What I would have said

The Upper Midwest doesn’t get many days that fall in the golden spectrum between freezing cold and fiery heat; especially not Des Moines. But this was one of those days. The sky was clear and blue — a brilliant azure canvas perfectly complementing the green, fully-matured leaves and diversity of flora surrounding us. Bare of clouds and light in breeze, it was the perfect day for a funeral.

My grandfather was a subtle man in life and so too in death. There would be no wake, no procession, and no open casket. It was to be a private, family-only burial followed by a reception with food and drink. When we all had gathered at the grave site, a minister, clad in the traditional black minister’s outfit with a white clerical-collar, began the service. He carried a Bible with his left-hand and compassion with his voice. He began with:

“Drew requested that we do the sad part first, so here we are.”

It drew a few cautious laughs which made way for a condensed, but solemn and traditional performance of funeral rites. My father had told me earlier in the week that it might be nice, as the oldest grandchild, to say something when it was time. The time came; the time went. There was preparation done the days before, so I knew what to say, but my present and direct confrontation with life, death, and impermanence had rendered me mute for a time. So here it is, this is what I would have said.

If I could use only two words to describe my grandfather, they would “depth” and “action”. Everything he did was rooted in one of these traits. He owned over ten 1941 Cadillacs, amassed and then donated a very large brick collection to his city, completed crossword puzzles daily, became adept at chess and strategy, and painted hundreds (if not thousands) of civil-war-era lead soldiers. Ultimately, I think the paramount example of these traits was his reliable patience and compassion towards my grandma as they aged together.

Concrete memories are important. I will always remember the long bike rides, intense sessions of Civil War discourse (meaning he taught me about it), and his pride in measuring the height of everyone on his garage wall as we aged. However, it’s the experience and wisdom he imparted on me that will remain most profound. Shakespeare said it well.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles…

This is one of the ultimate questions. Do we choose to drift with the tide, or do we find what we love and fight our way to it? Rare it is to be a man who always acts rationally and pursues his passions without compromise. He was that man. My grandpa chose to be. And so, he was.

That is what I would have said.