Monday, June 16, 2014

A Grandfather's Note From Heaven

One of my greatest struggles in life has been overcoming the loss of my maternal grandfather, Joe Jackson. It has been several years since his passing, but there are times when it feels as if his passing was yesterday. I can remember his laughter; I can see his smile; I can repeat most of his stories verbatim; and quite often, I feel his suffering as he fought a hard and painful fight against cancer.

Often, I wondered what could have been done differently, especially to ease his pain. The first couple of years after his death, my dreams were filled with his moans, and I would awaken in the middle of the night with tears streaming down my face. I could still fill the grip of my grandfather’s hands as I held his at night, trying to comfort him to no avail.

I remember the careful planning of his final arrangements and the great pride my family took, especially my Aunt Henrietta, in making sure that every final detail was impeccable and benefiting the home-going of a patriarch and his meeting with the King.


As I learned to manage the heartache and sadness of the loss of my grandfather, I found respite by helping others by volunteering with organizations that mirror my grandfather's values. What started out as a way to deal with this difficulty became a mission—a mantra—and helped me to grow as a person. I now volunteer weekly and often find a “Mr. Joe’s story” in every venture and use these anecdotes to help others overcome difficulties or to meet an underserved need in the community.

On Christmas morning 2013, Clarence "Pop"Holmes left us. He was my father-in-law whom I loved like a father. His kindness and enduring ways were like Velcro—sticky on both sides. Pop often reassured me that he understood my quirky nature which seemed to be in stark contrast to the rest of his family of sportsmen who talked sports and more sports.

When I had something exciting to share or was in the midst of a dream deferred on the verge of fruition, Pop would be the most likely go-to-person to share the possibilities or the good news. He would become just as excited as I was. And when my bright idea or dream turned out to be just a hair brain notion, he never voiced ridicule and would only find words of encouragement. He would give me that look, “We’ll get it next time.”

Like my grandfather’s death, Pop’s death was a great loss. Unlike my grandfather’s demise, I had not braced myself for or strangely welcomed Pop’s final exhale like I did my grandfather. Pop was a strong, healthy man—a young man—who left all too suddenly. My grandfather's body was ravished by cancer and death was his escape. As I cried for Pop, the pain of losing my first hero in life began hitting me at the same time. I found myself mourning two men.

While packing to head to Memphis to prepare for Pop’s final arrangements, I rumbled through my closet to find an appropriate hat and pulled down a few hat boxes. As I reached for a hat box that possibly contained a black hat, a large box containing some of my grandfather’s fedoras fell and opened from the impact. Seeing my grandfather’s fedoras that were given to me by the family literally took away my breath.

After regaining my composure, I began examining the box. As I pulled out several hats, I put them close to my heart and recalled fond memories of my grandfather wearing each. But when I returned the last head wear taken from the box, I noticed a note card on the floor.

 This note card was created by Aunt Henrietta who mailed several hundred of them to me to give to friends and customers from Nashville and other places as acknowledgment of their acts of kindness during our bereavement. I believed that I had given out or mailed them all and definitely did not think I had any left. But there it was—a note card, appearing out of the blue, that I had not seen in seven years and at a time when I once again was filled with grief. However, after reading the carefully thought out message that expressed the goodness of my grandfather and how much he loved his family as well as how much his family loved him, I believed it was truly a message from above.

My sadness was replaced with gladness, for I believed that God was letting me know that my grandfather was alright, and that he was welcoming a new friend into heaven—Pop Holmes. I will always cherished this reminder of my grandfather's life, his note sent to me from heaven.
Photos: Genma Holmes 



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