Thursday, December 22, 2011

To Walk in Your Steps- A(nother) Grandfather Remembered

Today, my second grandfather passed away this year. 
My whole life I've heard, "now wait, *how* are you related to Pastor Burke?" ... well. I'm not. Not by blood and not even legally. It's a complicated situation that I totally understand, but can't really explain to other people. It stems from my dad's lack of family, which is again complicated. And while my dad's story is woven into my own, it still isn't my story to share. Suffice to say, the Burke family took my dad in and I was raised calling their boys "uncle" and calling them "grandpa and grandma". It's a strange but strong relation. 
Death is really interesting. It's the sort of thing that we know exists and that we talk about all the time, but it always seems shocking when it happens? I think it's because something inside of us, in the deepest part of our hearts and beings cries 'unfair!'. We were never made to die, we were made for life. Even so, we actually weren't expecting him to pass, though. He had just been cleared of his battle from cancer and his doctor told him to go and relax on the beach in Florida. That was just about a month ago. He ended up back in the hospital in Florida and then Sunday we got the call that he'd be leaving the hospital and sent home for hospice treatment. I can't tell you how blown away I was. My dad (and their boys) all left the next day to make the trip from Michigan. Thankfully, they all made it in time and my dad said that while he was weak, he was still himself. I could hear him on the phone with my dad the day he left for Florida... you wouldn't have even known he was just given that grim diagnosis. He was asking my dad how church was that morning. 
My parent's wedding
So him.
He was the pastor for a church that he planted in Fenton, Michigan for 33 years. He then retired and handed the church over to a man with a similar story to his own. That man has honored my grandfather in such a touching and real way. This summer they had a "Founder's Day" at The Freedom Center to honor my grandfather's ministry and 85th birthday. It was incredible. They went all out, decorating the church and hanging hundreds of photographs from the ceiling. My grandfather preached a message like I haven't heard since I was a little girl. Everyone was so respectful and grateful. Everyone was so kind.
I was talking to my brother on the phone about it today. It's so rare to leave this earth the way he did. In a culture that reveres youth and beauty while casting aside the elderly, he was sought out for his wisdom. He was incredibly respected. He was still a mentor, still admired, still so relevant. Of course he was relevant! But these days we can get so caught up in being "modern" that we forget the sage advice that comes from those who have gone before us. We tend to find them outdated. We say they couldn't understand. No one ever said that about him. He was talking to my husband and I this summer about a project he was considering. Some younger people had approached him about making a video giving truths about living through the Great Depression, explaining what it was like and encouraging those of us finding our way through the Great Recession. Everyone who knew him understood just how important his opinion and experience was.
Preaching my wedding
I am so going to miss that. He was such an incredible guide to my life. He would call me up and give me "a word" to help me find my way when life had tough decisions. He was just so full of truth. And what I love the most is that he boiled everything down. He didn't try to be profound or lengthy, he was clear and concise. Once, when I was spilling out my latest fear/worry to him, he sat casually listening and eating a peach. When he got done, he put the pit in my hand. He asked me if I knew what that was... I figured the answer wasn't "a peach pit?" so I just kept my mouth shut. He told me "that's life. Only God can create life. No scientist, no man, no one can create life out of nothing. God is more powerful than anything in this universe. He created your life, and he holds it in the palm of his hand." ... it totally spoke to me. I still have that peach pit 10 years later. I wouldn't part with it for anything. He was always that way. "Walk with God, Aundrea... it's the easiest thing in the world". He said that to me all the time, and he really lived it. He had such a real relationship with God. They were truly friends. They still are... I can't imagine how heaven rejoiced when he joined them there.
Again at our wedding
Thankfully, I wrote down most of the advice he gave me in a little book throughout the years. And I've so often shared his advice with others as well. I'll always carry it in my book, but also in my heart. I want so badly to be like him. I want to finish my time on earth strong. Not even physically... but mentally and spiritually. Loved and respected by all, loving and respectful to all. He was wise, but he was also so discerning. He used to ask the most pointed questions that just cut you right to the heart. They exposed all of the things you were trying to avoid or hide from yourself. But I'm so grateful that he was willing to ask them, because I would have made some awful choices otherwise. 
He also asked questions that cracked you up! He was such a funny guy. He never lost his sense of humor and he never stopped making jokes. I love that about him. While it's so important to remember his wisdom and to want to emulate that, I have to also speak to his personality. If I don't acknowledge that he's a firecracker, I do him a great injustice. 
Our last trip to Harrisville
Lastly, I have to tell his love story. He was married to my grandma for 66 years. It's a rather entertaining story, too. He saw her when she was on a date with another fella. He didn't know anything about either of them. The story goes something like this... she exited to go outside through a revolving door, but her date never followed her. Instead, my grandpa appeared a few moments later announcing the other poor fellows departure. No one knows *what* he said or *how* he said it to make the other guy leave, but they never heard from him again! They had a wonderful marriage. It was an example for all of us. We saw my grandparents last month before they left for Florida and he was asking John and I how things were going. He told us, "when you're young there's nothing to live on but love. But we discovered that you really can live on love for a long time." He then went on to reminisce about his 66 years with my grandma, Thelma, or "Clara Bell" as he calls her. I want that for John and I, too. 

Grandpa meeting Odette
Thanks for reading the ramblings of a torn heart. One of the hardest parts of death is a fear that the loved one will be forgotten. While I know that no one who knew him could forget him, he was so large in this life that I want everyone possible to hear his story. This isn't even a fraction of it, though. But what I don't write, I'll live. I want to walk in his steps. 
"To die will be an awfully big adventure.", said Peter Pan when Hook had nearly gotten him. For my grandpa, I'm sure he's having the adventure of his life right now... and some day, I'll join him again. 


  1. i'm sorry about your loss aundrea, but he sounds like an absolutely wonderful man. i am literally sad i never met him! what an amazing legacy he has left behind, and how awesome that you get to keep it going by sharing it here!

  2. @Mrsfleury- thank you SO much... he would loved you. you're spunky enough that the two of you could have had a fun time together :)

  3. Geez, Aly! I'm just seeing this until now and I'm so sorry about the lost of your grandpa! I loved to hear things from him and actually I had the hope to meet him one day, I remember you told me about him and the freedom center and also about all his wisdom and great sense of humor! I'm glad his teaching is alive through you! And you know, the hope to meet him is not lost because I'd love to meet him in heaven and shake his hand! But until that happens, we gotta still walking with God here on earth! Hugs for you and all your family, Aundrea!

  4. Memo- I can't wait to introduce you in heaven! You are so much like him. You're also larger than life, I'm sure when you leave this earth, so many of the same things will be said of you :)


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