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.