When Grandma died, I wrote a post on the life lessons she taught me, so it’s only right for me to do the same for Pops. This post is long because I guess I still have so much to say about Pops, his legacy, and how much I miss him, so let’s get right to it:
1) Every person matters.
Pops loved people. He loved his family, he loved his church, he loved the people he met at the gym, he loved strangers. Every person was deserving of a smile and a conversation, in his mind. Every person had a story to tell, and it was his job learn that story and connect with them. He was interested in people. He was interested in their lives and it was from a place of complete authenticity. I don’t think I ever had a conversation with Pops that didn’t leave me feeling seen and heard.
In this respect, I am not like Pops at all. I am not great at making conversation and I hate it when strangers strike up a conversation with me out of the blue. I get suspicious about their motives. It’s not something I like about myself, and I have always wished I was more like Pops. He was just genuine in his regard for people, and I can only imagine how it must have brightened so many lives. Imagine having a bad day and then this adorable older gentleman stops you, gives you a big smile, and asks how you are. That’s the impact he had.
2) Finding your soulmate is what makes life beautiful.
Pops and Grandma were soulmates in every sense of the world. They got married young, as teenagers, and raised six children together. They lived out every single sentence of their vows – for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Til death did they part. Grandma was there for him when he was battling alcoholism. Pops was there for her when she was battling cancer. Grandma helped him when his business was booming, and they were there for each other in times of strife. They were the epitome of what marriage should be. There was never a doubt in either’s mind that their love was strong enough to withstand anything.
I’ll be completely honest here: Pops was desperate for me to find my soulmate, and it kind of irritated me. I’ve built a truly happy and whole life on my own, and while it would be nice to find someone to share my life with, I’m also not waiting for that for my life to “start.” (Also, have you swiped through Tinder lately? It’s not pretty.) But I’ve come to understand that Pops didn’t want me to find my soulmate because he thought my life is meaningless without him. He wanted me to find him because he knows how bright and beautiful it is to go through life with your soulmate at your side. To have someone to share delights in, to cry with, to adventure with. We are social creatures and we are meant to do life with other people. That’s all Pops wanted for me, and I wish I had the time to talk to him about this. It’s a regret I have to live with.
3) Nothing is more important than your relationship with Jesus.
I mentioned in my post last week that Pops was a man of faith, and it was not something he hid. He would talk to anyone, even strangers, about Jesus. I remember the first night in the hospital when the nurse was doing the intake process with him, and one of the questions she asked was his religion. His response: “I’m an on-fire Christian.” For him, his faith was about more than religion and reading the Bible and going to church. It was a living relationship with Jesus. And what he wanted for all of his kids and daughters-in-law and grandkids and great-grandkids was for us to have that same fire for Jesus as he did.
My approach to faith in the past few years has been much different than Pops’. I haven’t been to a church in years, haven’t opened a Bible in about as long, and I’m still wrestling with what faith means to me and what I want it to look like in my life. I believe in God and I want to have that same love for Jesus that Pops had, but I also have a problem with the church and Christianity as it looks like in our culture today. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I need to wrestle with all of this to find a faith that makes sense to me. I want to have that same honest, hopeful relationship Pops had, a relationship where he believed wholeheartedly in Jesus and His teachings. It was never a question for him, and his faith was so steadfast that he was able to let his wife of 56 years go, completely at peace with the decision. There’s something so beautiful in that.
4) Never be afraid to live your truth.
Pops was a man who was completely, fully himself. He didn’t try to fit himself in a box or conform to the world. He was just… Pops. He was a man who loved Jesus and was changed by his faith, so he wanted everyone else to have that same change. He was a man who cried in public and wasn’t ashamed about it. He was a man who requested mayonnaise for his salad without a single ounce of embarrassment. (But, seriously, can we talk about mayo on salad?) For Pops, there was no other way to be but himself, and he wasn’t going to apologize for it.
I’m not built like that. For one, as a woman growing up in the culture today, it’s not as easy to live my truth. (Let’s face it: as a white man, Pops had privileges I’ll never have.) I’m told to be quiet but not too quiet, friendly but not too friendly, funny but not too funny, sweet but not too sweet. On and on and on. But what’s the point in that? For Pops, he didn’t see the point in worrying about what other people thought of him. He just lived his truth as fully as he could, and I’m so inspired by that. I want to live my truth, too, to accept myself as I am today and stop apologizing for being too quiet or sarcastic or vulnerable. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you live in a way that makes you proud and happy and accomplished.
5) People deserve to be seen.
This life lesson could be folded into the first one above, but I wanted to really drive home the point that Pops just loved people and conversation. After his funeral, my mom and I talked with a man that Pops just called “the bishop.” He was a member at the same YMCA that Pops went to, and they struck up a beautiful friendship based on their respective faiths. The bishop told us about Pops and the impact he had on everyone he met at the gym. He even helped to rebuild the home of a YMCA member who was struggling. Pops used his own money (of which he didn’t have much of) and reached out to other people and churches to help this man. There was no ulterior motive here; he just wanted to help him, to show him what true Christianity looks like.
It reminds me that everyone deserves to be seen, even the people you may pass right over. This man has probably been passed over a lot of times in his life, but Pops saw him. He saw his soul, not the persona he shows to the rest of the world. He saw someone that God carefully and wonderfully made, someone God loved just as much as He loved Pops. I want to see people the way Pops saw them. Every soul matters, every person deserves your love and respect.
6) Family always comes first.
Pops loved his family. He loved his kids and his grandkids and his great-grandkids. He never, ever missed a birthday party for my nephews, not even J’s birthday party in September when he could barely walk because the pain in his back was so bad. He would always greet me with a big smile whenever he saw me, like just the presence of me lit up his whole world. With Pops, I never questioned his great, big love for me. I knew he loved me unconditionally and spending time with him never failed to cheer me up and put me in a good mood.
My brother and I were lucky to be some of the first grandchildren in his life. My brother and I are third and fourth of the granchildren, but the first and second live out-of-state, so for the first seven years of my life (eight for my brother), we got Grandma and Pops all to ourselves. We got one-on-one playdates and sleepovers and outings. I remember a family ski trip when I was twelve, and Pops taking my brother and me night skiing, which was the total highlight of the trip for me, mostly because we had Pops all to ourselves. He was there for all of my graduations, all of my holidays, and every single Super Bowl party we had. He was always there because family matters to him. He was the patriarch, and he was a great one at that.
I’m so glad I got to see him every day of the two weeks he was in the hospital. It was important to me to be there for Pops in the way he had always been there for me. During those two weeks, I got to tell him over and over again how much I loved him. I got to hear him tell me he loved me, multiple times; see him smile at me whenever I walked into his hospital room; and listen to him tell my mom and me, “You girls take such good care of me,” again and again.
I miss him so much. This loss was so unexpected, and so painful, and all Pops wanted to do was to get better so he could get back to doing what he loved: being around people and enjoying his family. He wasn’t ready to go, and that’s what makes this loss so heartbreaking. He wasn’t ready, and neither were we. We still need him here. I still need him to tell me about his courtship with Grandma and his early years of marriage and his childhood. I need him to be there when I introduce him to the man I’m going to marry, the man he prayed so desperately for. I need him to be there during holidays and Super Bowl parties and random gatherings because he’s never not been there, and I don’t know how this world works without him.
I miss you, Pops. Thanks for giving me so many life lessons and a reminder to love people, love family, and love Jesus above all else. I will try my best to live out the legacy you left us.