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Eulogy for Grandpa Jack

Note: I had the deep honor of delivering the eulogy at Grandpa Jack’s funeral.

October 28, 2011
Allentown, PA

I’m glad you’re here today.

A few years ago, Jack gave me a clock. His father gave it to him. It was a desk clock and originally had little arms on which it rested. But the arms had fallen off, so I made it into a pocket watch. A picture of it is in your program.

On a recent visit, I showed it to Jack. He held it, swirling the circumference with his fingers. “I always loved the concentric circles,” he said. “They went on and on. I would stare at them for hours.”

And when I pulled out my clock, I would think of Jack. The passage of time. The passing down of family values, family stories. And now I think of the passing of Jack.

The book of Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:

A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say today. How do you best honor a life of 85 years? How do you honor a man as spectacular as Jack, someone who’s specjackular? So I went back to something he said to me: Tell my story to my family.

Something extraordinary happened to Jack in March. When it happened, he asked me to tell the story to the family, and to others. But we were spread throughout the country. So I suppose now’s a good time, you know, since we’re all here. It’s pretty personal, but he wanted you to know.

In March I heard a sermon about a grandfather. It made me think of Jack. Over the years, he and I had different conversations about God. Jack didn’t think God was interested in him. He didn’t think he was worth God’s time. God had a lot of other things to do than deal with Jack, Jack said.

This made me sad. If I was interested in Jack, wouldn’t God be?

So I pitched up a prayer that Jack would come into a closer relationship with God. I prayed that he would understand how crazy in love God was with him. But to be honest, I didn’t expect much. Jack resisted the idea of a personal God for so long time.

But two days after my prayer, I received an email from Jack. It’s from Jack—really? Where did this come from? I hadn’t emailed him. Jack thanked me for praying for him over the years. He said he admired my closeness with God. And he wondered if God found him annoying.

I wrote back and said no, I didn’t think so. Quite the contrary. Why would God send Jesus to the cross for Jack if God found Jack annoying? Of course not. And I explained the sermon and the prayer. Then I hit Send.

For weeks I heard nothing.

Then Grandma Pat emailed. There was a development. She wrote, “A Miracle. It is 7:30 am. Jack just woke up muttering God came and talked to him last night. It was beautiful. Jack says his legs no longer hurt. He is wiggling them and raising his arms above his shoulders. He says he is seeing a bright white light and feels peaceful.”

Jack wanted me to call him, so I did. When I heard his voice, he sounded so young.

“I had an experience with God,” he said. “God visited me.” I drew into the phone.

Jack explained an encounter with God that was in his words, “glorious and beautiful.” God came to him, full of light and air, like the sky comes to the earth, dry and dusty. That moment of horizon is where he and God met, their glorious meeting.

God spoke a special message to his heart, and he felt a change in his body. For the first time in months, Jack raised his arms above his head and kicked his legs back and forth. He called Pat into the room to witness this miracle. Then he wanted to talk with me.

On the phone Jack said, “I realize how wrong I’ve been.” He said he had been skeptical that God could deal with his earthly problems. He said he never felt worthy of God’s attention.

“But Grandpa,” I said, “God has demonstrated that He wants to come close.”

He said, “Yes, that’s how I see it, too.”

“But Grandpa, what if others say this is the rambling of an old man?”

“They can’t deny what happened to my body.”

Then he said the most amazing thing, “This healing might go away, but that’s okay. I’m so grateful to have had this experience.”

Then he said, “I realize that what you’ve said over the years is right. I believe.”

My eyes puddled at this glorious meeting when God met Jack, when Jack met Jesus. Then Jack said, “God bless you,” and hung up the phone.

Now when I pull out my clock, I see the circles. “I always loved the concentric circles,” Jack said. “They went on and on. I would stare at them for hours.” Grandma, the circles remind me of your wedding ring and the 63 years you were married to Jack. It’s rare to find a marriage that has lasted so long.

In Jack’s last days, you were at his side. You cradled his hands in yours and squeezed. You buried your head in his chest and wept. You kissed him. Thank you for showing us that love can last.

The circles also remind me of Jack’s last breath. As Jack lay dying just a few days ago, the family surrounded him. He drifted in and out of consciousness, waking, sleeping, saying simple words. We read to him, “The Jabberwocky” and he smiled. He told us he loved us and we cried. And Jack lasted another night.

Then his breathing slowed and shallowed, and it seemed like the end.

The family gathered in a circle, Jack encircled by those he loved. Then we prayed. He died a short time later. “I always loved the concentric circles. They went on and on,” he said. I’m sure Jack loved this circle, too.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend.”

Listen to me, we will mend. Yes, we’ll hurt for a while. We’ve lost someone great to us, a husband, father, brother, uncle, friend, grandpa, great grandpa. We’ve lost a true original. There was no one like Jack.

Yes, we’ve been torn. But we will mend.

We’ll miss his jokes and jabs. We’ll miss his love of words. Jack was a logophile and a verbivore, a lover of words. On a recent visit with Jack in the hospital, I said to Jack, “I came across a fun word. It’s woolgathering. Do you know what it means?” Without a blink, he said, “Why yes, it means to be excessively lazy. Are you trying to tell me something?”

We’ll miss his correcting of our grammar—“It’s not who, it’s whom. And you don’t end with a preposition.”

We’ll miss his handshakes and his hugs. We’ll miss his wisdom and his wit. We’ll miss his songs and his stories.

Yes, we’ve been torn, but we will mend.
Because time might stop, but it doesn’t end.

That’s the thing about time and passing. Time might stop, but it doesn’t end. Jack might stop, but he doesn’t end. Because there’s a bit of Jack in all of us.

The Children:

Peter went to law school. So did Jack. Don’t hold it against him.
Steve has Jack’s hair line. Sons, don’t tease your father about his.
Kristina has Jack’s verve for life, a spring in every zesty step.
Tony is a super athlete like his dad. Nice Speedo.

The Grandchildren:

I have Jack’s hairline. Yes, I teased my father, too.
Matthew is married to an animal fanatic, as was Jack. Have fun with that.
John and Jack have the same name. Jack also came to be called John.
Katie graduated from Penn, Jack’s alma mater. She uses big words.
Scott is compassionate and empathetic like Jack. Does anyone need a hug?
Lisa goes to law school like Jack did. Don’t hold it against her.
Alea, like Jack, is a verbivore. A voracious yet velveety verbivore.
Sylvie has Jack’s infectious wink and smile. It’s not as innocent as it looks.
Erica loves poetry and verse. Maybe a future A Towne?
Soren and Jack have the same birthday. Doesn’t Soren look great for his age?

The Great Grandchildren:

Asia loved scooter rides. So did Jack. No, Asia, you can’t have his.
Rex asked Jesus into his heart the day Jack died.
And Baby Pickle Heinz, who is yet unborne, he has Jack’s hairline, too. At least for now.

So you see, there’s a bit of Jack in all of us. He lives on even though he’s gone. It was always meant to be this way. Jack was never ours to begin with. He was on loan to us. The same way we are on loan to each other. Jack belonged to God. The point was always to return to Him.

When I pull out my clock, I don’t see just circles, I see hands, hands on the clock, the big hand and the little hand. Most of the time, the hands move apart. But there is one moment, one measurement in the entire cycle, in which the hands align. Big hand meets little hand. Finally, at last.

Could it be that life is like the clock? Like the cycles of the hands ticking around the face of the clock? Could it be that the point of life is for the hands to catch each other, to touch in a glorious meeting? I think so.

I think we’re one hand and God is the other, and God is chasing us, trying to meet us. We just have to slow down so we can stop.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:

A time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”

Jack said the most amazing thing, “This healing might go away, but that’s okay. I’m so grateful to have had this experience.”

What was his experience? It was alignment, the glorious meeting. When God comes near and we receive Him, it’s better than we can imagine. It’s the reunion of a lost child, the wedding of soul mates, the healing of cancer. It’s the victory of an underdog, the freedom of the captive. It’s the ecstasy that surpasses all physical pleasures, the best day ever.

God’s the dancing God who rejoices with singing, who whoops and hollers when we come together. He’s the God who pours out his love, high and wide and deep so the oceans can’t contain it. He’s the God who runs toward us when others run away. He’s the God who sent Jesus.

Hooray! Jack is with Him now. He already said hello to Troll. And maybe right now Jack is saying to God, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” and even though God already has, He says, “No, I haven’t, please go on.” And Jack does, and God laughs, heartily, without guile, because God enjoys Jack, heartily, without guile.

And Jack pulls out his book of poems, and says, “Did you ever hear my poem about the weather?” And even though God already has (He made the weather), He says, “No, I haven’t, please go on.” And Jack does, and God laughs, because God loves Jack from the bottom of His heart.

And Jack begins to hum, and says, “Have you heard Five Loaves, Two Fishes?” And even though God already has (He multiplied the loaves and fishes himself, Hallelujah!), He says, “No, I haven’t, please go on.” And Jack does, and God laughs, because God’s glad Jack has returned to Him.

And Jack’s glad, too. And so are we, a glorious meeting.

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