Sunday, June 29, 2014

Life, Love and Covenants: A memoir to Grandpa Phil and Grandma Judy

My ealiest memories of Grandpa Phil were in the old house with the family room that was down a hallway with a mudroom and dogs.
I remember it had a lot of bookshelves.
I don't remember much from those days. But I have flashes of watching TV with grandpa in that room. Sometimes he would play checkers with me there. And he told me about some of the books in that room.
In that house we married my first dog Blonda, to her lover boy Thumper. Maybe it's my child's memory, but things were happy there. Simple.

After Grandma and Grandpa moved from that house things changed. I remember not seeing grandpa very much after that. He stayed in his room and didn't come out much.
I remember one time he did come out and sat down with me and played checkers. But it wasn't the same. He had a long beard and smelled funny. By then I was pretty uncomfortable around him.

As grandma and grandpa's health conditions worsened my relationship with Grandpa Phil became more like that last checker game with him: Uncomfortable, uneasy, and awkward.
I never understood much about his condition. When dad tried to explain it to me as a teenager, the only words I really picked up were "depressed" and "reclusive."
Then the dementia came and brought him out from his hiding place. And his hugs became just a little too tight for comfort. That is how I remembered Grandpa Phil.

When I met uncle Russ at BYU, though,
he showed me my family history. He had all sorts of family pictures. The gems of his collection were the ones of grandma Judy and grandpa Phil's wedding. He showed me Grandpa Phil as a young man in his military uniform. Grandma Judy and grandpa Phil with their little kids when they lived in Utah and Colorado. My grandparents as young, happy, healthy.
I'd never really known either grandpa Phil or grandma Judy in that way. And to see them happy and young with the future open to them helped me relate to them in a way I never had before.

Along with the pictures, Uncle Russ found copies of their patriarchal blessings he had among all of his family history paraphernalia. Maybe I shouldn't have read them while they were still alive. But I was too curious to resist.
What surprised me was their blessings were like mine. Full of purpose and hope for the future. Something especially interesting struck me as I read Grandpa Phil's. Something that didn't seem to fit. Something I will never forget.

In his blessing appeared quite often the word Joy. Joy and happiness in this life were promised to him repeatedly. Things like, "Your life will be full of joy as you live the gospel" and "Love and happiness will come.."
I don't remember the wording exactly and I don't know how many times it was there, but in Grandpa Phil's blessing, joy and happiness were repeated enough to stand out in my mind as a really special promise just for him.

And as I grasped that thought, I looked at the grandpa Phil I knew. "Depressed, reclusive, dimensia, hiding," those were all words that came to mind. And it made me sad to think something in grandpa's life had gone so awry that his blessing may not have been completely fulfilled like it ought to have been.

But then maybe it was. For the past 20 years- my whole life- Grandma Judy and grandpa Phil have been heavily laden with physical, mental and financial obstacles and trials that they have continuously fought.

As I pondered on this, I realized that "Grandpa is just an old man with some health conditions, who's had a pretty rough and remarkable life." If he was a little inappropriate around us young girls it was simply a symptom of his dementia, not who he was or is as a person. And if you slapped him on the wrist a little he good and well backed off.

When I was in Ohio in Februray to be with Grandma before she passed, Dad and I took a break from ICU and went down to visit grandpa in the ER (which goes to show whether it was consciously done or not, he couldn't even let her go to the hospital without following her there...)
In the ER room Dad had to step out to take a phone call. While he was out a nurse brought grandpa some food. Grandpa was only interested in the juice box, and I was able to help him get the straw in when I saw him struggling with it. He wasn't particularly interested in me standing there. But I had a thought that I might not get many more chances to be around him.

As he sipped his juice box and ignored me, I asked him about grandma Judy. He looked at me and seemed surprised by my question. Surprised I even bothered to talk to him at all. He didn't answer me and kept sipping away at his juice box until it was gone. After waiting awhile I probed some more. I asked him if he was scared that she would die. After a moment he looked at me and nodded. Then to lighten the mood, I asked how he met grandma Judy. I kept asking simple questions which he began to answer in brief responses. It was more than I'd gotten out of him in 16 years.

I kept going. I asked how he found the Church. He answered with a relatively lengthy response. His first. He said, "you know I was in the military?" I pretended I didn't even though I'd seen Uncle Russ's pictures. He told me he didn't like the morals of the boys around him. He said it wasn't right. And he met a Mormon who taught him the gospel. After that he left the military and came out to Utah where he met grandma Judy.

She had told me once that he proposed to her by writing his name on a family history card and asking if she would fill in her name next to his. She was really cute when she told me that. It was apparent she thought it was very sweet and clever of him.
I thought of that as he told me about how they met and were married and had their first child, my dad in Provo. What he told me were exactly the moments I'm currently at in my life and can relate to perfectly now. That meant a lot to me.

I asked grandpa Phil what life was like as a kid. And he remembered. Brief flashes of ice skating and his childhood best friend. I don't remember the boy's name, but he did.

It took some probing, and the right questions. But once I got him started on something- a memory he'd forgotten about, he didn't stop.

That's the last time I got to see my Grandpa Phil. And I'm really glad I had that experience with him.
I never knew my Grandpa Phil like my dad and his siblings remember him. But I knew him in a different way. And it's taken me a long time to finally realize, that's ok.

A question Alex and I sometimes exclaim to each other is, "We're married! -->What does that even mean?!"

But I think grandma and grandpa have spent the past 20 years showing me what that means. It means you stick to your covenants no matter what. No matter what the world says about how life should be happy or easy or tells us, "We are independent! We can do it alone!" It doesn't mean we should. In Fact, the eternal reality is, we can't do it alone. We need each other. We need Christ.

In D&C Christ says,
7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; (D&C 121:7-8)

Being Married for 3 years now has taught me a Lot about adversity and faith and commitment to your spouse.
And frankly, grandma and grandpa had a hard life. A Very difficult life full of adversity.
But I now see that Grandma was filled with patience for grandpa. She turned to Christ and He filled her with strength. And despite her challenges, she had a stubbornness, willfulness and love for life that she never gave up, right up through her last day on earth.
And I think that grandpa knew what she did for him; That he followed her so quickly after her passing is evidence to me of his deep love for her. It makes me think that in some way, she was the thing that was keeping him alive all along.

And maybe, just maybe, taking care of grandpa Phil gave Grandma Judy that something worthwhile to live For.

In our world of false commitments and easy divorces, Grandma Judy and Grandpa Phil loved each other and their covenants enough to sacrifice convenience, health and financial security to help each other through this life.

I'm grateful for their sacrifice, and I'm glad to know that because they were sealed in the temple, Grandma Judy and Grandpa Phil can be together again, free of the physical burdens that were laden upon them both in this life.

I think that if while he was still here, Grandpa had an inkling of what Grandma did for him, he now has a perfect gratitude for it. And now his spirit is free to love her unrestrained by physical obstacles.

It's something worth celebrating. They stayed true to those covenants, even when things seemed impossible, lonely and miserable. And now I truly believe they can be happy together in the eternities. Free from sorrow, free from grief, free from pain.

I think now, because they were faithful, they have a chance at that fullness of joy Grandpa Phil's patriarchal blessing was talking about.

And that is the gift and the legacy they have left for us, their posterity, to follow.

--Amelia Rose Heer

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