Yesterday marked 11 years since my grandfather, Hans Band, died. In the short weeks before he died, I flew to Massachusetts from Chicago to sit beside him in his hospital bed. The experience marked me indelibly. A child refugee during World War II, Hans lived the complex story that accompanies processing intense grief, fear and loss at a young age. He was a quirky physicist, an inventor, a first generation immigrant to America. He deeply loved God, his family, and his adopted homeland. His life bore all of the scars of his past, but all I ever knew was an affectionate and doting grandfather. Disease began to take him long before his death; but even as it stole his memory and mind, it could not diminish his love for his granddaughters. I loved him immensely.
The day I flew to Boston, my two sisters and I gathered at his bedside. We sat and watched as he fidgeted in bed, disease winding down the degenerative work it had begun years before. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day. His end was near, and these three women he’d loved since birth could form no words of worth. Perhaps feeling our inadequacy to the moment, perhaps knowing “the one thing needful”, we sang hymns to this man we loved so dearly. The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. My heart still breaks with love and grief as I remember those hours.
It is hard for me to believe it’s been 11 years since I’ve seen my grandfather’s face, heard his voice, leaned into his embrace. Since moving to Massachusetts, I have visited his grave often. I go and sit in the cemetery beside his stone. He and my grandmother rest side by side. I talk to them, much as I talk to Rob now when I visit him at the cemetery. I tell my grandparents how much I miss them. How I wish they could see how my life has turned out. How joyful they would be to hear their great-grandchildren love the Lord. I bring flowers, and every time I sit there I cry. Not polite tears. Deep, sorrowful sobs. Because whether you are 84 years old and death seems a gentle mercy, or you are 41 and death seems a gross injustice, death is, for all, a great tragedy. Time does not diminish that truth. Our lives may grow around our grief as the years pass, but our grief — like our love — remains the same.
Someday, it will be 11 years since Rob died. Someday, I will sit at his grave and talk to him and weep remembering that day my life changed forever. And as I sit in that grassy field, the loss of him will feel so fresh that my body will find the sorrow still painfully tender and deep, still accessible in a way that always surprises me. I will cry and talk and maybe rage a little at the injustice of death. And then, I’ll do what I do each time I go to visit my grandfather where he rests. I’ll kiss Rob’s stone and whisper, “I miss you. I love you. I’ll be back soon.” Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.