On Saturday, September 12th, my grandfather passed away after a brief, but nevertheless courageous battle with cancer. This is the second death in our immediate family in less than a year. The second grandparent to die. The third with cancer. I don’t think I realized how raw and real grief really is until Saturday.
On Wednesday, friends and family gathered in my grandparents church to celebrate the life of my grandfather. My dad shared a beautiful eulogy, where he talked about many of the things I share below. I’m thankful for the way he honored his father on Wednesday. He spoke with grace and poise and composure, a far cry from what I would have been able to do in the same situation.
My dad shared the news of my grandfather’s diagnosis with me on my 20th birthday. I called my grandparents that evening and sat on our back steps as I listened to them sing Happy Birthday, as they had so many years before, with tears streaming down my face. I told my grandfather how mad I was. How I couldn’t believe what was happening. How it wasn’t fair. Over and over, he told me, “We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this.”
When he said those words, I certainly didn’t imagine that less than three months later we would be burying him. I didn’t picture ‘okay’ and ‘death’ in the same idea, but here we are.
I sat at my computer one evening in early August, before I left for school, and wrote down what you see below. A eulogy of sorts, perhaps. The things I wanted to remember. The things he taught me. I share it here today because I miss him. I will always miss him. But I don’t want to ever forget him. And so I write.
My dad shared the news of my grandfather’s diagnosis with me on my 20th birthday. After a few days of waiting anxiously for test results and suspecting my parents knew more than they were letting on (as parents often do), my dad looked me in the eye and told me the truth. I sat on our back steps that night, the warm evening air on my shoulders, listening to my grandparents sing me Happy Birthday, as they had for so many years, with tears streaming down my face.
I told him I was mad. And I was. I didn’t think it was fair. I cried tears of anger and frustration and confusion and sadness. I blubbered for a few minutes, as I am wont to do. I paused to take a breath, I’m sure, and my grandfather spoke up.
“Oh, Molly,” he said, “we’ll get through this. But all you can do is pray. That’s what I need.”
That simple statement took my breath away. How could someone who was seemingly healthy and strong and happy, so good, tell me just pray? It seemed too simple. Too inconsequential. What would a few words, muttered skyward in a moment of desperation, really do for a man who was literally confronting life and death.
I’ll remember that conversation I had with my grandfather forever. Among all of his pain and amidst the visceral realization of one’s near death, he chose to quietly contemplate and simply determine not let death have the last word. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” My grandfather’s faith was an un-wielding shield; not only during the last weeks of his life, but throughout the entirety of his lifetime.
I hope my grandfather’s mind was filled with memories in the end. Memories of the people who loved him best. His wife, his children, his grandchildren, his friends . . . I hope he remembered the countless hours I spent talking to him on the phone. I hope he remembered his children’s’ smiles and their first steps and the moment he first laid eyes on them. I hope he remembered my giddy laughter when he opened his mouth without his dentures. I hope he remembered letting his grandchildren play with his hair, years after his own son had gone completely bald. The way that my dad hugged him goodbye and told him he loved him. The sweet taste of the peppermint ice cream he used to make and the way he managed to make Jonathan belly laugh. The family holidays and the moment he realized he loved my grandmother. The moments that were so, so good, but also the moments that were hard or sad or just plain bad, too. I pray that he looked back at who he was and smile with well-deserved pride at the man he was and the life he lived.
I hope that when he came to one of the many moments in his life when he had to give an account of himself, to provide a ledger of what who he was and what he had done and what he meant to the world, I pray that he did not discount the deep-seeded joy that he poured into countless people’s lives. His joy did not hunger for more and more, instead, it rested, satisfied. He was sure of his love for his family and most of all, his love for his creator and king. I am thankful that the same Lord has chosen to take him home, to fill him with the ultimate joy of being housed in his heavenly kingdom.
At the same time, I am filled with unspeakable sadness. I am sad that my grandfather will not see any of his grandchildren graduate from college, or get married, or have their own children. I am sad that he will not share the joy becoming a grandparent with his own children, who will someday, become grandparents too. I am sad that I won’t be able to call 639 Westminster and hear him pick up the phone, taking a breath before he answers like he usually does. I’m sad that none of us will ever hear him tell a story again.
Robert Wicker is one of the best men I have ever known and undoubtedly one of the best people I will ever know. He loved deeply, served fully, and lived in daily obedience to the Lord. He was a devoted husband, a loving father, a doting grandfather, and a humble servant. He blessed innumerable lives, including mine, with his gentle spirit, his quiet servitude, and his unwavering belief that his life was one that was not his to live. Even in his last days, he was determined to live his life in a way that honored his Lord and Savior.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “. . . look to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I know I speak for every person in this room when I say we are sad to lose Robert Wicker. We might shake our fists at the sky, asking God why he blesses us so richly, only to take away those blessings with which we have fallen most in love.
The preacher in Ecclesiastes chapter one, verse fourteen writes:
. . . And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and chasing after wind.
We are left with a grievous task, indeed. The work of living in a broken world is not and never will be easy. But we are loved and cherished by a God who sacrificed everything he had to save us from the un-wielding ugliness of death.
I think, if this situation were reversed, if my grandfather were standing up here, mourning one of us, he wouldn’t shake his fist, or even his head. He would rejoice. And so today, in the midst of deep sorrow and sadness, amidst the aching feeling of loss, amidst the crippling grief, I am choosing to rejoice. And I encourage you to rejoice too. I am rejoicing that someone I loved so much is finally getting the chance to meet someone he loved more than anything here on this earth. Our Lord and Savior has called one of his own home.