Today we’re having the visitation for Pop. We’ll be receiving friends and family from 2-4 PM at Tim Stewart’s Snellville Chapel. After a dinner break from 4-6, we’ll receive visitors again from 6-8 PM.

Since it’s going to be such a long afternoon, I thought I’d just link to my two favorite blog posts about Pop. If you’ve read them, feel free to just share the links with someone who hasn’t.

And again, thanks to each of you who have prayed, called, written or just thought about our family during these past few weeks.

Favorite link #1 – A Love That Will Dance in Heaven

Favorite link #2 – A Tree In Winter

Look Towards Heaven and Home

Today, I lost one of the finest men I’ve ever known. I love you, Pop.

There are so many things that fill your head when you watch someone you love pass away – fears; hopes; prayers. Your mind is aflame with a thousand different thoughts, a thousand different emotions, until you’re suddenly jerked back from within yourself and into the moment at hand.

It was that way for me this morning. I found myself battling an almost overwhelming fear that watching Pop’s death would override every other memory I had of him. I wrestled with the knowledge that I would have to stand and speak in his honor, to somehow find the words and stories that best encapsulate his life. I worried over how MawMaw would respond – not just to his death, but to life without him. Scanning the faces of my father, my aunt Pat, my uncle Greg, and all of the assembled family, I wondered what would become of all of us without Pop.

All of this vanished when the moment came.


The day started, for me, around 4:30 AM. I woke up for the third or fourth time since going to bed around midnight. My mind was a mess of nightmares and incomprehensible dreams, so not being able to sleep was a bit of a blessing. I spent the next hour and a half either praying or crying, wondering if today was going to be the day, or if Pop might hang on another day or so.  Eventually I dozed back off around 5:50.

My phone rang at 6:00. The caller id read, simply, Dad.

“Hello,” I managed.

“Jason,” my dad said, his voice composed for a moment. “It’s…”

Dad fought back tears. So did I.

“…it’s close. He’s close.”

“Okay,” I said, “let me get dressed and tell Rachel what’s going on, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Okay,” dad said. “See you in a bit.”

I jumped out of bed and tried to get my brain to work. Clothes were a necessity, as were my wallet and phone. I fumbled in the dark for my glasses, and hastily got dressed. Rachel stirred, and I told her what was going on.

“I’ll call you,” I said, then kissed her goodbye.


The morning air came in cool through my car windows, hinting that summer was nearing its end. It was hard for me to stay in a decent frame of mind; I was in a hurry to reach my grandfather’s bedside before he slipped away from me, but the rest of the world went on as if nothing were happening. I got trapped behind a school bus that didn’t seem overly concerned with getting to school on time, as well as three or four cars that had difficulty navigating in the pre-dawn darkness.

That was a moment of real anger for me, of deep insult at the world’s callousness. I felt slighted by the fact that every other human being on the planet didn’t defer to me and my grief, didn’t stop to acknowledge that one of its finest inhabitants was preparing to exit. I wanted cars to pull over to the side of the road, for flags to be flown at half-mast; I wanted people to stand along the road, hats over their hearts, out of respect for one more member of The Greatest Generation gone. Instead, I got slow buses and directionally-challenged people, and the end result was that I wanted to scream. I felt a rage in my chest that needed out, but couldn’t be allowed to roam free.

I think what I really felt was the smallness of being human; despite how it feels to our own minds, we are not the center of the universe. It was hard to accept that, as my world seemed to be falling apart, the real world kept right on spinning. Driving down the road this morning, that truth simply would not go down easy.

I got to MawMaw and Pop’s just as the sun was starting to rise. There were already several cars in the driveway – my dad’s; Greg and Marcia’s; Pat’s; my grandfather’s brother, Weyman, and his wife, Opal, were there too. And when I walked in and saw everyone’s faces, I knew: it wouldn’t be long.

My grandfather’s chest was rising and falling so shallowly and so fast. His mouth was wide open as his stomach struggled to pull in the air his body needed, as his lungs were long past working. The fluid that had been building up in his throat (the result of his digestive system shutting down) was now visible in his mouth, bubbling up and over his tongue with every slight exhale. It seemed very much as if Pop were drowning.

MawMaw was hunched over, holding the hand of Pop’s niece, Shurba, so I sat down beside her and simply rubbed her back. She turned, her eyes dark with grief and fear and sorrow, and let out a small moan.

“Oh, Jason,” she said, “they won’t let me help him.”

The truth of the matter was that she could do nothing more for him. But having been a faithful wife for so many years, having nursed him in these final days with the kind of love and dedication that seems beyond human capacity, she felt – and her eyes revealed how deeply this feeling ran – that if she could just do something, he’d turn around, get better, return to her. Instead, she simply watched as every breath took him further from her than he’d ever been.

My brother Ryan soon arrived, as did my cousin Chasity. I’m not sure who else was there when the moment finally came, but the room was full and we stood surrounding Pop’s bed, a human wall of love and adoration and hope and hurt. We moved so MawMaw could be near him, and she rubbed his chest and spoke lovingly to him, trying to reassure him, trying to hold on to him as long as she could. She spoke to him, and called him the most precious of names, one that certainly fit.

“Daddy,” she called him.

His breathing grew shallower, and then, as if each one of them shared some sort of unspoken spiritual connection, MawMaw, dad, Pat and Greg leaned in, their hearts pounding out of their chests, their eyes red with tears and expectancy. His head moved slightly, his chest drawing in, and then the miracle happened.


As the sun broke through the trees outside his window, Pop Harold opened his eyes, looked at his beloved MawMaw and then at his family; then he turned his eyes as if looking above him to the left. His last conscious act in this world was to look towards home.

And with that, he was gone.


My grandfather left this world on the same day my father entered it 57 years ago. Surrounded by his faithful wife, his loving children and grandchildren, he slipped into our memories and eternity.

We stayed right there beside him until the funeral director, Tim Stewart, and his assistant, Todd Burton, came to take Pop’s body for burial preparations. I was amazed at how small the gurney for Pop’s body was; roughly 24-inches wide, it seemed far too small to handle a man as big as Pop. But when they lovingly wrapped him up in his sheets and transferred his body over, it fit with room to spare. And standing there, staring at someone who for so long had been larger than life, I was struck by this thought:

It is the soul of a person that gives them size, gives them weight, in the physical world. It is the soul that contains their essence and gives life and presence to the body. Absent the soul, the body shrinks to an almost unfathomable size; I know this because that’s twice now two men whom I’ve held so dear – Pop Harold and Pop Emmette – have left this world, and in both cases their bodies, which once seemed so massive to me, seemed incredibly small in death.

We followed Pop’s body outside, and before they could load it into the hearse, the nurse’s assistant who’d been Pop’s primary caregiver, who had bathed him and helped change him, came walking down the driveway. And if we had ever doubted the sheer goodness of the man, those doubts were forever put to rest when Ms. Marie, who’d known him only so briefly and only in his lowest state, put her head on his chest and wept as one weeps for their own. MawMaw draped an arm around her in comfort, and then we all stood back as Pop’s body went into the hearse and disappeared behind its closed door.


I can say, without hesitation, that on behalf of my family, we are grateful for the many prayers and sentiments shared with us over the past few weeks and again today. Pop, for as much as he will be missed, is now in a far, far better place of hope, restoration and peace.

Tomorrow afternoon at Tim Stewart’s Funeral Home in Snellville, we’ll receive what is likely to be a considerable number of visitors from 2-4 PM, and then again from 6-8. On Wednesday afternoon, in the little church he loved so much, we’ll remember Pop and celebrate his life, just before we lay him to rest next to his son, Terry.

Who knows what Thursday will bring.

Much like Pop’s body, the world is now a smaller from his absence. But one day, in a world much larger than this one, we’ll see Pop again, unbound by time or illness or the restrictions of this life, and we’ll fall into each others arms, laughing, rejoicing and praising the God who gave us life that there will be no more goodbyes. We’ll pull Terry, and Ruthie, and whomever else we loved into the fold and we’ll give thanks that finally, we’ll always be together.

Until that day, we wait. Until that day, our eyes, like Pop’s, will look towards heaven and home.

You Talk, I’ll Listen

After 62 years, you’d think the topics of conversation would be exhausted. Living with someone for 24 hours a day, you’d think you’d pretty much know what the other person is going to say. But one of the most wonderful things about human beings is our never-ending capacity to surprise; we are marvelous creatures, constantly forming new thoughts or forging new dreams.

And so, when you’re with the right person, there’s always something to talk about. Even after 62 years.

That’s what makes something my grandmother said the other day so sad. I’ve mentioned it before, I think, but she repeated the story last night as we watched Pop struggle to breathe. His breaths are so shallow that you have to keep your eye trained on the bedsheet in order to tell he’s breathing. You see the stripes or the pattern change from the rise and fall of his chest, and you know that he’s still with you.

We were watching this, and I asked if he’d been talking to anyone.

“No,” she said. Her voice was small, quiet. “He’s not said a word all day.”

Her eyes got red. “He’s not really talked to me in a long time. The past year, you know, I’d say, ‘Talk to me, Harold. Talk to me.’ And he’d say, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t care just talk to me.'”

She dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex. “And he’d lean back in his chair and say, ‘I don’t have nothing to say. You just talk – I’ll listen.’ I just wish we could have one more conversation.”

MawMaw moved to his side and grabbed his hand. “Just one more, like we used to.”


Last night was particularly hard. Everything seems to point to this weekend as the time for Pop’s homegoing, and even the nurse told the family yesterday to stay close if they wanted to be there for the end. So we were all crammed into MawMaw and Pop’s house, eating, telling stories, alternating at Pop’s bedside to hold his hand, or say something to him in hopes of getting him to look at us. The tears flowed freely among us all.

It was funny, but there was a brief time where my professional life collided with our time of grief. My uncle Greg had some questions concerning supernatural phenomena, and being the family minister, those questions naturally got posed to me. I did my best to answer them as honestly and fully as I could, and Greg seemed satisfied with my answers.

“Okay,” he said, “but I’ve got one more question.”

Before he could ask it, though, we got distracted – I think either one of my kids did something, or someone announced it was time for dinner, or possibly both – and he never asked the question.

Rachel and I stayed as long as I could, and when Jonathan began jumping off of furniture, we knew it was time to go. But as we pulled out of the driveway and headed home, I told her I wanted to come back to the house once the kids were in bed. She said that was fine with her, so once I had put Jon down and kissed Ella goodnight, I hopped in my car and headed back to MawMaw and Pop’s.

Part of me wanted to be there in case the end was near. But the other part of me couldn’t let go of Greg’s one more question. And in my heart, I knew I needed to go back and answer it.

I pulled into the driveway, and went inside. My aunt Marcia met me at the door.

“Oh, good,” she said. “Everybody just said, ‘Marcia, someone’s here. Someone’s coming to the door’ so I thought I’d check.”

I went in and grabbed a water from the fridge. My mom looked at me and said, “What are you doing back?”

I patted Greg on the leg. “Because Greg said he had one more question he wanted answered.”

Greg smiled, and as I grabbed a seat on the floor next to him, the entire family gathered around, and I’m not exaggerating. There must have been three or four different conversations going on that just stopped, and everyone moved into the tiny family room around Greg and myself.

“Look at that,” Greg said, “everyone wants to hear the answer to this one.”

Then he turned to me and said, “What I want to know is: when Pop leaves this body, will he go straight to heaven?”

He paused for a moment as his eyes rimmed with tears. I knew what was next.

“And when we get there, will we know him?”


I believe that heaven is real. I believe it exists beyond this universe, though it will one day be united with this creation when everything is made new. I believe that, as the apostle Paul said, to be gone from the body is to be present in Christ; and I also believe, based on the apostle John’s descriptions of heaven in his book of the Revelation, that wherever Christ is, heaven is, because Christ is the focal point of heaven.

I also keep in mind that Jesus told the repentant thief that, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

I believe all of this, just like I believe that the people who will be in heaven will know one another, even if they’d never met on earth. So I have no doubts that I’ll know Pop, or my uncle Terry or my daughter Ruthanne.

Heaven, for me, is not wish fulfillment. It’s not an opiate to help ease my troubled mind in times of pain or difficulty; it’s the Truth, the reality of this universe. And while I may be wrong about it’s characteristics or properties or operational specifics, while I may not fully understand just what heaven is (and really, what human mind could?), I have bet my life upon its existence.

I said as much to my family, and more. They asked questions whenever I was unclear with my explanation, and we genuinely had almost a solid hour of just talking about what the Bible says about heaven, and what it will be like – what we will be like – when we get there. It was, to be honest, a moment that will forever be one of my favorite memories, and here’s why:

As I was talking about heaven, about knowing one another, about being consumed with the glory and beauty of God as He’s revealed in full, Pop started making noises. After a day of next to no sound, his moans drew MawMaw and Pat’s attention. They went to his side and leaned in. I kept on talking.

Suddenly Pat looked up and said, “He’s saying, ‘Uh-huh.’ He can hear what you’re saying, and he’s agreeing with you.'”


I can’t count the number of times in my life that Pop, when he was in good health, would lean up in his chair, rest and elbow on his knee, point a finger at my head and say, “Now, Jason – let me ask you something. As I read the Bible…” Anytime he did that, I knew we were in for at least a good 30 minutes of talking about scripture, theology, and the wisdom that an old man can give a young one. There were times that we didn’t agree on all of the finer points of a topic, but that’s just generational differences, I honestly believe.

Most of the time, when we’d talked the topic to death, he’d just lean back in his chair and smile, and say, “Well, that’s how I read it, anyway.” And we’d move on to something else.

Last night, we had what might have been our last conversation on matters of the Book. And while he said precious little, what he said was enough.

Last night, I talked. He listened. And, for me anyway, it was a glory to behold.

Someday soon, heaven will no longer be unknown to him. Someday soon, all of the questions we have will be answered for certain for Pop. We will grieve. We will mourn. We will feel his loss as deeply as we’ve ever felt anything.

But I believe, and, through these weeks of his decline, have become resolute, that one day I will see him again. And in that place where there will be no more tears or sickness or pain, we will be able to talk about those things which once we knew in part, but there will know in full.

One day.

Saying Goodbye as Long as We Can

He sits, his feet gently dangling above the porch decking, his knees exposed to the sunlight, waiting to be burned. And as his friends approach he waves a welcoming hand and offers them a seat on the porch.

“How’re you doin’, Harold?” the visitors inquire.

“I’m doin’ just wonderful. Couldn’t be better.” He smiles, his grin as crooked as the baseball cap on top of his head. “In fact, the Good Lord coulda seen fit to take me years ago, back when I was still in my sins. But instead he saw fit to leave me and claim me as his own.”

He stretches a toe to just scrape the deck and push the swing into a slow arc.

“And because of that,” Pop says, smiling, “how could I complain? I’m blessed beyond measure.”


The little boy is frightened. The door of his hospital room is open, but there are no familiar faces to be found. Doctors and nurses scurry in and out of his sight. The room, small, pale green, and smelling of antiseptic, gets smaller by the minute as some contraption he doesn’t quite understand pulls on his legs to help make them stronger. The pain, in his legs and in his heart, is hard to bear.

It has been decided that the wing he is on is not open to visitors. No mom. No dad. No one that might bring him a moments comfort or peace. Instead, his legs strapped into some kind of machine, he stares out the window, wishing for things to be different.

The window, an old transom-style number that pushes outward from the top to open, suddenly moves and a man’s face appears. He smiles and offers the boy a gift: a boxed set of Cowboy and Indian gear, complete with badge and pistols. The boy smiles with delight, and the smile grows wider because the man stays around to talk for a few minutes, breaking the solitude and offering a salve to a frightened boy’s heart.

The boy would later learn as an adult that my grandfather and grandmother, after being turned away by the nurses and doctors, walked around the exterior of the hospital looking in windows until they found his room.

“As long as I have a mind for remembering, I will always remember what he did. It was an example of Christian love I’ll never forget.”


MawMaw and Pop, 1949.

My grandfather is going to die. I’ve known that for a while, but this week the reality of it has really settled in. The first wave crashed down on Sunday night when, after Pop didn’t really interact with me or my family during our visit, my father looked at me and said, “You have to remember, this [meaning hopsice] was never about him getting better. It was always about making his transition as smooth and painless as possible.”

It was a simple, devastating statement. We brought him home to die in peace, my father was saying. Don’t lose sight of that.

That rolled around in my gut for a long time Sunday night; it took all of the sentimentality of the past few weeks and shoved it into harsh daylight, the ugliness of the truth suddenly on full display.

The second wave came this morning. I stopped in to check on Pop before heading to a testimony service at the church where I grew up. His eyes were closed, his skin slack and translucent. He didn’t respond to my voice or my touch, and my grandmother said softly, “He’s been like that since last night. Hasn’t opened his eyes at all.”

My cousin, Chasity, was there, standing near me at the foot of Pop’s bed. She caressed his feet, which were spotted with purplish splotches. I just stared, marveling at the sudden downturn.

Then Chasity said, “Have you seen the book?”

It was a small, blue book, the size of a standard piece of copy paper folded in half. The outer cover was blue, and it was stapled down the center. Nondescript, almost laughably crude, but the title stopped me cold.

Gone From My Sight.

In roughly six brief pages this little book documented the signs of impending death. It gave a rough estimate of when each sign should appear, beginning six months out and going to as close as two to three days. It was as straightforward and earnest as an Amish tax audit; in plain language that wretched booklet told me just how close my grandfather is to death.

Two to three days, according to the symptoms. “But, the timing is different for every person. The information in this book is only intended as a guide.”

MawMaw and Pop. Wedding Day, 1949.

I left MawMaw and Pop’s saddened, confused, and thoroughly unprepared to go to a church service, let alone a church service in the place that has so much meaning and resonance for my family, and certainly not a church service in the very church behind which my grandfather will be laid to rest next to his oldest son. But I went.

I went because God told me to, and because there are places in everyone’s life that have meaning, however confusing and unclear that meaning may be. Touchstones, some people call them. I grew up hearing people call them something else, something much more poetic and mysterious and satisfying: ebenezers.

I first heard this term in a song, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and as a child I thought it particularly odd that someone would wish to sing about the nasty old man from Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Turns out, it’s a reference to a biblical story found in 1 Samuel 7:23, where the prophet of God built an altar of stone as a way of remembering God’s provision during a battle with the Philistines. The word, a compound of two Hebrew words (even and hazaar) literally means “Stone of Help.”

This morning, drowning in the future, I sought help from one of the rocks of my childhood. It didn’t disappoint.

The church hasn’t changed much, if at all, in the seventeen years since I left it. The smell of freon, cool and sweet and very much like the summers of my youth, wafted up from the crawlspace air vents. The baptismal pool was still a 70’s green and backed by an acrylic mural of a running river; my eyes immediately went to the same spot they did when I was younger: a strange rock formation that looked like a partially submerged skull.

I took a seat on the back row of my childhood and let it wash over me.

The service was already in progress when I walked in, and Mr. Harvey, the same man who had led singing when I was a boy, was just setting his song book on the communion table. I closed my eyes and went back in time to those days when I would ride to the services with MawMaw and Pop, sit in between them, and listen to people much older than me talk about things that I either didn’t understand or would’ve been too embarrassed to say in public. I could smell MawMaw’s powder and Pop’s Old Spice. I could hear the tiny whine of the air coming up out of the vents, straining to beat back the Georgia summertime heat. I could hear the throats clearing, the peppermints being unwrapped, the distinct sound of a Church Hymnal as someone pulled it from the pew rack and it’s canvas hide zzzzzzzzzzzipped across the wood grain.

Suddenly, for a man whose world had been marching intolerably forward, I was caught up in a vision of beauty, a vision from another time. And I very much wanted to be there, where my grandfather was standing, tall and humble, still many years removed from a tiny hospice bed stationed in his front gathering room.


I came back to the service when Mrs. Edna stood and testified. Then Mrs. Rita. I think Mrs. Trish went next, and the theme was well-established: memories of back when. I walked backwards in time with these people from my childhood, recalling as best I could the faces and places that they mentioned. I felt at home in their memories, much more at home than I could’ve hoped for, and when Mrs. Myrtle stood up I was unprepared for how much at home I was going to be.

Pop's baptism, 1969. (I think.)

Mrs. Myrtle spoke of her own salvation and baptism in 1969, and how my grandfather got saved around the same time as her. She mentioned his deteriorating health and said that the church should pray for him, because he was a good man who had contributed much to the church when he was a member. I was grateful for her words.

Then, she told the story that opened the blog, about going to visit my grandfather while he was still in his health, about his gratitude for being able to simply be alive. She didn’t fill in the details as specifically as I did, but in my mind’s eye I could see him, sitting in his swing in the afternoon sun, chatting with old friends come by for a spell. My eyes swam.

Mr. Philip spoke next, and then the preacher, Mr. Terry. Once he sat down I knew it was my turn to speak, and I rose, my voice catching, my knees shaking, and I said the only thing that I could think of:

“Thank you.”

I said far more, but the gist of it all was my gratitude, for both my past and my present.

When I sat down, a young man only a few years older than me stood up and spoke from his heart. As he was concluding his testimony, he told the second story from the blog opening, about my grandparents’ persistence in the name of love and compassion. Then he sat down.

There are times in life when you don’t go looking for the very thing you need and it finds you anyway. Today, when my own memories only served as signposts for the inevitability of Pop’s death, other people gave me new memories to savor, memories from which I could draw strength. I am grateful.


Tonight, I went back over to MawMaw and Pop’s with my son. I’d forgotten to retrieve some pictures from my cousin after the church service, so Jon and I went back to get them.

When we came around the corner, the driveway was full of cars. My aunt’s. My mom’s. Four of my cousins’. I added mine and went inside with my son.

For almost an hour my family gathered around the kitchen, laughing about my cousin Meagan making the biscuits for dinner. Meagan is not, shall we say, overly domestic. But she and MawMaw walked through the biscuit making process from ingredients (flour, buttermilk, Crisco, and really, really clean hands) to oven rack, and dang if they weren’t fantastic. Standing there, eating hot biscuits (some of which people ruined with tomato slices) we were able to put aside the painful future and recapture a glimpse of our glorious past.

I didn’t want to leave. Part of me wanted to remain in the world of illusion, in the world of my past, where my family isn’t threatened by death or sadness or grief. And another part of me felt keenly that this moment, this beautiful moment in which the power of family transcended the immediacy and staggering power of death, might be our last such one. As soon as tomorrow, tonight could be our last family meal together. Who would ever want that to end?


Things will not get easier. Pop will not get better. What was is no longer; what is will only last just a little more. Soon, perhaps very soon, I’ll return to the little church where I grew up and my family will lower Pop’s body into its final resting place. I know exactly which plot it will be, right next to the granite marker for my late uncle Terry, gone from this world much too early in April 1976. MawMaw, whenever God decides, will one day rest next to Pop. And sometime after that my parents, and my aunts and uncles, and eventually myself. That is the way of all mankind.

For now, we hang on every breath of a dear and tired man, hoping for just a little bit longer with him, momentarily blinding ourselves to the truth that we are merely saying goodbye as long as we possibly can. For now, it is enough. We will continue to gather at Pop’s side and tell the old stories while also creating new ones because that’s what we do. We make memories while we are still able.

One day all I will have are those memories. Thank God they are good ones.

Dancing In The Light Of Fireflies

Hope like firefly light - the gift of my grandfather's generation.I’m going to spend a lot of my time going to funerals over the next five years.

A lot.

I said as much to my brother, Ryan, yesterday before the funeral of one of our former pastors. He agreed with me. And as we looked around the church where we found ourselves, we could count at least four or five likely candidates. It’s not morbid – it’s life.

Now, we will most likely be wrong in our predictions – the people you think are most likely to go usually hang around an extra decade or two – but it doesn’t change the fact that many of the people who populated our childhood will die within the next five years. The Greatest Generation is marching, inexorably, towards their Greatest Adventure.

We will lose a lot when they are gone. An entirely different America, in fact. The nation that they helped to shape, the nation that they represent, will vanish when the last of those WWII-era citizens passes. America as a producer. America as an industrial giant. America as an international power. America as a single nation. All of these truths that I grew up hearing about our country will go to the grave with the generation that held them closest.

Because, let’s face it, we no longer believe in that America. We believe in a nation where opportunity comes with a price tag, where the fix is in, where government, corruption, incompetence and apathy have become synonymous. We live, sadly, in an America that couldn’t rise from the ashes of the Depression and win a World War. We don’t have the collective optimism or hope that is required to do that sort of thing. We would piss and moan about the hardship and struggle, and while we would be right about the challenges, our attitude alone would doom us more than our circumstances.

Which is exactly what I never fully understood about that Greatest Generation, my grandparents’ generation: their attitude. How could they not see the things my generation sees? How could they be so naive? How could they hold onto the American myth and push so stridently for its hoped-for outcomes? It couldn’t have been stupidity – they figured out more challenging problems than that in their sleep, and if you don’t believe me, try keeping a victory garden alive and flourishing for more than three days. I mean, I can’t even keep a plastic plant alive that long.

I could never fathom why my grandparents held the beliefs they did about America. Why they could stand and sing the anthem without shame. Why they could talk about this country as if it had never done anything wrong. Didn’t they understand Watergate? Didn’t they know about Hoover’s FBI?

How could they be so blind?

I’ve been thinking about this for weeks now, as my grandfather has been suddenly confined to a hospice bed in his own home’s front room, and I don’t think they’ve been blind at all. I think they just understood that it’s better to live with hope than whimper in fear. I see this attitude at work in Pop even now.

I’ve been to visit him a few times now, and where I would feel like a fool set on display for the pitying world, he just looks out the window, smiles at the company, and sleeps whenever he needs to. He doesn’t rage against the health care system. He doesn’t rail against the government’s failure to take better care of veterans. He doesn’t even care to hear the latest news, except for weather reports – and even then, why does the weather matter to him? He can’t even go outside!

I’m living through this with him and while my heart sometimes feels like it’s going to explode from the chaos and madness and seeming inequity of it all, he’s never uttered a word of discontent.

I asked him the other day if he was ready to go to Heaven.

“Yep,” he replied. “But I’m not gonna go get a shotgun and rush the trip along.”

“Don’t you get tired?” I asked.

“Yep. But the Lord has me here for a reason. Might as well live for it.”

When he said that to me, I thought, Fatalism. Whatever will be will be. It seemed the coward’s way out, blithely just taking whatever comes your way and not expecting anything more.

But my grandfather is not a coward. You can’t be a coward when your sickbed is the center ring of your last days and everyone comes to see the show and pay their respects. It takes a courage that I don’t possess to let your brokenness be on display and to live each day for itself.

That’s the kind of spirit that overcame a Reich. That’s the kind of spirit that conquered the pitfalls inherent in the American Dream and allowed goodness to shine through. That is the kind of willpower and faith that innovates and imagines and invents solutions to problems that others would run from. That is what led Tom Brokaw and others to coin them the Greatest Generation, and they are dying, one by one.

It’s like when I was a kid, and the fireflies started blinking. You knew the evening time was near, and you only had so long to play before you had to come inside for the night. We danced in that firefly light, savoring every flicker, because we knew that when the night had reached its darkest those fireflies would light the way. As long as we could see one little light in the blackness, we felt safe.

My grandfather’s generation still lights the way, as they have for some fifty years. Long since past the events that defined them, they have been flashing reminders of what is good and beautiful in a darkened world. But soon, the last of those beacons of childhood security will go black and we’ll find ourselves alone in the dark. America will have lost her soul, her spirit, to the passage of time. We will face future events without a large part of who we were as a nation.

And what we do then will define our generation.