Richard Miller, commonly known as Dick, and to his grandchildren, pappy, was my great-grandfather.
He was a feisty one, that guy. Every time you thought it was really over for him, he’d come back a day later with a spring in his step. I like to think that my pap never truly died. He just took a break from fighting for a little while.
My pap died this morning.
My pap was once married to one of the most amazing women of all time, Hilda. Gram would always give us cheese in those little plastic wrappers. Unhealthy, absolutely. Did she win over our hearts? Yup, every day. Gram died in 1997. I was only 3 when she passed away, so the only memories I really have of her are of cheese. But I do know I loved that woman as much as a 3 year old could. (Which is a lot.) I also remember giving her a kiss on the glass top of her casket. Pap was married to her for 55 years before she passed away of meningitis. With a love like that, I have no idea how you continue on without your best friend. But pap never lost his spirit and determination for life.
My pap served in WWII in the Army Air Force (1943-1945) attached to the 369 Bomb Squadron as a ball turret gunner on a B17 named “How Soon.” Pap completed 35 missions from his base in England, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, along with other military medals.
Pap never talked about serving in the military. Ever. But a few years ago, he started talking some. He pulled out some of his old journals from his time in the service, and I read about a couple close calls he almost had. The detail was so vivid in those journals. When I close my eyes, it’s like I can still see his handwriting.
It’s sad to say for me, but pap and I didn’t become close until he moved up to Laurel View Village about 2 years ago. When I would go cash a check at the bank there, I would make a left and then a right straight back to his room. We’d sit and talk for a little bit, and sometimes, he would cry. I went to visit him a few months ago, and one thing he said to me is something that is still engrained in my mind today: “Abby, I just feel like I’m wasting space here. I can’t do anything, I can’t go where I want to go, I’m just here.” He cried. And so did I.
As the months went on, Pap started to forget things more and more, but his humor was still there. I went to visit him one time, and I guess the nurses weren’t letting him go outside that day. His first response upon seeing me was, “Thank God you’re here. Get me out of this damn place!” So, as he requested, I took him for a stroll in his wheelchair outside. I think I gained more from that wheelchair stroll than he did.
One time, I went Christmas caroling and made a special detour to pap’s room. I brought along a teddy bear for him. He cried when I gave it to him, and I cried too. As far as I know, he still has that teddy bear.
Over the past year, Pap and I cried a lot together. He probably wouldn’t remember if you asked him, and that’s okay. But I’ll always remember the sweet moments when I wiped tears from his soft face.
I never really specifically remember pap telling me he loved me as a kid, and even at his old age when he was fully coherent, he never said it much either. But about 3 months ago, I was getting ready to leave my usual bank visit with him, and this was the day he told me he felt really worthless, like he was just taking up space. We talked for a bit longer, and as I was getting ready to leave, I told him I loved him. And for the first time I can ever remember in my 20 years of being around my great pap, he told me through choked up tears that he loved me too.
About 2 months ago, I was working my job at Auntie Anne’s in the mall. I was taking the bag up to our cart by the food court, and all of a sudden pap comes out of the elevator. I remember literally just staring at him thinking, “….how did he get here?” I knew he didn’t recognize me in my work uniform, so after I delivered the bag to the cart upstairs, I found him sitting beside the bench right outside Auntie Anne’s. I went over to talk to him, and after a few seconds, he remembered that I was Mark’s daughter (he really favored my dad) and then said “this is the biggest store I’ve ever been in!” He never failed to make me laugh. Turns out the residents at Laurel View were having a mall outing, and pap was “tired of being cooped up” so he decided to sign up and go.
As time went on, pap started to forget more and more. Some days, he would say “Abby, I know I was married one time, but I just don’t remember to who…” and the next day it would turn into “I never liked Hilda.”…and then the next day he would say “I miss Hilda.” He was a rollercoaster of hilarious sayings and emotional moments, and I don’t take any of the time I spent with him for granted.
But I do regret one thing.
I regret not spending enough time with him.
I learned a lot from my pap. I learned that strength is a part of who we are, even when we’re dying. I learned that part as I watched my pap dying in his hospital bed.
I learned that it’s okay to cry.
I learned that we may feel like we’re wasting space in this world, but there will be a million people you impacted throughout your life that will tell you differently. Don’t give up.
I learned that you’ve gotta be okay with laughing at yourself.
But the most important thing I think my pap could’ve ever taught me is that death isn’t the end. In fact, it’s truly just the beginning.
A lot of you who are reading this don’t know God or don’t care to know God or hate God because He took someone you love away from you.
I get it.
My sole purpose of following Jesus isn’t so I can get to heaven one day. That’s not why I chose to follow Him. Heaven is just a massive added bonus. If we live our lives only with the intent of getting to heaven, we have wasted it all.
But BECAUSE of Jesus, I have hope. Guys, this isn’t the end. We don’t just die and become nothing. Our existence does not cease. I know what it’s like to question Jesus and this whole eternity thing, and I remember during that period of my life, it was one of the darkest I have ever known. I felt hopeless. I felt like if this was it, if I was just going to become nothing after I died, then what’s the point? Why am I here?
You have a purpose here. Don’t waste this life.
This life God has given us is so tiny in comparison to the eternity He has planned for us. This is literally .0000000001% of our lives. This life right here, right now.
Am I sad that my pap is gone? Yes. But words cannot even begin to describe the amount of joy (and jealously) I feel, because I know where he is right now, and the Man who is physically embracing Him is the one I worship.
So don’t apologize that he’s gone, because this isn’t sad. He’s with Jesus. And that’s the biggest cause for celebration if I’ve ever known one.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
And we will be with the Lord forever.