Don’t know if you can read the gravestone. It is the grave marker for both my grandparents in the Riverside National Cemetery for veterans.
My grandfather was SP2 (not really sure what that means exactly). He was involved in some combat and also was involved in driving General MacArthur, all spent in war in Korea. He was a silent man, but with a wicked wit. He loved…and I mean loved his grandkids like nothing else. They were his pride and joy and in seemingly every picture we have of him, he is carrying, holding, cradling, walking with, smiling over a grandchild. His humor still reverberates around the Christmas tree and on Christmas day simple because his presence looms so large and he was so impacting, how could the smiles and stories and laughs not keep coming. We lost him on January 8 of 1999. Boy, it was tough. I remember being ready for Christmas, having a red beach cruiser bike ready for him as a gift, when he went into the hospital coughing up blood accordant with his emphysema, lung cancer and such. I remember staying in hospital waiting rooms, wondering when Kaiser would let him go, not knowing we would never leave. I got to see him transported to an emergency surgery once, and that time seeing him on the hospital stretcher ripped my heart out. But that time of mourning, of spending time with family the next couple days, of still getting together in the hospital waiting room on Christmas to celebrate his presence in our lives. Those moments soften what would have been a dark and lethal blow, and actually reflect the light of God’s presence through a man’s life and death that was not all that religious. I can look back at that difficult Christmas and recognize my namesake’s love, and even deeper, God’s love and presence amidst my family.
His wife, Lorine (Noe) Goldy, was a hoot. She was always laughing and smiling. And actually, she learned to cook after marriage. She made biscuits that often were rock hard, but tasted wonderful. She loved sun tea, fried chicken, and apple pies. She was so supportive of me and was the one strong religious influence I had as a child. It was her influence that helped me discern my call to ministry and encouraged me to pursue dreams of college, preaching, compassion, and service to others. It was her church that eventually set me free into true Christian life and service (Arlington Church of Christ), and it was her presence that still motivates our family to seek peace and reconciliation, simply because her heart broke at division- she loved people and couldn’t stand being far away. It was in December of ’02 (I think) that I lost her. It was Christmas time once again. It was early autumn when she spent time in and out of the hospital, and when school finished that fall, I knew I was going home to a death. She was in a hospice bed in my parents front room for over a month, and I helped take care of her (although my effort was minuscule compared to my parents and relatives). I remember the labored and difficult breathing, what I now know would be called agonal breathing. It was painful to hear, as it sounded like she was grasping for every bit of oxygen left that could fit in her little lungs. And I remember the feeling when I was AOL instant messaging in the living room with my friend Jae Kim, when I heard the agonal breathing slow down and stop. I remember telling him right over the instant messaging that I thought she just died, and how that was quite difficult and tear filled. But I remember the family still coming together for Christmas, still sharing the memories, still showing our gratitude for this great friend, confidant, spiritual guide, and woman of faith. Her presence still motivates me to pursue dreams and do my very best, and to not give up. Truly, the presence of God is seen in her life and still seen beyond her death. Sad days surely, but God abides with us still, as she would have vouched for.
And so, I share this because this week I got the opportunity to visit the cemetery for the first time in a couple years as I have been away. As I work through the time of being unemployed and having good and bad days, it is their presence and memory, my grandparents, whose experience of deathly Christmases keeps me humble and joyful knowing that God’s hands are graceful and abundant, in spite of failure, lack, want, distress, or death. It is their memory, their experiences that remind me all the time to be grateful, and to be aware of the joy and good in all circumstances. Praise God for them!