This evening, I walked into the dining room to serve myself some pasta salad. The rest of the family was sitting in the living room, exchanging stories, laughing. As I filled my plate, I looked up and saw my grandma, sitting by herself at the table. I walked over and hugged her. She held my arm and whispered, “I’m okay.” She paused, then said, “one month from today would have been our 60th wedding anniversary. We started dating when I was 16.”
Papa’s health had been deteriorating, especially in the last few months, so this was not entirely unexpected. In fact, I have found myself more stoic than expected in this situation. I have attributed this to “pre-mourning,” though, the tears I have shed as I saw first his memory, and then his physical health robbed from him slowly but steadily as the last few years passed.
I feel a little silly, trying to sit down and eulogize the patriarch of my family, fearful that doing so too soon will result in something sloppy and superficial, not appropriately honoring his memory, but worrying that if I wait, I will never take the time to write it down.
There are so many stories, so many lessons I could write about that I learned from this great man. But I will share just a few that mean most.
Papa was such a hard worker. He worked to put 5 kids through Seventh-day Adventist schools, even before he was a Seventh-day Adventist himself. He had a bright mind, and could have pursued a profession had the circumstances of his life allowed him. I remember him saying that maybe he would have liked to be a teacher or a lawyer if he would have been able to continue his education (interesting that he had a son and a daughter became the former and a granddaughter the latter). But he still put everything into what he did. Because of his years of service for the company, I still feel a little guilty when I buy cereal of a brand other than Kellogg’s. But his hard work was not just at work. He took pride in his home. He was always working on it, repairing it, improving it. I hope to do the Sheppard name proud by working hard at all my hands find to do, just like my Papa’s life taught me to.
My grandfather was not just a hard worker, he also sought creative outlets. He painted and was a photographer. I loved when he would draw pictures in my notebooks, and for some reason I have a distinct memory of a clown he once drew me. As a result of his artistic skills, many of my cousins are also artistically inclined, some with the same skills, others (like me), with a desire to express their creativity in other ways. I hope to honor his memory by remembering to take time to express myself creatively.
There are so many examples of the strong, yet kind man, my Papa was, but I will be selfish in sharing my reflections this aspect of his character. I was born several weeks premature to young parents, and I was kept in the hospital for an extended stay following my birth. My parents lived in Illinois at the time, but my grandfather drove all the way from Battle Creek for a day trip to see them, meet me, even though I wouldn’t remember it, and take the first few pictures of me ever taken. A few years later, I remember him visiting me in the hospital again when I was confined for treatment for pneumonia. All for a little girl who was too young to appreciate the gesture at the time. But as this past Father’s Day rolled around, and then he himself contracted pneumonia a couple of weeks later, his lesson to me on kindness was not lost. I visited him on both occasions, and I am so glad that I did. Those are my last memories of my grandfather. I’m thankful he taught me a lesson that helped preserve those memories.
By far, my favorite memory of my Papa was his love for sharing stories, especially those involving our family history. I remember one time, when some out of town guests were visiting Battle Creek and doing the usual Adventist Village tour with them, sitting next to him on the shuttle. He pointed out where a relative used to have a taco stand, where he used to live, where he and my grandma shared their first kiss. He shared so much of this history that I even asked my parents for a voice recorder to preserve the legacy, but always seemed to forget it or fail to press record when he would share these stories. My memory fails me on all of the names, places, and events, and I am sad that with him, some of these facts have passed out of our family as well. But I am determined to do my best to preserve what heritage remains.
I consider it an extreme privilege to have known all four of my grandparents into my adult life. But the death of my first grandparent, my beloved Papa reminds me that as long as we live in this world, none of us are immune from the results of sin. Even as his health diminished, I found myself torn with the longings for eternity in my heart clashing with the desire for Papa to find peace in rest. It makes me ache more for heaven, and for that day when the dead will rise and those of us who remain shall be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, and we shall all be together with the Lord.
October 22, 1932 – September 10, 2013