Six years have passed since he passed.
It is summer. Way past hot. The walls wear beads of sweat from the swamp cooler trying to do its job. If you ask me it’s not getting a passing grade.
The phone rings.
He’s not doing well.
It’s my mom and the words she’s saying are about my grandpa. He’s been fighting for his health for a while now. We decide it’s time to make the trip to visit him. One last time together.
Ten hours of asphalt beneath the car whizzing over it and no escape from the heat except for a stop at a favorite ice cream shop in Orange County, CA. Arizona is it’s own kind of hot in the summer and it sure didn’t disappoint.
He had been in a home the last few months. Doing well, then not so well. Cancer had come calling and we knew his days here were coming to a close. Death wouldn’t come as a surprise. And there was some relief in the advanced warning. We thought we had some time.
It was night when we arrived. The room was stale, but familiar. Stale, because it was clear that he was in his final fight. Familiar because there were mice everywhere, but not just any mice.
Frank. His name was Frank. But that’s not what I think of when I look at photos of him. He had a thing for Mickey Mouse. His shirts, pajamas, underwear…toaster, dishes, and wall art, all Mickey. Once on a trip to Mexico he was held up by a group of bandits and when faced with the possibility of death or giving up the Mickey Mouse watch he wore, he took his chances and wouldn’t give it up. Turns out they were satisfied to have the apple he offered them as an alternative. He always was a good salesman. Lucky break.
On the wall just inside my teal front door is a framed caricature, drawn in pencil on yellowing paper of Frank created in Disneyland a few days after it opened. For me, Frank and Mickey go hand in hand. You don’t get one without the other.
He’s not just Frank, though, he’s my Grandpa.
His younger years didn’t tell the prettiest story. Alcohol was too dear of a friend and his family paid that price right along with him. As he aged, though, kindness took hold. He was generous. His role as a grandfather was everything he probably should have been as a father, but he knew that and didn’t shy away from it. His motto was “Press On” and he lived those words well. My cousin and I even sport “press on” tattoos in his honor.
I remember praying for him as a child. I knew that he had made some real life changes, but I also knew that Jesus didn’t have his heart. I wanted that for him. I want that for all my family. Not because they aren’t amazing human beings… oh my word, they are! But because I know that Jesus wants their hearts, too. So I prayed. I still pray.
The last time we had visited Arizona, he took my daughter into his garden and they bonded over carrots. I keep a framed photo of that moment in my kitchen because it reminds me of him.
She was six years old that trip and she began to pray for him, too. First it was just those sweet, small kid prayers, but then there were letters written in her clunky cursive on lined school paper. She started at the beginning telling him about creation and how he was God’s creation, too. She wrote pages and pages about salvation and redemption and real love. We mailed them every so often. There wasn’t much said about the letters. We knew he had received them, he told us as much. But that was really all he had to say.
Years passed. Cancer snuck in.
His phone rang.
It was my mom calling to see how he was feeling.
“Dad”, she started, “I want to talk to you about something.”.
He stopped her.
“I know what you’re going to say. I’ve been reading the letters and I want you to know I’ll see you there.”
There. It could have meant just about anywhere, but it didn’t.
There. Eternity. Eternity with Jesus.
His life was coming to an end, but at the same time it was just beginning.
Our cars pulled into that Arizona parking lot after dark.
We had thirty minutes with him in that stale, Mickey Mouse filled room before he slipped out of this world and into Jesus’ arms.
We hadn’t prepared for this kind of visit. The kind where you are saying goodbye when you thought you were there to make finally memories together.
Family drove over and flew in and we celebrated his life. We hadn’t brought “funeral” clothes so we did what we thought was best. We each chose a Mickey shirt from his closet. I know he loved that. So did we.
Hope was alive in the ashes. As we cleaned out his home there was evidence of his love for us in every corner. We discovered shared interests in the boxes of old cameras and equipment that we never knew he had. We found the Mickey Mouse license plate that held his favorite words “Press On”. We saw the ways he loved his life and those in it because he saved everything we had ever sent him.
And I saw the evidence of his turning to Jesus sitting there on his bedside table. It was all the letters my daughter wrote placed in an envelope, addressed to her, so she would always know the impact her six-year-old love for Jesus had on his heart.
Mickey Mouse may have been his first love, but Jesus was his last.