Grandpa’s Last Gift

April 6, 2021 by

I always think about my grandpa at this time of year, as we approach the anniversary of his passing on April 10. I think about him particularly this year, because the life he lived was one of love and compassion and human interaction, not one of isolation or loneliness. This last year of the pandemic has challenged and shifted the paradigms of all our lives, and I have found myself wondering if we have lost the ability to care for people deeply and lovingly. The way Grandpa Jim lived. He embodied a love that was laced with tenderness, compassion, and warmth, while at the same time being honest and straightforward about things. His love for his wife, Jeanette, was so deep that he said he hoped Grandma would go first, as he couldn’t imagine her living without him. He had been her rock for so many years, and even as she declined mentally and physically at the end of her life, he was there for her, gently helping her along. His wish was granted, but how he then missed her while he waited for his turn.

I have always loved my grandparents’ wedding vows. They wrote their own (they were Quakers, hence the “thee”) and to me they embody the spirit of both my grandparents. Perhaps they will inspire other young couples, offering a model on which to base their lives together. They truly succeeded in building the home they hoped for in their vows.

Jim: In the presence of God and these friends, I take thee Jeanette to be my wife. With a spirit of love prevailing in our life as a symbol of our mutual loyalty and devotion may we live – each for the other, and both for God; and through his blessings may we build a haven of world brotherhood – a home of contentment and joy. My love to thee, Jeanette.

Jeanette: In the presence of God and before these friends, we begin our lifelong companionship together. May our love be centered in the heart of God; and may we build a home that will be a place of repair and harbor, a center of joy and a force for world peace. God help me to remain constant in my love for thee so long as I live.

Jim Warren's weddingJim and Jeanette on their wedding day

The piece below was initially published by Plough shortly before Grandpa’s death in 2013, but the message is timeless and I wanted to share it again.

Grandpa is at the end of the dinner table, lying back in a large reclining wheelchair. Although surrounded by the whirl and bustle of last-minute supper preparations, tonight, humming softly to himself, he seems to be lost in a world of his own. The rest of us are gathered around the table and grow quiet. Grandpa is asked to say the blessing. Not surprisingly he begins with a slow, measured litany of thanks for all the blessings of life. Drawing out each word, each thought, wrapping it in meaning and emotion, he expresses thanks straight from his heart.

Since Grandma’s death, his prayers often include his thanks for her and for the wonder of how “God picked her just for me.” He often reminds us that “from all the women in the world, God handpicked my Jeanette, and gave her to me.” “How I do thank thee for her, dear Father in heaven.” But tonight he adds a new thought to his prayer: “And when we come into difficulty, be patient with us and help us.”

Grandpa is dying of cancer. He understands what difficulties are; in fact, he faces new ones each day as he physically declines and makes his way through the unfamiliar territory of his last journey. He knows that he (like all of us) needs God’s patience every day. This prayer came as much from the depths of his heart as any other I have heard.

Grandpa is a big man – “five eighteen” he likes to say when asked his height. At first glance, he might look to be tough. His hands are huge, too. They are calloused and gnarled from hard work. But anyone who knows him knows that the biggest thing about him is his huge heart. Here is a man who is never afraid to let his heart feel emotion and never ashamed of his own tears. Here are hands that know both hard work and tenderness, hands that have held the handle of an axe but have also caressed a child, cradling its small face gently between them, wiping away tears.

Jim Warren's wedding anniversaryStill together after 66 years, cutting and sharing a cake

Last week I spent several days visiting Grandpa, sitting at his bedside, where he was often lost in thought and in the reminiscences of his life. He was confused and unsure of himself. He was alone on some road, with no one but God to guide him. Often he said he didn’t know where he was. At other times he spoke of trips he had taken or was planning to take. But uppermost on his mind was the well-being of those who were around him. He just wanted to make sure that each of us by his bedside was cared for and had everything we needed.

I marvel at this care and concern for others even during moments of confusion. I suppose that if you spend your entire life caring for people, even on your deathbed their well-being will remain your primary concern. This is how Grandpa lived his life. Whether designing a building (making sure the counters were high enough so as not to strain one’s back, and the bathroom doors wide enough so that one could fit through with a sick child in one’s arms), ushering in church, hosting guests in his home, or caring for Grandma, Grandpa’s big heart could always be felt. I can still remember being lost in a crowd and suddenly feeling his arms wrapped around me from behind in an unhindered greeting of love.

Grandpa is slipping away and will soon be gone. But his legacy of compassion, of gentleness, of teaching us the importance of allowing our hearts to be moved by a book, a song, the death of a child, a flower, will never be gone. He is leaving us a legacy of being thankful for the wonder of life, for each day, for each person, and for all that God gives. He is leaving us the gift of love.


About the author

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren lives at The Mount Community, where she cares for the elderly and works in the community kitchen.

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