It was five years ago that Grandma passed away. When we attended her graveside service, Grandpa stood alone next to the casket. His tears flowed freely then. The grove next to the First Lutheran Church where she was buried on a midsummer's day was filled to the edges with her friends and relatives. None of us understood when Grandpa walked away from the church that day. He just started walking. For an old man, with a cane, we were concerned when he headed home by himself. A nine-block long walk was a bit much for the old man, but he did it, waving off anyone who tried to interfere with his grieving. It certainly seemed that a big chunk of Grandpa died along with Grandma, he was never the same after that.
He was commonly called a curmudgeon, among other not-so-pleasant names; after all, he was not a pleasant man. Sometimes he was downright mean. I drew the short straw yesterday so I had to go pick him up.
I pulled my car up slowly and stopped at the front gate. I walked up to the porch where he sat waiting. "Grandpa, I'm here. Are you ready to go?"
His response was a simple "Hmph," like always. He motioned to the flowers which he gathered together this morning and had bundled up next to him on the bench. I picked up the flowers and started back toward my car. I made the mistake of reaching for Grandpa's arm several months ago as he made his way down the three steps off the porch to the sidewalk. He darn near broke my arm swinging his cane at me. Grandpa would make it under his own power, he had made that clear. I swung open the passenger side door of the car and walked around to wait behind the wheel.
Once Grandpa settled into the seat, I drove to the church and stopped the car at the entrance to the grove. With the cane in one hand and the flowers in the other, he made his way down the dirt path to the stone that marked Grandma's grave. I watched his shoulders drop noticeably with each step. As he placed the flowers on the grave, he knelt to pray. I'm not sure how he did that, with the condition of his knees, to be able to kneel – it was strictly a matter of faith in God that kept him going at all.
It took only a couple of minutes and he made his way back to the car. As he climbed in, I reminded him to buckle his seat belt which brought the typical response, "Hmph." Other than that, he ignored me, refusing to use the seat belt. It was less than a mile and just not worth the fight, so I started the car and headed back to his house.
Once we stopped at the walkway, out of nowhere, a voice. "I miss her so much." Then I heard sobbing. For the first time in five years, he spoke out loud about her. I looked toward the passenger seat and reached across to place my hand on his shoulder. He leaned toward me, and suddenly I felt his loss. I prayed aloud for him then, without hesitating. I prayed that God would help him see beyond his loss, to understand just how much we love him. "Amy was my life, Joey." Having been married for over 50 years, he admitted that he did not think he could go on any longer without her. The past five years had been unbearable and had no fight left. I was sad to hear that he was so empty, but I had no answers so offered no advice.
He stepped out of the car to be greeted by Rupert on the other side of the front gate. As suddenly as he had opened up, he shut down again. I tapped him on the shoulder and reached for a hug – he responded with a half-hearted pat on my back and "Hmph."
I turned to go back to my car when he called out, "Thank you, Joseph." These were the last words I would hear from my grandpa.
I shared this story at his funeral two weeks later. It helped everyone to know that there was a hurting man behind the gruff old curmudgeon. Human, after all. We will miss him, but now he is with his beloved Amy.