This past Wednesday, March 24, 2010, my sweet "Papaw" went home to heaven. Since last October I watched his health deteriorate quickly after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. And while it is never easy to lose someone you love, I am thankful that he did not have to suffer very long. "Papaw" turned 89 on Feb. 20, 2010, and I took the children to see him on his birthday eventhough I knew that the last time I had been there he hadn't stayed awake for very long. I wasn't counting on him being alert enough to know they were there. Honestly, I worried about it more than I should have. I knew the boys would ask questions about their "Papaw". And I guess I was a little afraid of answering those questions.
You see, he has been such an important part of my children's lives. Until a little over a year ago, my children were the only great-grandchildren my grandparents had, so you can imagine how delighted my grandparents were anytime the children were around. They didn't miss a birthday party or any other celebration. Our time with them at their house in Jackson and wherever we were was something they always looked forward to. And eventhough I have always been close to them, I think I grew closer to them after the births of my children than I have ever been. I believe God allowed my children (and me) one last enjoyable moment with "Papaw" on his 89th birthday because surprisingly, he was more awake than I had seen him on the last visit and he smiled every time Mary Claire kissed him or one of the boys hugged him.
Yesterday, our family came together to bury his body and celebrate his life. It was a day I'll always remember. The service was a little different than your typical funeral in that we all played a part in the service. My dad did a great job in opening with comments about his father's life and stories he and his brother and sister will always hold dear about their dad. I was proud of my dad and what he was able to stand and say to others about his dad. My grandmother requested that some of us sing a couple of hymns they liked, so my dad and I sang a song together and then my dad sang again with his sister. My cousins, Amanda and Amber, read special scriptures, and my Uncle Craig, being an ordained minister, performed the funeral service. It was a family affair, but more importantly, I think "Papaw" would have been proud.
At the burial, the military salute and presentation of the flag was a very special moment. I don't think any of us could ever imagine what my grandfather saw or experienced in Normady and the Battle of the Bulge as he served our country in WWII. I wish I had had my camera as my little Jonah stood there so respectfully beside my father and the casket as the soldiers folded the flag with great care and then presented the flag to my grandmother. He hardly moved a muscle. Some of the older people there commented afterwards to me about how they couldn't believe he stood there like that. I was so proud of him. What a great tribute to his "Papaw"! Of course, my boys asked questions, and both Jan and I have done our best to explain to their young hearts and minds the concept of life and death. I am so grateful that I have a Christian belief that I can share with my children in the explanation of these things. God's always there and now my grandfather is there with Him. I am so glad of the blessed assurance that I'll see them both one day.
I will miss my grandfather. I missed him tonight as I looked out at the crowd at church when we performed our Easter musical and I thought about how many times he and my grandmother have made the trip from Jackson just to watch. Always there... Always watching... And I have the assurance he watches still.
Papaw and Granny Phillips with Mary Claire at her 1st birthday party last May