Six years ago this spring, my Grandma Johnson died. My heart broke for many reasons: I was pregnant with my first son and I knew she and my kids would never know one another (a loss for them both); her death was sudden and so came as a bit of a surprise (although she was still 83 years old) and I was totally unprepared; I was on an airplane on my way to say a last goodbye when my dad called to say that she had passed away and so felt I had missed out. But most of all I was heartbroken because the love of my Grandfather’s life, the woman who he had spent the last 63 years with, was gone and he was left alone.
And so, for the past six years, every time I’ve heard Randy Travis’ Satisfied Mind, I’ve bawled my eyes out. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it includes these words:
“He said I ain’t afraid of dying ‘cause I know there’s something worse,
When you have to see your reason for living go first
And you get left behind.
Some can’t think of nothing better than to live this life forever,
I never wanted no more than was mine
And to lay down some day and go home with a satisfied mind.
He said don’t look into the darkness if you wanna see true black,
Look into the morning’s brightness at love ain’t coming back
And you will find right there the darkness that blinds.
And don’t think wealth is ever having all you want all to yourself.
It is found when you are giving what you have to someone else.
The only difference in the rich and the poor is a satisfied mind.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, Grandpa has been fortunate to be surrounded by family, as he has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who live in Michigan, some of whom eventually came to live with him in his final years. But ever since Grandma died it’s been clear that a piece of his heart was missing.
This is the only tragedy surrounding his final days on earth. In fact, Grandpa always used to say that when old people die, that’s not a tragedy. He was proud of his old age, and he embraced it like no one I’ve known.
When I was in college he asked me once, “Why would I fear death? Do you remember what it was like before you were born?” “No,” I replied. “Did God hurt you or let you be hurt by others?” “No,” I repeated. “So it must be when you die,” he said. Simple logic to be sure but Grandpa had a way of taking all the stress and worry and other emotions out of aging and death and strip it down to a very simple, very understandable truth. We are born, we live, we die.
He was successful with this philosophy in large part because he had an unbelievable sense of humor and was always able to laugh at himself – even last summer when he walked out of his bedroom, to the bathroom and back before realizing he didn’t have on any pants. He was a joy to watch age in much the same way that a child is. On that same visit last summer, Scoot and I walked into his room and found him watching Coyote Ugly. He developed a crush on Jennifer Aniston and owned every season of Friends on DVD.
When my dad called to tell me the news of his passing early in February (he had fallen a couple days earlier and broken his leg so it was not a huge surprise), he told me that my aunt and uncle had just left him with some magazines to read and he was talking to the nurses and he just died. Now, I’m sure there’s more to the story than that, but I don’t want to know it.
Because in my mind, I have this perfect image of Grandpa lying in his hospital bed, reading a People Magazine with Jennifer Aniston on the cover, flirting with the nurses who are doting over him, a smile crossing his face and then him going home to Grandma. And there could be no more apropos way for him to leave this world.
It was an honor to know him, to love him, and to be loved by him. He and Grandma are both sorely missed.