Over Labor Day, I loaded the kids up in the suburban and headed due north to Nebraska to visit my grandparents.
I had spent every summer and holiday with them growing up but it had been way too long since we'd visited. The kids loved spending time with them - playing cards, eating ice cream, and comparing wrinkled, well-used hands to hands that have yet to see really hard work, or endure much suffering, or hold the newborn or the dying.
Last Tuesday night, just five short weeks from when we had seen them last, my dad called late to tell me my grandaddy had died. He was 91 and had lived more life that I even know about. He was a child of the Great Depression, a young man of World War II, a father to two, and a husband to one for 67 years.
For more time than a lot of people live, my grandparents walked through life together. He was a hand-holder and I remember him taking my grandmother's hand and sitting on the back porch while my brother and I played in their backyard on summer evenings.
A few months ago, some friends and I were talking about marriage and hard seasons. Not just difficult days, or annoyances, but stone cold months and years which threaten to crush a covenant that promises perseverance through the good, the bad, the sick, the healthy, the rich, and the poor. A wise older woman had shared that those seasons are, of course, inevitable. But, in light of sharing the good part of a century with someone, even a few bad years pale in comparison to all the true and the beautiful and the redemptive.
Those were the things my grandmother was holding onto as we buried my grandaddy on Monday in a cemetery in Hastings. They had grown up and grown old together. They had children together, celebrated grandchildren together, and kissed great-grand children together. They had run, and slowed, and eventually bent over walkers together. All bound by the vows symbolized in the rings that no longer fit their fingers.
The crisp flag that draped his casket was ceremonially folded and presented to his bride in thanks of his service to his country, 21 guns saluted him, and roses were laid one by one in the heart-heavy goodbye's of his family and friends. And one of the last to leave, his partner for life gently patted the casket, said her last 'I love you', and then whispered, "Goodbye, good buddy."
Because he had been.