Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Changing Of The Guard

Take a moment to think about all the people who've impacted your life in a positive direction. I don't mean the people that just kind of nudge you in a good direction, I'm talking about the people that have basically shot you in the best direction possible, expecting nothing in return, and having you end up someplace where you never could have gotten to on your own.

To me, one such person is my grandfather, Willis Gerald Lewis.

As far back as I could remember, Grandpa was the strong silent type. He never complained about anything, just did what needed to be done.

He was in the Marines during the Korean War. I've seen pictures of him in black and white and in uniform. Surprisingly enough, he still looks a lot like his picture even after all this time.

He served the Post Office for who knows how long. Before that he used to fix old cars with the mechanic my family still trusts to serve vehicles.

Fairly recently, after years of not really being involved in a church setting, he began coming. Soon after that, he got in with serving food at a local shelter downtown, and was well-known at church as a guy who just "got the job done". He also cut the church lawn on a regular basis, stocked the soda machines, and helped with maintenance. The little things that not many people would think of, just got done.

He came to the forefront when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer about eight years ago.

We all thought he'd probably want to slow down and eventually the disease would run its course. Surprisingly though, he didn't. He was still cutting his own lawn until about three years ago, when I took over.

Grandpa was also the only reason I made it through school financially. For whatever reason, he felt he should give me enough money for tuition per semester just to see me succeed. He turned down the offer of getting paid back once I got a good job, simply because he didn't give me the money to expect to break even or to make a profit. So I made sure to tell him all about what neat things are going on in my job now, and some of the last non-sad conversation we had was about the projects going on there. He was pretty proud.

Things took a turn for the worse about 3 weeks ago. He had to be rushed to the hospital for reasons that are fuzzy now, even that short a time ago. It wasn't long before it was decided he'd be better off in a hospice near the hospital where the staff could take better care of him.

I went to see him a couple weeks ago, while he was at the hospice, and it was a far sight better than he was at the hospital. Instead of being doped up on pain meds, he was sitting up, feeding himself and talking to me. I stayed for about an hour I think, the both of us basically dancing around the fact that he would probably never leave that room physically, and talking about whatever random stuff would come up. He was glad for the company and I was glad for the strength to not break down a number of times while I was there.

The second to last time I saw him, was when we all showed up after hearing he wasn't doing too well. My father and I were in the room together and after dad sitting there for awhile holding Grandpa's hand, we switched. Grandpa was asleep at the time so I took his hand and held it for awhile.

I sat there for awhile, wondering what it's like to be basically riddled with cancer. Thinking back, I remembered all the bad reports the family had gotten when we'd heard that cancer was found somewhere else. It was kind of odd at the time, but none of that seemed to faze him... he just kept on going. In fact, the sudden turn for the worse happened at such an unexpected time that some of thought he might pull through this, like it was a temporary relapse. Statistically, I'm probably going to die of some kind of cancer--just look at all the flavors available. And looking back now, Grandpa never really complained about the pain; once in awhile he'd wake up for a little while and you could tell because he'd be grunting a little and squeezing my hand a little harder.

I sit and think, how can I possibly measure up to that kind of dignity, that kind of resolve?

Grandpa's eyes peeked open a little and shot open when he realized I wasn't dad. It was probably a surprise for him.

"Hi, Son!" he croaked out.

"Hi Grandpa," I replied. After a pause I said "How's it going?"

"I'm dying," he returned. Shortly after that I completely lost it and started sobbing.

This man was always the soft-hearted type and would cry a little over things you and I wouldn't be bothered by. He cried at my graduation, both from high school and college. He cried a little when he heard about my first girlfriend, both when we got together and when we broke up. Little things that showed he was more sensitive than most people.

And this man, when I put my head down next to him on his death bed, stroked my hair to comfort me because I was sad. It was about that time I asked dad to leave for a few minutes.

I tried to compose myself enough to get out what I felt I needed to say.

"Grandpa, I just wanted to tell you I really love you."

"I love you too, son"

"I also wanted to say that I wouldn't have gotten where I am today if it weren't for you."

"No, you would have made it,"

and I said "No, I wouldn't. I mean if it weren't for all the money and support I wouldn't have even gone to school. I don't know what I'd be doing now if it weren't for you." Now it was his turn to pause.

"Well just make sure to give credit where credit is due," and I knew he was talking about God.

I don't think I ever saw him cry the whole time I was there.

Willis Gerald Lewis died at 9:10 am on Friday, February 23, 2007. He's the first man and first family member I've ever felt comfortable giving a eulogy for--even though I wouldn't know what to say. He's the first man I would drink to with a bunch of his buddies. He's the second man I'd feel honored to be a pall bearer for and he's the only family member I wish I'd been with right when he died.


Right now the family is still pretty tender. I cried while writing just now and I'm sure that the funeral Monday won't be fun. But I can take solace in the fact that, although technically we can't be sure of anybody's salvation, I'm fairly certain that where he's at now, he's not in pain from cancer anymore.

So yeah Grandpa, I'll hold the fort here for awhile, and tie up some loose ends. It might take fifty or sixty years, but keep a light on for me, I'll see you in awhile.

1 comment:

Rebekkah Lockert (Bekky) said...


Your faith is amazing and your writing is powerful. Thank you for sharing this.

May God bless you.