At Life’s Sunset: Thoughts on Grandma’s Passing

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My earliest memory of Grandma Helen was of going to her house when I was about 2-3 years old, too young to sit still while my folks chatted on the couch with her and Grandpa Bernards.

So my brother Sam and I toddled out to the patio and poked at frogs we found hiding under the bushes.

The house was full of treasures! we thought. Always something new to discover, some mysterious place to explore.

You know, we don’t experience these types of moments very often…these brief stops in time where all is set aside and we witness the passing of a loved one from this life to the next. And I’m grateful for these pauses, these moments that draw us in together, reaching out across the years and miles of differences. In countless ways our lives have scattered across the world, yet still we happy, loving few reunite here, today, to commemorate not just a death, but a life.

Washington Irvine once said “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, and unspeakable love.” And I suspect that that Love is the gravitational pull that reunites us, speaks infinite languages, and spans the years of our separation.

I didn’t see Grandma Helen very often growing up, so my memories of her are few and widely scattered. But scant as they may be, they burn bright with her love and gentle kindness. She was deeply devoted to my Grandfather, and her decades-long commitment to him stands burning bright as a witness of what dedicated, patient love can be.

She may be gone today, but she isn’t lost. Not really. True, the people we love will always go away sooner or later, and we can’t hold on to them any more than we can bottle starlight. But since she has touched our lives, she is still ours, and still here.

She touched my heart that way when I once visited her after a long absence. By then I was a married man, with a baby of my own. That baby was too young to sit still while I chatted on the couch like grownups are supposed to do, so I took her outside to that same old patio and taught her how to look for frogs to poke at under those same bushes.

During that trip Grandma and Grandpa took us to visit the Mormon Temple in Oakland, up on the hill. She stood there under a statue of Jesus Christ and silently prayed, holding her gold crucifix. I remember her saying “We don’t really know what happens on the other side, but I think He has enough room up there for all of us.”

I think so too, Grandma. Now you’re in a new house full of treasures and back with Grandpa again. Something new to discover, some glorious new place to explore.

My Dad and Mom send their deepest love and prayers to you all, wishing they could have been here. This morning I asked my Dad what he’d want me to say, and he was short and sweet in his devotion: “Tell them we miss her. Tell them I thank her for loving my dad. And tell them we hope she has found peace.”

It is that peace, that love, that Grandma Helen leaves behind. And isn’t that the goal? To leave something meaningful?

We all know that we all die, so the goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will.

To quote William Wordsworth:

“That though the radiance which was once so bright,

be now forever taken from my sight.

Though nothing can bring back the hour

of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower.

We grieve not, rather find

strength in what remains behind.”

Thank you all, and God bless.


Given at the funeral of Helen Mae Bernards in Alameda, CA, October 22, 2015.

Posted in Writings.

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