Eleven days ago, my grandpa died peacefully in Fresno, CA. For several years, I've known that it would be my responsibility to present something about him whenever his inevitable end came, and I fulfilled that unspoken obligation last Saturday. This is what I read to the approximately 200 people who gathered that day for his memorial service. It's a mere summary, and (as usual) I feel like I didn't say exactly what I wanted, but such perfection will likely never come. I suppose that's something we all have to live with. Anyways, Grandpa Bradford was a good man and well loved, more than I could ever encapsulate in a few short words.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about my Grandpa, and how I understand him and the life he led and now leaves to me, and us, as a gift:
Grandpa was one of the kindest, most friendly men I have ever known. He never withheld his love, friendship and encouragement from anyone. I have a bag full of letters that attest to the fact (which I demonstrated)—and this is just four years worth— I’m sure many others here today could share a similar stack of mail. In many of these letters, he voiced his desire simply to spend more time with me, to talk about school and life and Godly stuff, and usually over a bite of lunch. Looking back, I realize that I refused these requests far too often. It occasionally seems like we spend too much time preparing for life, rather than living it. Remember to embrace the loving Presence of others while the opportunity persists.
Several years ago, Grandpa asked me to be his “aide de camp”—that’s a military term for a personal assistant to a high ranking officer. Of course, I accepted, and over time, it became clear that Grandpa wanted to share a particular story with me, the story he wanted to call, “I surrendered on
In 1942, at the age of 22, Grandpa left his home in
As the war continued and the Marines drew closer to the Japanese home islands, the ferocity of the fighting only intensified, first on the
Apparently, God took up the offer, and Grandpa was not counted among the 7,000 American and 20,000 Japanese soldiers who died on that remote island in a five week span. However, it would take some time before Grandpa would fulfill his part in this “foxhole covenant”.
After the war, in 1947, during the same week in March that he had promised surrender two years earlier, he was involved in a major car accident that caused a concussion and the loss of the deltoid muscle in his right arm. He was in a coma for four days. When he awoke, Grandpa took his accident as a not-too-subtle hint from God and was baptized on March 3, 1947 in
After his baptism, Grandpa was pointed to
After recovering from this breakdown, Grandpa re-enlisted at the
So Grandpa surrendered on
Grandpa told me his story—and I tell it to you now—not simply because it’s a good story, or a sentimental one, but because it points to God, and to faith. Not the kind of insubstantial “believing-in-something” we often talk about, but a faith forged in fire; the faith of a wretch and a sinner; the faith of a person who will not cheapen grace, but embrace it as something costly; a faith that says, “I am useless, a wanderer and a wretch, and still God calls me ‘beloved’.” Thanks be to this God—Grandpa’s God and ours—who invites, rebukes, corrects, nudges, directs, orchestrates, embraces and loves.
I have one last thought Grandpa’s recent departure: I read somewhere this allusion to death as a “coming home.” Imagine yourself as a child, playing outside in the sandbox, or in my case, I imagine those long car trips home during which I’d fall asleep to the drone of the tires. And while sleeping, wherever you are, your parents gently pick you up and carry you into your home, and put you in bed. After an unknown time, you wake up in your bedroom, tucked away under the covers, maybe even in your pajamas. You don’t know how it happened, but you know you’re home. The thought came to mind while I watched Grandpa drift away last Saturday. It came as a sort of epiphany to me—perhaps the final gift Grandpa gave to me—that dying itself is not so hard. We fall asleep, and someday, we will wake up in God’s house. Always the bold one, Grandpa has led the way home.
December 24, 1919-March 1, 2008