Originally written in November, 2008
I arrived at my parents’ house on Wednesday night and was fortunate enough to have the chance to sit and briefly visit with my father. He looked tired and frail but his spirits were up as he welcomed us home. He was particularly happy to see my children. This wasn’t uncommon. If you ever heard Bill Cosby talk about the way his parents changed when they became grandparents, you’ll understand what I mean. Emma was only two, and the amount of time he was able to spend with her was limited due to his illness, but he still managed to love on her as much as he could. But it was Wesley, my nine year old son, who was unapologetically grandpa’s favorite. From the moment he first laid eyes upon Wesley in the hospital, a previously undeveloped part of my father’s heart opened up. It was a look I had never seen in his eyes before – a look of total, complete, and unconditional love. This isn’t to say that my dad didn’t feel that way about me – I know he did. But you never quite see it the same way when it’s directed at yourself. That night in the maternity ward marked an incredible change in his life, and it was summarized by a simple look.
That wasn’t the last time I would see that look. For nearly a decade, it was a permanent fixture on my father’s face, present every time he was with Wesley. And the love from which it flowed was definitely returned. They loved the time they spent together. They would go for drives looking for boats and trains. They’d go for walks, take fishing trips, and sit in grandpa’s chair together, snuggling under a blanket as they napped away more than one afternoon. Theirs was an amazing bond; a deeply shared love for one another that I had never known. Both of my grandfathers had passed away while my parents were children. I never knew what that unique relationship shared between a boy and his grandfather was like. I always held a level of excitement and a bit of envy whenever I watched my father and my son interact. And now as Wesley carefully climbed for the last time into the chair he had shared with grandpa for all those years, that look was still firmly fixed on my father’s face.
But this time, there was a difference. I detected an additional element to the familiar gleam in my father’s eyes. I can only describe it as a look of finality. I noticed it, but I didn’t identify it until sometime later. Dad knew that this would be the last time he’d get to hold his grandson – and he basked in the moment for as long as his weakened body would allow. What an incredible contrast! Never before had I seen so much pain accompanied by so much joy. Once Wesley climbed down, I helped dad get out of his chair and laid him into his bed, unaware that I was laying him down into a bed from which he’d never rise again.
Some might describe the scene by using the term “mixed emotions,” offering the opinion that my father was battling between the pleasures of looking into the face of his grandson while also looking into the face of his own mortality. I’ve thought about what that moment was, and after careful consideration, I disagree with those who look at it in this manner. To say that his emotions were mixed might suggest that there was a level of uncertainty or confusion. That simply wasn’t the case. My father knew what was happening – he understood the magnitude of it. It was a moment where pure love was being given and received. Wesley will spend the rest of his life knowing that his grandfather loved him deeply, just as my father spent the rest of his life knowing his grandson loved him.
The cliché says that you can’t take it with you – and we all know it to be true. The only thing we can take with us as we go from this life to eternity is our faith in God. But even if the memory of that love was left behind upon his death, I like to think that as he endured the final moments of his life, dad had with him the memory of that, and many other encounters to provide a measure of peace and comfort.
In Matthew 21, Jesus tells the parable of the talents. As the master returns to see what his servants did with the talents they had been given, he finds out from the first servant that he had increased them by 100%. The master, pleased with what his servant had accomplished said to him, “Well done good and faithful servant.” I wasn’t there. I have no knowledge of what it must have been like. But with the knowledge that I have of both of my Fathers and the faith that I have in the promises of God, I believe that when they finally came face to face, dad was greeted with those same words as he received his ultimate victory.
“Well done good and faithful servant.”