17 Apr
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Read Between the Lines

I sat at my aunt’s kitchen table surrounded by various members of my extended family attempting to write my grandpa’s obituary. I started with the bookend dates of his 88 years of life and filled in the years he served in the U.S. Navy and the decades he worked. There’s his wedding and number of children. There are the countless organizations he belonged to giving a glimpse at what he believed was important.

I’m rarely at a loss for words but struggled to write what needed to be shared. I listened to short video clips of my grandpa from the last year while attempting to do justice to a wonderful character of a man as concisely as possible. There were tears and laughter as  I enlisted family members to assist in the task.

An obituary is a straight forward document. I understand the purpose. It’s useful for the funeral home, the pastor and the newspaper. It’s meant to be the highlights of a life well-lived. The finished product is fine. All the parts, pieces and people that need to be mentioned are, but it’s missing so much in between the lines.

I want people to know the quirky bits of my grandpa that lie in between when he was born and when he left us. There are hundreds of unwritten words in those few lines of his obituary.

man standing on a U.S. Naval ship in the 1950s

His service in the Navy on the USS Hector was more than a source of pride for him. His time in the military was a crucial piece of the man I knew. There were always photos lining the walls of his house from the Korean War. The History Channel was forever in the background during a visit.

great grandpa meeting great grandson for the first time

We have countless photos of Grandpa with his numerous great grandchildren, and if there’s a baby in that photo, that man is not looking at the camera. His eyes are glued on the baby. He loved the littlest of us. He loved their toes and the way they smelled. If you wanted to see him smile, bring him a baby.

We’d come to visit with orange slice jellied candies for him to snack on. Budweiser and milkshakes were his drinks of choice. I remember him asking us to toss him dinner rolls or black olives at family gatherings and can still hear my grandma chastise him for egging on the children. Throwing food was not to be encouraged.

grandpa and grand daughter posing

You could find him sitting outside his open garage door watching cars drive by his house. It was his thing and a favorite past time. He helped me numerous times in high school when car keys were helplessly locked in my car. He was a car guy who worked for a Ford dealership in the service department for almost 50 years. I’ll always remember the day my husband and I showed up in our brand new Toyota. That’s possibly the longest conversation my grandpa had with Craig. Grandpa wanted to hear the reasoning behind our vehicle of choice.

He drove a wrecker for a long time when my mom and her siblings were growing up. He helped law enforcement with some awful accidents and helped more people than I’ll ever know. The squawking from a scanner radio alerting the household to what was happening in the county was ever-present in the living room when I was a child, much to my grandma’s chagrin.  He was a helper, truly one of the good guys.

I’ll read obituaries differently now that I’ve written one for someone I love. I know the list of siblings has stories of mischief hidden in the spaces between words. The parent has so much life that could never be crammed into an obituary. There’s the late night talks, the vacations, the parties,the heartbreak and the welcoming of new life. For every person who loved the outdoors there are mornings watching wildlife from a favorite spot outside a cabin. There are the lessons passed on and the sayings that were only uttered by that person. I’ll have a better appreciation for the person being memorialized when I read those words knowing that somewhere, someone placed unwritten love and memories of a life between those lines.

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1 Comment

  • As always, your words capture a more eloquent expression of a shared experience. I learned much from writing a eulogy for my grandpa. His memorial revealed and reminded me of some of my favorite stories about his life.