To Love Someone You’ve Never Met

My mom sent me a letter last week. A real letter. Stamp and all. But it wasn’t a letter she had written; it was a photocopied, hand-written letter from a woman I’ve never met. The letter was written to my dad and may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. So why do I care so much about a letter not orginally addressed to me? Because it talks about my Papa Jack.

I never got to meet Papa Jack. My dad’s dad died a couple of years before I was born. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease–an incurable and difficult illness. I’ve often hated that my grandfather had to suffer something like that. I hated that my dad had to see the suffering, as well as my grandmother and other relatives. It must have felt impossible at times, and I hate that I wasn’t there to help.

But I don’t hear much about those few years Papa Jack was sick. Instead, I hear lots and lots about the type of man he was. He was funny, they say. And a charmer and so, so kind. I know it’s true because my dad is like that, too. Papa Jack was an oil rig mechanic in West Texas and built the house my dad grew up in. He was handy, poked fun at my grandmother Thelma and encouraged my dad’s love for writing, though it was so opposite his own passions. I know I would have loved him very much. I do love him very much. Though I’m not sure how, having never met him. And the letter I received made me love him even more.

It was written by a woman named Ginger and tells my dad of how she knew my grandfather. Ginger was just a little girl when her Sunday school teacher assigned the class to write an encouraging letter to someone elderly at their church. She chose to write a letter to Jack Lucado, who was bed-ridden by then. Ginger and her mom delivered the letter and a pie to my grandparents’ house, where they found my grandfather lying in a bed in the living room. Somehow, Ginger got a moment alone with Papa Jack and asked a question a child would not be nervous to ask: “Are you going to die?” By then it was clear, it was inevitable, and my grandfather responded, “Yes, I am going to die. When? I don’t know. But I will eventually.” 

In her letter, Ginger explains that she remembers being afraid of dying at that point in her life. Her cat had just died and she was wrestling with the thought of death, so impossible to grasp for someone her age. But when she asked Papa Jack if he was afraid to die, he said, “I am joyful that I am going away, because away is to heaven. I will be with my father there, and I am ready to see him eye to eye.” Ginger continues her letter saying, “Then my mother and yours returned. My mother proceeded to console them with a fake smile on her face. But I smiled a big, real smile at Jack and he did the same and winked at me.”

Ginger and her family are moving to Kenya this year to bring the gospel to a tribe that lives on the coast. It’s a dangerous place to venture, but, she writes, “for me, I am not afraid. Because the worst that could happen is getting to see my father eye to eye.”

To know my Papa Jack instilled such courage into people, even from his death bed, makes me so proud to be his granddaughter. And makes me yearn to have known him in this lifetime.

To love someone you’ve never met–that someone would have to be really special.

How Do You Grieve the Non-Believer?

I had this whole post ready about the role of women in the workplace. That’s what I’m supposed to be writing about right now: women’s roles and questions I have about it. But I can’t stop thinking about this: Peter Hitchens’ In Memoriam article for his brother, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned writer, thinker and atheist who died on Friday. And now the real question I’m asking is not so much about my role as a woman in the workplace and much more about how Peter is grieving his brother right now. Tonight, even as I write this, I wonder what he is thinking, what he is wondering, what type of sadness he is feeling or confusion or, even, anger.

Peter (left) and Christopher (right) as children photo taken from this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2075133/Christopher-Hitchens-death-In-Memoriam-courageous-sibling-Peter-Hitchens.html

Peter is an evangelical Christian whose relationship with his brother has been, as he describes it, publicly complicated. He says in his In Memoriam that the correspondence between him and Christopher for the last several months was better than had been in the last 50 years. Amazing what one’s impending death can do to all parties involved: the big arguments and fights are not worth it until the end. We want to be remembered for good. We want to say goodbye on decent terms, loving terms, if possible. Once it is over, the real thoughts settle in. The real feelings you didn’t have to turn off so the one slipping away didn’t see them on your face.

I don’t want to have a discussion on the existence of hell right now. That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking how to let go of someone you loved who did not love the Jesus you love. In the little experience I’ve had with the deaths of loved ones who were Christians and deaths of those I knew who were not, my grieving was very different. For one, I find solace in their life outside of earth. For the other, I find solace in restraining my thoughts to memories of them on earth. The types of sadness are different too, as well as the conversations you have about him/her afterwards.

I think, perhaps, we grieve them before they’re gone. I wonder if Peter did this with Christopher. Did he feel he lost his brother years ago? Though I have never used this word for it, I think I have grieved friends and family who have denied a faith they once had. And I think that grief was extremely similar to what I feel when someone physically dies.

I don’t know the right answer to this one or if there is one but I know I certainly agree with this statement of Peter Hitchens’: “Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable loss, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us.”