Cancer is a pirate. In the waining days of my Grandpa’s life, bone cancer ravaged his body and turned him into the shell of a man he once was. A body that carried an extra 20 pounds was now depleted to mere skin and bones. A black tongue. A brain that was no longer present. The cancer took away the Grandpa I once knew and left us with six months a slow, life-draining death.
My Dad, Aunt, Uncle, their spouses, my brothers and sisters and our cousins, would take turns providing 24 hour care so that he could stay in his home and die surrounded by joyful memories. I remember him having dreams of being a young man still working at the paper mill he poured 30 years of his life into. His hands would make movements as if he were still operating the machines- the machines that nearly caused him to lose an arm once when it was sucked into a roller. I remember laying on top of him as he would weakly hit me and swear at me because he wanted to get out of his hospice bed; fully convinced he needed to go to work. I remember him snapping out of the hallucination and crying. I remember him asking me to forgive him for what he had just did and said. I remember crying.
Cancer is a pirate. Although these bitter memories are clearly lodged in my mind, the scales still weigh heavy in the balance of the joyful memories I have of my Grandpa. He was a generally happy man that loved his children and loved his grandchildren. His house was a hub of family gatherings in which coffee was always available, cribbage was just around the corner, laughing abounded, and love ran thick. I loved going to my grandparents house. Christmas was off the charts awesome.
His first day of retirement was marked by taking my brother and I to a Minnesota Twin’s game. He and Grandma never moved to warmer lands because to do so was to leave their grandkids and that was just out of the question. I remember their house being a crash site while going to college. Chocolate cake was always on standby as I walked through the door after a long day at work and long evening at school. These memories are the ones that rise to the surface. I remember hearing my Grandpa pray. The quiver in his voice only came on during prayer time and I imagined it was a result of a profound thankfulness to God for justifying him from his sins through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross.
Each year our extended family gathers to honor my Grandpa in a unique way. Our Grandpa gave us all a unique gift- he taught all of our cousins and myself how to play the game of cribbage. The memories abound surrounding this game of fifteen two, fifteen-four and a pair is six. Cutting, dealing and pegging were staples at my Grandpa’s house and he spread his love of Cribbage to us all.
Now, after his death, we gather once a year for a family tournament. It’s an excuse to get together. It’s a special way to remember my Grandpa and Grandma. I love how a simple game has been the catalyst for so much happiness among our family. I love that we serve a God who gives us simple gifts like cards, math and 121 holes as way to create that happiness and family unity. Cancer is a pirate but God is the giver of all good things that far outweigh any temporary pain that he experienced.
I’ll see you soon Grandpa. Not because sentiment says so but because you trusted in the rock solid, complete work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Thanks for pointing me to him.