated a life well lived.
Grandpa died a few days later and went home to be with Jesus. Twelve years have passed and I still miss him. Merry Christmas Grandpa and Merry Christmas to those of you who follow us on the blog. May your day of remembrance be special.