Memorial for my friend, my grandfather, my Pappy

Posted: March 21, 2009 in Life
Tags: , ,
I didn’t want to give a talk at his memorial. It was my mother’s idea. Anyone who saw me try this with my wedding vows knows what we’re up against – but tomorrow I’ll have a hankie ready.There isn’t anything I had left unsaid to Pappy (the original “Red” in my life), so this isn’t for him. And he had often told me what I meant to him, so this isn’t for me. Our friendship and our love for each other were so obvious and so often said out loud, it has never been in doubt. I don’t think that happens between people very often in life, and I thank God for it.

John "Red" Hannon, my Pappy

John "Red" Hannon, my Pappy

So who’s this for? As I wrote this, it was extraordinarily easy to find nice things to say about the man. So I guess this is for anyone who doubts that such a person can exist.

There’s a popular Irish blessing that goes:

“May those who love us, love us. And those that don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. And if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles – So we’ll know them by their limping.”

I don’t know anyone else in my whole life that was so well loved by everyone he met as Pappy was, so I don’t guess he saw many people limping. His Irish charm, outrageous generosity and simple friendliness were the broad brushes with which he painted his world. His humor, his storytelling, his love of life, his joy and his laugh endeared him to everyone. His love for his family was matchless; it was especially evident in the way he adored his bride of 64 years.

When I was a child, Pappy represented everything to me that was fun and happy in the world. My fondest memories of childhood were of time spent at Grandma and Pappy’s house. Pappy was my favorite guy, my favorite place and my favorite time. He was more fun than anyone! With Pappy around at Christmastime, Santa Claus never had a chance.

There’s another Irish saying that goes, “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.” Grandma and Pappy moved away when I was still a little kid, and I was an adult by the time we lived near each other again. Our new relationship, though different, got deeper. I was able to look at them through the eyes of an adult; where I once had childishly unrealistic images and expectations, now they were real people. Grandma was surprised and delighted to have a grown-up version of me around for long, adult conversations; and Pappy enjoyed being able to share a pitcher of beer and a pack of smokes over a game of pool. Grandma didn’t always like that part so much. When Grandma died six years ago, I was the man Pappy leaned on for support, and we shared our grief together.

That week, Pappy gave me a newspaper clipping Grandma kept in her things, a poem by Robert Test called, “To Remember Me…” which she left as sort of a living will. The poem ends:

“…Scatter [my] ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow. If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses and all my prejudice against my fellow man. Give my sins to the devil; give my soul to God. If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.”

She wrote in the margin, “This is our wish – Mom & Pap”. They weren’t shy about their mortality. They discussed it openly and without fear. They were absolutely certain what was going to happen, because their faith was solid – God sent his Son who paid their ticket into the afterlife. No question. “Besides,” Pappy once told me, “if we’re wrong, what’s the worse that can happen?”

Pappy moved into my home a year ago so we could help him with his day-to-day. For a year he’s been there for us to talk to, to share meals with, to swap books with. Sure, he’s my grandfather, but he’s been my very close buddy for 20 years, as well. When he thought about being 93 years old (which was all the time), he often expressed astonishment – and impatience, disgust and annoyance. “It’s no fun, Mike,” he’d say. He was fond of chapter 14 in the gospel of John, the part about “my Father’s many rooms” being prepared. He’d shake his head and say, “you’d think the place would be ready by now. What’s He waiting for?”

What possible reason could God have had for dragging this out? We were openly grateful to have all this “extra” time together, but what’s God up to here? Together we looked for an answer for that, but it eluded us. I might be wrong, but I think I finally figured it out. You see, I think if God had actually asked Pappy, “Red, here’s the deal. Your rooms here are ready, so we can move you in right away – or, we can hold off for just a little while and make these last few years a gift from us to your family. Whaddaya think?” Pappy was such a generous man, especially in regard to his family, I think it’s a deal he would have done.

So I’ll say it to anyone who doesn’t already know it – there actually are people like that in this world.

Pappy and I both knew that God would eventually give him that happy welcome home. So now, he’s finally feeling good again, healthy, happy and strong. He even got there in time for a Sunday round of golf, a happy hour drink and Grandma’s birthday party.

When we were little and they came over for a visit, I remember how unhappy my sister Laura and I were when it was time for them to leave for home. His departure from us now has left a large, painful hole in our home here, but we joyfully praise God because of Pappy’s faith, and because we share that faith, and because of God’s promise on which our faith hangs.

No question.

Friday March 6, 2009 – 11:46pm (EST)


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