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faith through life and death (a letter to grandpa Sykes)

I wrote this letter to my grandfather on October 30th or so of last year, when it looked like he might be dying.  I emailed it to my mom who printed it out and read it to him in his bed.  He held on for another thirteen months, though, as his health slid down and deteriorated in a painful, helpless way.  He just passed, a week before Thanksgiving.  I want to thank everyone who has been there for my family through this time, and I had the inkling to share this letter on my blog because I recently unearthed it (rather by accident) and I think it captures a lot of things I will always care about, including my grandfather.

I remain happy to have known one of the kindest men to ever walk this earth.  I stand by every word of this today:

hey grandpa,

I really wish I could have come up this weekend so I could see you tonight, but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it home until next week.  I’ve heard that although your mind is still as sharp as always, your body’s health is really failing you now.  And that’s really unfair and it makes me so sad and angry because you are one of the best people I know, grandpa.  One of the humblest, surest people I have ever met.  And you deserve a body that listens when you tell it to.

I wanted to write you a letter saying what I would say to you if I could have seen you tonight.  I asked my mom to read it to you and make sure you understood it.  I really hope to see you soon, but hopefully this will get across want I want to tell you for now:

I want to thank you for everything you have done for me over the years.  Thank you for the unconditional love I have always felt from my Sykes side of the family for all of my life.  Thank you for babysitting us as kids.  Thank you for being my sponsor when I was confirmed into our Church, despite your body not allowing you to be there for the ceremony.  Thank you for raising us up and teaching us about God and for praying the rosary for me years and years before my mom and dad ever met.  Thank you for sending flowers to my Kuramitsu side of the family when you didn’t need to and for keeping us always in your thoughts and prayers.

Thank you for praying for – and this still blows my mind – my children’s children.

I wanted to especially thank you too, grandpa, for listening as my mom, your wife, and I talked together a few months ago, when we had that conversation about forgiveness and hurt and heaven and hell and gay people and how God’s love is big enough to cover everyone.  I know that when I was telling you stories of my gay friends and when my mom was telling you and grandma about her story, some of this was really totally new ideas to you.  But you listened, and we talked about things, and we prayed together afterwards, and it was one of the most  spiritually healing nights I have had in a long while.  I want to thank you for listening with us then, for modeling for me personally what our Lord Jesus would look like if only he were here physically with us today.

Your faith inspires me so much, grandpa.  It reminds me that I am an irrevocable part of something way, way bigger and more ancient and mysterious and loving than myself.  The faith you model for me is one that I try to cultivate in my own life.  It connects me with my past and it pulls me forward into my future.  It makes me appreciate the divine presence and the sacraments and the gift that it is to be alive loving others, both in this age and the next.

You know, if I thought this was the last chance I’d ever get to see you, I would have canceled work, missed my shifts tonight and tomorrow, and made a mad dash for home, where I would have said a depressed and hopeless goodbye.  I’ll be honest, we are all going to be devastated when you leave us, grandpa, but I also cling to the hope that you have taught about for my whole life: I know Jesus is waiting to meet you, and that this is not the end.  I know we will see you again, and it will be a million times better and – in the presence of God – our bodies and minds will be a billion times stronger than they are now.  Though I am in tears writing this now, I remember everything you have taught me about Jesus, and I know that the life He promised us is bigger than death or hell or any other scary thing that sin or the devil can cast at us.

I rest in the hope of the resurrection, and I believe with all of my heart that you will be warmly welcomed, John, straight into the heart of God the moment you pass from this earth.

Because you really don’t fit in that body, and everybody knows it.  Your mind knows it, your spirit knows it, and all of us who have ever known you and are furious that this is happening to you know it.  I have great trust that you will be getting a new body soon, one in which, like it says in the Bible, you can “run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint.”

I guess, all that to say, if I know only two things, they are this: that I love and remember and thank you with all of my heart, and that I will see you soon.

All of my love,


grandpa and me

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. My Grandmother died last Friday and I felt something similar to what you are writing here. Except that her consciousness was not as clear as your Grandfather’s: the last time I visited her, she was unable to speak, yet I think I could read in her eyes what she had to say to me. I know the language of those clear blue eyes: they had taught me how to love and live in this world.

    For Christmas I made her an audiobook and chose to tell stories she hadn’t heard, yet I knew she would have liked. Reading your letter to your Grandpa, I wish I had had the strength to not keep it a taboo and talk about the approaching day of her passing, with such solid faith and charisma you did here.

    A soul not fitting to the body: I guess this is a fitting (and comforting) definition for my Grandma’s last days, too.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    January 19, 2015
    • thank you for sharing your story, friend. happy to meet you. Your gift sounds like it was amazing. Im sure she loved it and it sounds like she lives in you. your grandma’s passing sounds like my grandma’s. It was hard because there was so much i wanted to say still. Props to you for your creative compassion

      January 19, 2015

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