Other Stuff

Franklin Hall Butler

The irony of a relative’s death is that it has the tendency to create impromptu family reunions.  This last week in Texas was unexpected, in both it’s timing and it’s joy.

Grampa died at 6:40 a.m. on Friday, April 18th.  Good Friday.  But the truth is that he had been dying daily for years, trapped in a body plagued by Parkinson’s and nearly 91 very full years of life.  In all honestly, I stopped praying for recovery years ago, and had simply been praying for rest and relief.  I think all of us had.

Stacey, Jimbo and I flew to Texas earlier that week to be with Mom as everything unfolded.  Dad and Dodo camped out at the church as they prepared a Passover feast for nearly 80 people.  The rest of us shuttled between hospital room and church kitchen, taking shifts and helping wherever was needed.

The Passover Celebration wasn’t the reason I hopped on a plane, leaving my husband and kids me-less the week before Easter (Sorry about that, honey…) but it WAS the unifying factor that made the week cohesive.  It flooded us with purpose – tasks to do, to offset the helplessness of watching death move in.  It re-united the four of us as a nuclear family unit around a cherished family tradition.  A reminder that family, in all of it’s stages, is a beautiful thing.  It created an atmosphere of God’s bigger picture trumping momentary pain – as much for the Israelites trapped in slavery as for a man trapped in a failing body.

There were in between hours, of course, without assignment.  Stacey and I scavenged for old memories, searching in nooks and crannies for hidden treasure at Grampa’s house.  Our efforts were rewarded with the discovery of a daily journal he kept during 1939 – two or three sentences daily.  The year he turned 16.  Old photographs, old jewelry, old relics from trips taken… with each new discovery we celebrated his amazing life.

The moments I’ll remember most from the week are exploring the immense fields of bluebonnets with Mom, playing harmonica before Grampa passed away (and seeing the laughter on his face when we all launched into “The Old Grey Mare”), the countryside walks with Jimbo, girl time with my little sister, having a few moments alone with Grampa to say a few special things.

The day of the graveside was full of joy, ironically.  We all piled into a car, stopping along the way to take a few photos by an unbelievable field of bluebonnets that just felt like a gift.  Ebony joined us, Grampa’s favorite care taker and practically a member of the family.  The graveside was at Lawler Cemetery, where we saw Gramma and Papa’s headstones.  We didn’t have a formal ceremony, but instead gathered around and told stories and shared memories.  There was a lot of laughter and love.  At the end, I played some hymns and old songs on one of Grampa’s harmonicas and learned an interesting lesson:  It is possible to cry and play harmonica at the same time.  Somewhere during “Old Man River” the floodgates opened, and something about the music and his instrument allowed me to grieve.

That night we gathered for dinner at Grampa’s house.  Everyone came – Mema, Brandon, Jamy, Dodo, Jimbo, Mom, Dad, Stacey and me.  We ate Passover leftovers, told even more Grampa stories and raised our glasses to a life well lived.

I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute.  See you soon, Grampa.

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