Remembering Grandpa Remi

My grandfather’s memorial service was yesterday at Quidnessett Baptist Church in N. Kingstown. It was really a beautiful, uplifting service, with a time allotted for people to give testimonies about Norman’s influence in their lives. I had a reading prepared, but was too nervous to share. Here’s the gist of it (edited somewhat):

My mom and I are attending a Beth Moore Bible study, and this week’s chapter is based on Isaiah 61:1, which reads “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners.”

This verse speaks to many reasons for being brokenhearted, and one of them in particular is that of loss – especially loss through the death of a loved one. I know in these past few days it seems like my heart has been shattered, broken, and my body can’t contain the intense emotions – and then of course I start crying my eyes out. I like the words Beth Moore shares in this study:

“Nothing is more natural than grief after a devastating loss, but those of us in Christ can experience satisfying life again. When our hearts have been shattered by loss, we have an opportunity to welcome a supernatural power to our lives. It doesn’t come any other way. That power is the power to live again on this earth when we’re really rather die. It is a power that displays the life of Christ in us like no other because it defies all odds. God becomes the only explanation for our emotional survival and revival. Perhaps the most profound miracle of all is living through something we thought would kill us. And not just living, but living abundantly and effectively – raised from living death to a new life. A life indeed absent of something or someone dear but filled with the presence of the Resurrection and the Life.

“…you see… the life of a Christian is never about sameness. It’s always about change. That’s why we must learn to survive and once again thrive when change involves heartbreaking loss… Life will not ever be the same, but we have the invitation from Christ to rise to a new life – a more compassionate life, a wiser life, a more productive life. And, yes, even a better life. Sound impossible? It is without Christ.”

Those words were encouraging to me – they acknowledge that we have this scope and depth of intense feeling and emotions, and at the same time provide a remedy for our broken hearts.

Some of you may know that my other grandfather – Paul Sorensen – suffered a terrible accident last weekend. He was admitted to Rhode Island Hospital last Saturday, the same hospital where Grandpa Norman was at the time and had been for many months. The family met there, thinking perhaps he wouldn’t last the night. Sunday afternoon, we visited Grandpa Paul, and afterwards went down the hall as it were to see Grandpa Norman, sing some songs, give him some encouragement. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and was saddened by the change I sensed in him. As you can imagine, it was a sad, stressful weekend – I was praying every second, not really having all the words but just expressing my feelings to the Lord. Monday rolled around, and when I asked my mom if she had any updates on the grandfathers, I got the call – Grandpa Norman would probably pass away that day. About an hour later, he was with the Lord.

That night, I lay in bed thinking about everything, especially the sad loss of Grandpa Norman. I started crying, thinking of all the things I would never see Grandpa say or do again, things that will never happen. How he will never meet our baby that’s due in November, how I won’t have the blessing of his abundant prayers over the life of my little one. I started mentally listing all the things I admire, appreciate, remember, and just like about Grandpa Norman. They are the simple remembrances – some of them might even be silly – but they are my own thoughts:

First and foremost, I think we would all agree that Grandpa was an amazing prayer warrior. How many times did he mention to the family that he was praying for all of us? Prayed for us every day – and this extended to other family members, friends, church members, pastors, missionaries. He was devoted to his family – biological, extended, and spiritual – and has been an inspirational example as husband, father, grandfather, and Godly leader. It amazed me how sincerely interested he was in the lives of those he loved and cared for – he always remembered things we had told him in the past, things about our jobs or what was going on in our life at that time. Some people just can’t be bothered to remember those details, and tend to ask the same questions every time you see them, but he would remember and inquire.

On the same thought, Grandpa was very devoted to ministry in the church. I’ve already heard from one previous member at Quidnessett how Grandpa extended to him the Right Hand of Fellowship, how his Sunday school classes provided a caring, comfortable, nurturing environment, and that he was a big influence in his life. The family sang for him a number of times during his hospital stay – particular on Sundays, when Grandma would tell him about the service that day – and when he was able to communicate early on, he said he missed the church fellowship.

Grandpa loved salt water taffy, Lorna Doones shortbread cookies, and Russell Stover’s chocolates (particularly the pastel-covered selection). I never understood how he could take a box of chocolate out of the sideboard drawer, remove a single chocolate, return the box, and be completely satisfied. He could make candy last for a year! Myself, I would eat the box in one sitting! Whenever I asked what he wanted for Christmas, he would say he just wanted a little box of chocolates – and maybe some aftershave.

Boy, did he love pies; perhaps eating them more than making them, but nonetheless. Grandpa always made a couple pies for holidays and family occasions, and there were always some pieces floating around their kitchen for their own consumption. I guess he had a bad experience with cherry pie, however, as I discovered he didn’t care for it. Otherwise, any flavor was fair game! I still remember one time when the family was out to eat, he ordered the lemon meringue pie, and when it arrived we gasped at the height and magnitude of the creation. I’m not sure if it was called “Sky High Lemon Meringue Pie,” but that’s definitely what it appeared to be!

Both Grandpa and Grandma loved to work in the yard. I don’t think they have had these plants for a while now, but when we were younger Grandpa tended some grape vines – they tasted like concord grapes, but what do I know? Grandma would be busy in the flower and vegetable garden, and Grandpa would be tending to other spots in the yard, clearing or mowing the lawn. I always admired how active they have remained even in their older age.

For many years they would travel to see friends and relatives. I couldn’t believe the network of people he knew – I think even Grandma was surprised at all the people with whom he kept in touch! More recently, while he was in the hospital and Grandma was going through his papers, she found letters he had saved from various people. Apparently, he would see something on TV or hear it on the news, and perhaps feel compelled to send them a note; he saved their replies, and no doubt prayed for them.

He recalled so many interesting things about his childhood. I wasn’t there for every family outing, but he would point out all the places he had lived and grown up in as a child. He had strong emotions about the family farm that burned down, and I was always curious about some of those memories. Just like your typical, anecdotal grandfather is “supposed” to, he always had an interesting story to tell and remembered every single detail.

He had a distinctive handwriting – small, neatly printed letters. He had them all throughout his Bible, on notes at his desk, everywhere. No doubt prayer requests or something like that. The messages he wrote in cards and letters were always sincere and heartfelt, and it seemed like you were receiving a nugget of wisdom in every simple thing he wrote.

The family used to point out and remark on the cuteness of one of his particular mannerisms. He had this way of closing his eyes and nodding his head at the same time – while listening to you talk, while laughing – it was so funny! Even in some of the family pictures, the candids of people talking, he has his eyes closed for this very reason! Perhaps he really was in a perpetual state of prayer!

Grandpa was such a gentleman, and we were always remarking on his dapper appearance – the girls swore he looked just like Fred Astaire! He always chose such dashing ties, and wore distinguished hats. And he always smelled so good – whenever he gave me a hug, I smelled like him for the rest of the day, and it was almost comforting. One of my immediate thoughts upon his passing was that I would never be able to hug him again and have that reminder of him all through the day.

That’s all I can think of right now, but I’m sure snatches of things will come to mind as time goes on. I’m not sure what Grandpa’s favorite song or verse was, things of that nature – but I do know he liked seeing Grandma in pink! We love you Grandpa. We will miss you, and selfishly wish you were still among us, but we’re glad you’re finally Home.