One day my Grandmere (my mom’s mom…she’s French) called me around ten at night. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be alarmed to see their grandparents’ phone number show up on their screen at that hour, but I don’t think twice about it. She and I talk a lot in the late evenings, sometimes for long stretches of time and sometimes just for a few minutes. That night it was only for a few minutes as there was just one thing she wanted to tell me. There’s a note in my phone dated February 12 with what we talked about because I promised my Grandmere I would write it down.
Ready for it? She told me that in case she died first, she knew what she wanted my Grandpa’s (Irish, not French) gravestone to say: The kindest man.
That’s it. The kindest man. I told her it was perfect, because it was. It is. And then that was that. We hung up and went back to whatever we’d been doing.
Just as a late night phone call from grandparents might alarm someone, so might having a conversation like this, randomly discussing matters of death on a casual Sunday night. But again, this didn’t throw me. As a family, there aren’t a lot of things we shy away from and won’t talk about.
Just last summer we were passing around my grandparents’ future urns at a family dinner. It’s not as weird as it sounds – my great uncle in Calgary is a talented wood worker and makes many beautiful things, including urns, and my grandparents wanted a set, so he delivered them when he was in town last summer. A bunch of us gathered around admiring these urns, and when my Grandpa went back out onto the deck he chuckled and lightheartedly said he’d just been checking out “his next home.” We laughed because it all seemed so impossibly far away.
Even on February 12 when my Grandmere called me, the idea of my Grandpa’s gravestone was still all theoretical. By that day, cancer was already spreading throughout his body, we just didn’t know it yet. But even though we didn’t know it, and even though it all still seemed so far away, there was no doubt that, “the kindest man” were the perfect words by which to remember my Grandpa. One day.
That one day came a lot quicker than anyone expected. He died last Wednesday, April 12, 2017 and yesterday we said goodbye to the 87 years young man with a heart of gold.
My grandpa really was the kindest man.
He was so many other things, too. Patient, hard-working, humble, accepting, generous and loyal. But his kindness is what set him apart.
Growing up it seemed like Grandpa was always off helping someone in the community. My mom would call their house on a Saturday or Sunday and he wouldn’t be home because he was volunteering at the food bank, serving hot meals on the downtown eastside, or helping refugee families adjust and get settled. I remember in grade two or three talking about him in class when we had to give examples of being a Christian witness. Even then, even without knowing the half of everything that he did for other people, I knew that I was proud to be related to such a kind person.
I don’t think any of us know just how much he did for other people, because my Grandpa was incredibly humble. He never made a fuss over anything he did. He helped without expecting anything in return. He didn’t want any recognition and he never made anyone feel like a burden, rather he made it seem as if we were doing him the favour by asking for his help in the first place.
There was no question that we could count on Grandpa when we were in a bind. When I was twelve I had a dance competition out in Abbotsford in the middle of a school day. After having no luck finding me a ride, my mom called her dad and asked if he could help. He didn’t say yes or no. Instead he answered with, “I love Abbotsford.” Even though it meant over four hours of driving for him, he didn’t hesitate to help out. He made it sound like he’d been planning on going to Abbotsford all along.
My Grandpa had a song for everything. He was always singing songs from before my time, especially mid conversation. One of his favourite songs to sing to us grandkids when we were in the hot tub was “Tiny Bubbles” and I think I was 18 before I realized that it wasn’t actually a sweet love song but rather an ode to wine. Still, I think it will always be a love song to us.
I could go on forever with stories of my Grandpa. And I’ve only been around for the last 25 years of his 87 years of life. I can’t even scratch the surface of the depth and meaning of the life he lived, and more importantly, of the lives he touched.
But I think the best testament to the wonderful person that he was goes back to my conversation with my Grandmere on February 12. When she told me that she wanted him to be remembered as the kindest man, we didn’t even know he was sick. This isn’t just how he will be remembered, but this is how my Grandpa was talked about his entire life. This is exactly how he lived his life and how he made his mark on this world. With kindness.
Recently my mom was on my Grandpa’s computer resetting a password for an online account, and when the email came through with the link to reset it, it also contained a secure phrase, a phrase my Grandpa had come up with himself as a second safety measure for this account.
The phrase he wrote was: I love all my family.
We know, Grandpa. We never doubted it for a second. And we all love you, too.
20 thoughts on “In memory of the kindest man”
I’m coming to this uuuuuber late (and that’s cos I’ve been busy with a lot of random randomies this couple of months), but ohhh I completely geddit.
My gramps passed in October, he was 83. Or 84 by Chinese Lunar calendar. Just half a year before, last April, I attended a wake of a small young friend (! long & abrupt story short, it was really unforeseen and sad) – & because my little friend was so close to everyone”s hearts, being forced to confront the fragility/unpredictability of life/death was so sobering. I remember thinking, “damn, I don’t know how I’ll be ready if my grandparents pass – please live till 100, thank you very very much” (100 is still finite, but still more time than most. Hahaha yes the finiteness of my grandparents is something I’m quite in denial of most times oops)
So end of August, he fell in the bathroom, couldn’t get up, we sent him to hospital to check (because he’s 83! Could be nothing or everything) – next day, we were told he had a major heart attack (!?) – other long story short, we expected him to be home from hospital in a week or two – he never got out alive (though how he got into, then out of, the ICU, will always baffle me. I honestly was prepared in that time to get a call anytime informing that he passed, but thankfully by God’s grace he had a few weeks more)
I miss him soooo much but it’s so weird because after 25 years, it’s like while it’ll hurt cos I spent so long knowing him, it’s also for that same reason his personality is still so big & fresh in mind, that he never really feels *gone* I look at his portrait from his 8th birthday, and remember that day with such glee 😀
(That, and the dude left posthumous red packets for Lunar New Year. That I do not understand, how do people prep things a year in advance !?! Red packets are an Asian Lunar New Year thing, it’s packets with money from elder generation to unmarried younger generation) – so ya my grandma pressed two packets in my hands and said, “one from me and another from grandpa” and I rolled my eyes thinking that she was tryna keep to norms and possibly refusing to acknowledge what’s changed, … until my aunt reaffirmed that yes, that is a posthumous red packet.
SILLY GRANDPA BUT I HEART YOU HAHAHA – simultaneously my best and worst moment of Lunar New Year.
Also, today on the bus to work, I saw a crinkly old couple with slightly emotionless faces & yet despite the slight “naggy” tone they used on each other, you could tell they were tough on their words but softies at heart – and it completely reminded me of my grandparents aaaahhh. I texted my mom to tell her (this is my mom’s dad), & when my mom replied (even though it was just one emoji), I realised I missed him enough to tear a little (thankfully I was reaching my stop, was okay once I started work :D)
I MISS THE DUDE but yeah, funny how it works – for the same reasons I miss him so much, I’m thankful to be old enough to have made many precious memories that I can hold close to my heart 🙂 Just 10 days ago, stumbled upon an old family photo from a few years back – grandparents were seated alone, and it was a couple shot (aw heehee), usual style with them pleased to have a moment together but not wanting to let that show on their facial expressions too much. Haha it was so cute (ok I’m not sure if all this sounds too weird, but it’s just definitely an Asian thing to hold back on expressing emotions, be it love/happiness/sadness etc. #ASIAN)
WE ALWAYS TRIED TO MAKE THEM KISS HAHAHAHA. Grandma was so shy but .. grandpa would have been game ok, I’m saying. But he never wanted to make Grandma feel uneasy, so he gave in anyway. Such a gentleman 😀 :’)
It’ll get better – it did for me, and I hope for you too. But like today, it’ll never completely go away .. and I’m slowly learning how to cope and be okay with that ❤ x
I meant 80th birthday NOT 8th! #duh. And the comment ended up longer than I intended (!), but that’s cos .. well, I’m talking about my (maternal) grandpa and I never really knew my paternal one (he lived in a different country and was already very sick since I was very little, I never interacted with him or knew him in a personal way) so with that in mind and also because he passed recently too, I still love talking about him whenever I get to. Haha. I think I’m also partly afraid that I might lose the memories?! Idk.
Keep them memories close!
I’m sorry for your recent loss as well. At a funeral a few years ago the priest said when you think you see your loved one but it’s just some unknown person, or when you swear you heard their voice but it was someone else, or when something reminds you of them so clearly, he said this is that person letting you know they are still with you. So that couple on the bus I believe was your grandpa letting you know he’s still with you and looking out for you.
Such a loving tribute to a beautiful man. I’m so very sorry for your loss, Catherine. You are proof that his kindness and compassion lives on in the hearts of those he touched. ❤
Thank you 💜
He was such a sweet man. I am so sorry for your loss.
My deepest condolences on the loss of your beloved grandfather. Your writing this is one of the sweetest ways to honor him. Clearly there’s a lot of love in your family. Cherish all the memories and you’ll honor him forever!
A lot of love for sure, thanks Heidi 💜
I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss. ❤
Catherine, you have my condolences. It is easy to see where you get your kind heart from.
You have all my empathy, Catherine. My grandfather died 8 years ago, and I still miss him like crazy.
Your memories of him are beautiful, and I’m glad you’re able to share them with us.
In the Jewish tradition there is a blessing said after the Mourner’s Kaddish: Zichronam liv’rachah. Roughly translated, it means: May their memories be for blessing.
May their memories be for blessing. I like that 🙂 thanks for sharing!
My sincere condolences, Catherine. I am amazed that you are still finding time to blog in the midst of your grief and sorry that you have lost your beloved Grandpa. xx
My condolences about your Grandpa. What a wonderful man and an amazing legacy. Reminds me a lot of my Dad who died of a sudden heart attack. He lived his life always doing for other people, just as your Grandpa did for others.
I wanted to ask you when you wrote your post about having an invisible illness. I’ve actually shared this with some people as I thought it was so good. I help people find a living kidney donor, and having kidney disease is a “silent killer,” as there are few symptoms. I haven’t been too active as I just lost my husband after a 2 yr battle with cancer, but I’m helping someone now and I gave her the last copy of your post and I wanted to print it again. (I hope that is ok with you). I really admire you and your unbelievable courage.
Hey Robin – could you give me a few more details about this post? It’s just that I’ve written about invisible illness a few times so I’m not 100% sure which one you’re talking about. Overall theme?
Thanks for your email. I have a poem I’d like to send to you called The Next Room+. Someone gave it to me when my father died and it is very comforting. Where could I send it? I think I found a copy of the Invisible Illness piece I was looking for. I’m holding a memorial service for my husband on Sunday, so I will send you the poem soon. Again, my condolences to you for your beloved Grandpa.
Robin I’m so sorry about your husband! My apologies I missed that part of your comment in my first reply. My heart is breaking for you and I will be sending a ton of love and prayers your way, especially on Sunday 💜💜 I would love to read that poem when you are able to send it. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org so go ahead and send it there!
Beautiful! Losing my grandpa was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. That was 21 years ago and I still miss him. There is a special bond between grandfather and grand-daughter’s! Prayers and hugs to you!
Thank you Lynnea. I’m sorry for your loss as well. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was 🙂