Dear Caleb: Your Grandpa Mike
It breaks my heart to know that you’ll never be held by your Grandpa G. He was quite a man and I am honored to have celebrated his life today. You’ve been the honorary guest at each of the memorial services, but I’m sure you won’t remember since you’re only 3 weeks old. Here’s the eulogy I shared with everyone so that you can get just a glimpse of how special he was:
The reality of this day is both surreal and overwhelming. The last few weeks have certainly been emotional, as Keith & I were at home in Las Vegas when Dad passed away. We were celebrating the birth of our son Caleb when we got the news of Dad’s passing only eight hours later. Even so, we have enjoyed remembering Dad and the lessons he taught my sister and me.
Growing up, Dad was always keeping us on our toes. He brought us outside to explore the world on fishing, hunting, and hiking trips. It was always fun to see Dad’s eyes light up as he discovered new places on trips to California, Virginia, Florida, Washington D.C. and France, to name just a few.
I laugh thinking of all the crazy things Dad did: he loved making scavenger hunts for our Christmas gifts (and we asked for them every year as much as the clues made us crazy) and elevated April Fools to an art form when he got Mom with the old “tape down the sink sprayer” trick several years in a row. Molly and I always loved hearing stories about Mom & Dad during their years at the University of Rhode Island. Some of my favorites included one of their first dates when dad had to cut a grinder with a hand saw because the deli had forgotten to. Another favorite story is of the night they got engaged – at dinner he told Mom that he didn’t think the time was right to get engaged because he had the ring in his pocket and was planning on proposing only hours later.
More recently, my memories of Dad include the numerous times he helped me move into college dorms and first apartments. His engineering skills made him a Tetris-with-boxes genius and it will never cease to amaze me how he could manage to make everything fit. Somehow, Dad was a bit oblivious when Keith asked him for his blessing to marry me and when Keith proposed very soon after, my dad laughed and said, “That dog!”. I am so thankful for my dad’s willingness to accept Keith, not just as an in-law, but also as his son. He taught Keith the intricacies of the Italian Christmas Eve dinner and inspired him to love smoked salmon. This summer, we had the privilege of a family vacation before Dad’s diagnosis and it was so much fun to see him experience the wide open spaces of the South West – he was always ready for an adventure. I had the unique experience of sharing my pregnancy pains with my dad. Before his surgery in August, mom would come home from work to find us both, belly up, dozing off and moaning in discomfort. I will always see the humor in the fact that we both had C-sections.
Dad taught Molly many things, including how to fish, how to change the oil in a car, how to play golf, how to hike, how to catch and throw, how to ride a bike, and how to drive. Above all, Dad taught Molly how to love and care for others. A week before he passed away, Dad sent Molly a text after a volleyball match. It said, “I don’t know what happened tonight with games yet but want to know how you are?” His biggest priority wasn’t volleyball but how Molly was doing. Despite the aches and pains of his illness, he wanted to know that his Molly was okay. Dad was a selfless man, putting others before himself through his love for them. The smile that illuminated his face when Molly walked through the door to visit on Sunday mornings was all she needed to know that Dad loved her with all his heart. Dad taught Molly that love is the most important thing in life: above fishing, above cars, even above sports. Throughout his life, it was evident that Dad cared for and loved many people, a legacy making Molly and me so proud to call him our dad.
Amidst the memories are a number of important lessons that my dad taught us: He taught us how to laugh. Dad’s smile and hearty chuckle were enough to get anyone in a good mood. His quips and sense of humor challenged me never to take anything too seriously (some of you may remember his “Free Mike” campaign when his passport was held hostage in Ecuador when he and a group from the church brought shoes to children there). From a young age, Dad taught us how to study scripture. It was of utmost importance that we knew how to read and interpret the Bible on our own; that we would seek to know Jesus and trust Him with our lives. It was one of Dad’s priorities in life to love people. No matter how well you knew him, he had a way of making you seem like the most important person in the world and could put anyone at ease. He was one of those people that everyone loved being around. Similarly, Dad was an incredible host – even in his final months of life, Dad’s schedule was full of social engagements. He taught me to love being in the kitchen and how to make people feel welcome in my home.
Dad was a model of perseverance. In high school, his guidance counselor discouraged him from taking any math courses in college because he was not the best student. Instead of heeding that advice, he went on to study engineering. He taught me never to give up. In the moments when I felt overwhelmed in my own studies, Dad gave me perspective to remember that grades and other accomplishments are only temporary and do not reflect on my own character or my worth as a person. In the last four months, Dad taught me to live a full life. He continued to pursue what was most important in the midst of his illness: we would text late at night when neither one of us could sleep and he would share with me the lessons he was learning from his late night Bible studies. He shared his faith in Jesus with many of you and was so excited when people made decisions to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven.
The lesson I cherish most from my dad is the one to be still and trust God. In the midst of this challenging time of sickness and pain, Dad kept reminding us that God was in control and would ultimately do good. It’s hard to trust that Dad’s passing is “good”, but I look at this sea of faces of people who have poured out love on me and my family and can be truly grateful.
Mike G leaves quite a legacy. I think firstly of the boardwalk in Niantic. He was so passionate about making the downtown area a destination. Throughout my years in college he would call to update me on the boardwalk project and even this summer was so proud to show off the bathhouses.
You may have heard about our “Wells for Haiti” project. Dad was passionate about using his engineering skills to help bring clean water to the people of Haiti; we are collecting donations to fund the construction of wells in Dad’s name.
Lastly, Dad leaves the legacy of little Caleb Michael. Besides, sharing a name and a dimpled chin, they shared just 8 hours on Earth together. When we found out we were having a boy, I wanted him to have a name that embodied the character traits I most admired in Dad (this was months before his diagnosis): a fierce and faithful follower of God. I asked Dad to help me pick a verse for the baby and gave him that exact description. He led me to Numbers 14:24 where God says, “…my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me…” I found it remarkable that Dad knew so much about his grandson without me telling him anything.
Many of you knew Dad as a “good guy” or someone with a “strong faith”, but you need to know that those were not things innate to him; he grew to be a strong, Godly man through is relationship with Jesus. In the months between his diagnosis and his death, everything else became secondary. Late one night he had a face-to-face conversation with Jesus where he stared into eternity. He asked for more time on Earth because he felt called to share his faith in Jesus with more people. If he were standing here today, he would want you to know that Jesus loves you, right where you are, and that He is pursuing you. You don’t have to have it all together because Jesus wants to help put you back into one piece. I encourage you to consider Jesus’ pursuit seriously; my family and I would love to tell you more about him.
In closing, I want to encourage you to begin the healing process through a conversation I had with my Dad in August. He was recovering from a toxic reaction to chemotherapy and asked me to promise him that I would never have regrets. He did not want me to regret the things he would miss; he wanted me to continue pursuing a full life and not let my grief slow me down. I have full confidence that Dad is with Jesus, completely healed (maybe even with a full head of hair?!), and praying that we would have the peace that passes all understanding (as it says in Philippians 4:7), grieve his passing, and continue living life to the fullest.
I love you, little buddy and love the little glimpses of my dad that I see in you each day.