He sits deep in the corner of our couch, slumped more each year. I can see his nose, his eyes, and his forehead, but not his chin. My daughter comes in and scoots up next to him. Putting her hand on his knee, she says loudly, “How are you, Grandpa? Are you having a nice birthday?”
“I never expected to be 90,” he says, shaking his head. Then he smiles and continues, “But here I am!”
Together we sit in the living room and listen to Grandpa talk. He is more forgetful these days and some stories we hear again and again. He tells about towns I know by name but have never seen. He shares memories of standing in pulpits and teaching congregations about God’s word. His eyes fill and tears fall as he says, again and again, “I wish my sweetie could be here. She got sick with lymphoma and died. She was the love of my life.”
And I am filled with gratitude that my four children can hear these stories, even those he tells more than once. I am overwhelmed that they can see that Grandpa’s faith is strong and sustaining, even in his old age, even as life slows down. I am grateful that they have an example of marriage that lasted over 50 years, and can hear their grandpa’s voice professing his love to his wife, gone already more than seven years.
For a whole weekend, we celebrate his birthday, and I try to wrap my head around how long 90 years really is. For a whole weekend, we look at pictures, and he shares memories with clarity and conviction. He remembers names and towns and buildings and details from decades before I was born. And on Sunday I watch my husband, arm around his dad, sitting in church and worshiping side by side. These are moment to treasure.
There is something beautiful about it all, about being with someone who has lived so well. Not every relationship is smooth to navigate, but God calls us to show respect. In Exodus 20, God tells us to honor our fathers and mothers. We have a responsibility to show compassion to our elders. There is something deeply important about teaching our kids to listen, teaching them to love and be patient when the story being told has been told before. My father-in-law spends these days looking back, while I see before me what is to come. As my husband and I embrace this man, my children learn to embrace. As we listen and respect, my children learn the same. They are learning that people matter and that family loves and that all of this lasts longer than what we may expect. My father-in-law smiles again. A memory from his past fills his head.
“Did I ever tell you about the time….“ he says to us.
The story is familiar but we shake our heads and get ready to hear it again. He tells us about his work, his usefulness, his ministry, and we hear it like it is brand new. My son catches my eye and grins at me. He knows that this is what love looks like. And grandpa is dearly loved.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster