Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that the loss of a loved one is keenly felt. My Poppop was a person that you immediately felt at home with and he never met a stranger--just a friend he hadn't been introduced to yet! Poppop went to be with his Lord seven years ago and while I have the promise and assurance that there will come a day when I will feel his arms around me in a great big bear hug again, it's not always easy to be patient for that day.
The following is my eulogy from his funeral . I hope it encourages you to live each day to the fullest and to love without regret.
Poppop and Rachel building a snowman
Once upon a time there was a wise man that used to have a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work for the day. One morning, he was walking along the shore, and looking out across the sand, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"
The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."
"I guessed that, but why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"
"The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."
"But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"
The young man listened politely, then bent down and picked up another starfish. He threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said--"It made a difference for that one."
Poppop lived what he believed. It was evidenced in the care he took in preparing his Sunday School lessons. It was shown in the time he spent with his family. People who had the opportunity to sit next to him in the doctor’s office or stand in line with him at the store couldn’t help but discover the kind of man he was.
As the world counts importance and noteworthiness, Poppop wasn’t even in the ballpark. He lived in a modest home on a dead-end road in a little town that defines one of its borders by a back bay. He worked hard—not to accumulate wealth or fame, but because there was a job to do and he did it.
Last week, people around this country celebrated Independence Day. Symbols of our country and its freedom were everywhere. But on that day, God began to prepare us for Poppop’s Independence Day. And the symbolism of his final hours is nothing short of remarkable. On the first day of the week, as the people here at Heislerville Church gathered to take communion to remember the death of Christ and the finished work of the cross, we as a family gathered to say good-bye. And I believe that as the family he loved so much was gathered around him, physically and in spirit, and the church family he loved as dearly gathered around the communion table, God’s timetable was complete and Poppop was called home to be with his Lord.
Poppop’s life followed the road of the cross. It involved giving up his will for his life so that God could work through him and touch others. He talked about it whenever anyone was willing to listen and lived it for everyone else to see. His entire focus was on pleasing God and everything he did was with this in mind. If you ever had a meal at Granny and Poppop’s house, you heard him say grace before you ate. The final sentence of his prayer was always, “Help us to please You in everything we say and do.”
Many times he made decisions that from the world’s standards made no sense. Poppop looked to God through prayer and reading the Bible to help him choose what he should do. And once he made up his mind, there was no turning him from that path.
He and Granny prayed for each of us every single day. While there were many prayers for each one of us through the years, the prayer I remember hearing over and over again was that we would each understand our need for salvation and that we would be willing to walk in the path God had set before us. Poppop’s life touched many others, but his first concern was always for his family’s spiritual well-being.
Poppop’s last days weren’t spent in his bean field. They weren’t spent in the home he had built. But they were spent with his family surrounding him. I know his most fervent prayer and wish was that he would be surrounded in Heaven by all of us again one day.