Today, I had the privilege and honor to officiate my grandfather’s funeral. My grandfather, Papaw, passed away on July 28. We’ve known this day was coming, but it still does not make it easy.
As I have done on several other occasions, I was asked to officiate the service and offer a few words of reflection upon this man we miss so dearly. What follows after the jump is the homily from today’s funeral. I provide it for you so that you may get to know this man who will live on through the legacy that he leaves behind.
Words are powerful. We think that we need several words to express ourselves, but sometimes a single word can do so much.
Sometimes a single world can express our inner most thoughts. Sometimes a single word can describe an event or a moment in time. Sometimes, and especially on days like today, a single word can begin to tell the story of someone close to us.
Many of us have a single word that begins to remind us of our relationship with this man of humility, of encouragement, and of unconditional love. We each have a single word that can help us to begin to tell the story of Robie Wallace.
For my grandmother, Mamaw, that one word is husband. It is a word that begins to tell the story of more than 62 years of marriage. A relationship that began with few knowing and would lead to serve as the foundation of a large and committed family. They lived out the promise they made to each other to support one another in good days and bad, even until my grandfather’s last breath. Their relationship was and is a testament of love that can withstand anything and of a love that was willing to take care of others without ever asking of anything in return.
For my mother and Tommy, that one word would be father. It is a word that begins to tell the story of how Robie was constantly encouraging and teaching them throughout their lives. He was a constant companion and a source of strength for them. He was always there for them and gave them a lifetime of memories of a loving father who took them on the mail runs when he was a truck driver for the U.S. Postal Service to watching the love he showed towards their children, his grandchildren, and, eventually, his grandchildren’s children.
We all have that one word that helps us to tell the story of this amazing man. Brother. Uncle. Cousin. Friend. Words that fill the heart with memories and comfort us on days like today.
My word, and the word many of us use to describe Robie, is simply “Papaw.” It is a single world that begins to tell the story of our grandfather. For myself, it is not just a fun synonym for my grandfather. It is a word that begins to tell the story of man who stood as a father figure for me. I mourn today, as many of us do, not just the loss of a grandfather, but of a man who in many respects was the man I looked up to as my own “dad.”
When I think of Papaw, I am drawn to the words of hope we read from John 14:1-4, 18-19, and 25-27. This passage comes during what is known as the Final Discourse. Jesus is in the Upper Room – the place where he shared the Passover meal with his disciples prior to his arrest and crucifixion – and is offering some words of hope to those who remain. Jesus’ words tells us that he has made room for each of us through faith. A model of embrace and love that Jesus calls us to live into our own lives.
That was Papaw. He lived out this passage and the life of Christ by the way he would care and love each of us. He made room for us and the many passions and desires that we each have. No one person’s passions or interests were better than the others. He embraced us and our passions and made them his own.
Papaw could spend hours talking about trucks and how to fix things with my brother, Brandon. He could carry on a conversation, with me, about Dale Earnhardt, the upcoming elections, or how to raise my son, Noah. He would take my brother on hunting and camping trips to the cabin in Egerie. He would accompany me to numerous wrestling tournaments always believing that if I ate a Big Mac before my match I would have a secret advantage over my opponent. He would chaperone trips to WVU’s journalism competitions. He was there when I moved to college, went to seminary, and preached my first sermon.
Even if Papaw could never understand why you enjoyed something he made sure to participate in it. Don’t believe me? Papaw drove me and a friend of mine to Huntington in 1997 so we could attend a live “Monday Night Raw.” He was bored to tears, but he enjoyed it because we did.
Throughout these last several months as we watched his health decline, I’ve often wondered about why he took such an interest in those passions of ours. I believe it was an expression of his love for us. It was his way of caring for children and making them feel his care. Jesus words from Matthew 19:14 of “[l]et the little children come to me” was the way Papaw lived.
We never had to worry about someone not being there for us, because Papaw was always there when we needed him. As a result of his presence, each of us who were influenced by his love and care have received a solid foundation to pass that legacy on to our own children and others. His mere presence made you feel loved, cared for, and encouraged. Even if sometimes he did not have the words to say it his presence said it all. We were never alone.
I would not be the pastor, husband, father, or friend I am today without Papaw’s guidance, support, and constant encouragement. Today, I celebrate and give thanks to God that he was a major influence in my life and who I am. I just hope he knows the difference he made in my life.
I also celebrate and give thanks to God for the many ways he impacted each of you. He made a difference in all of our lives. It is because of that influence, as well as the memories, moments, and times we shared with Papaw that bring us to this place of celebration and thanksgiving with tears in our eyes and grief in our hearts. We are missing someone today and we ache over that loss. His absence is never more real than it is today. We will still feel it in the days to come.
Yet, we have a hope to hold onto. We cling to the promise of hope that while our hearts are broken we need not be troubled. Jesus leaves us with that word to strengthen us in these difficult days.
We are not alone today. That is because God makes room for us and never abandons us. Making room for us is more than just about a place in New Jerusalem – heaven – in the presence of our Lord and those who have gone before us. It is also about making room for us to express our grief and how we feel in our sense of deep loss. God is big enough to feel our pain and to comfort us in our grief. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God shares with us the very love and strength we need today and always.
That is a hope we need today. God is with us. God is here with us as we celebrate Papaw’s life. The Lord comforts us in our tears. The Lord wraps his arms around us when we feel alone. The Lord helps us to put a smile on our face as we remember the memories and moments we have shared with each other since Thursday evening. We are never alone. God is always there, always comforting, always guiding, always strengthening, and always walking right beside us in our good days and bad days.
With that hope is also another promise we need to cling to today. That is that today is not the end of the story. Papaw’s story is just beginning. We cling to the hope of New Jerusalem, of heaven, where there will be no more pain, sickness, tears, or death. A day in which we will stand in the presence of the Lord with those who have gone before us for all time.
Papaw is enjoying that promise today. He is in the presence of the Lord, along with his dear brother, Uncle Dewey, and others who have gone before him. We will experience that promise one day.
We will be with Papaw again. In each funeral I conduct for my church in Kentucky, Claylick UMC, I try to remind my people that a funeral is not a time for “goodbye.” It is a day for saying, “We’ll see you later.” We say that because of the promise of the Resurrection is that our death is not the final story. We will see each other again on the other side of the Jordan River. That is our hope today.
We will see Papaw again. We will be reunited with him and find ourselves sitting on the front porch somewhere watching the cars go by. He’ll ask us where we’ve been and we’ll sit beside him, and as the Brad Paisley song that we heard earlier suggests, we’ll tell him about all the things that he missed and of how we tried to influence others because of his influence.
So, my friends and family, remember what Papaw meant to you. Give thanks to God that we got the chance to share life with such an incredible and wonderful person. May you also claim the hope that God is with us in our tears and gives us the promise that we will be with God, and Papaw, one day.
Papaw, we’ll see you later.