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Tell Me Again – Why Do We Call Him Grandpa?
Family doesn't have to be defined as a blood line or a name. It is defined by a commitment and a devotion to one another and a desire to be together.

As I write this article, I can barely believe that he is gone. He wasn't my father, but I called him Dad. He wasn't my children's grandfather, but they called him Grandpa. As a matter of fact, when my middle son, Collin, was young, he asked that very question, "Tell me again — why do we call him grandpa?"

Grandpa Jess with Collin (behind him) and Vinnie.

It really wasn't an easy answer and the truth was hard for my young children to understand. "Grandpa Jess" was my late husband's (Larry Owens) father. I had only been in the family a couple of years before cancer took Larry's life. I brought my husband's body home to Michigan, where his family resides. Even though Larry called Omaha, Nebraska, his home, I couldn't bring myself to keep him here. He was young and his parents were grieving with unbelievable sadness. The grave would prove to provide healing for them and unfortunately, a separation of reality for me.

With almost nothing to remind me of my late husband and no grave to tend, at times, it seemed as if the surreal events had never happened. I was left with a house, a closet-full of clothing and memories in a photo album that were sometimes too painful to visit.

I promised Larry's parents that I would always be a part of the family, but Michigan was very far from Nebraska and visits were not an easy task. Phone calls were made and letters were sent, all reminding me of the family I had in Michigan, a family that I loved and had grown very close to.

But when I decided to remarry, I could tell that they thought our relationship would end. Little did they know that they would inherit my new husband and eventually our three children into their family.

Twenty-three years and many visits later we proved that we could remain a family even though we did not share a name. The only thing we had in common was Larry. He meant something to each of us and he was the tie that bound us together.

It didn't seem unusual anymore to say, "When are we going to Michigan this year?" Sometimes it was for a wedding and sometimes for a holiday, but for many years, the annual visit deepened the love between us.

The latest trip we made was Thanksgiving 2007. I knew that Grandpa Jess was not doing well and I remember thinking that we needed to get there and see him one last time.

Let me tell you a little about Grandpa Jess. Tall in stature and full of life, his love for his children and grandchildren was evident by the twinkle in his eye. He was one of the most fun people. He poked you and teased you and made you laugh. He even entertained you by the way he ate his food. Once he put his pancakes in a full mug of coffee and purposely said, "Yum, yum!" while I turned green. He even appeared on a local TV cooking program and proclaimed, "I'll eat anything, once." And that he did.

One holiday, the whole family was gathered in the living room. A football game played loudly on the TV. The room became quiet as the quarterback had the ball and stepped back to throw. As the ball soared through the air and was just about to crest, Grandpa Jess changed channels with the remote. Everyone screamed while Grandpa Jess sat looking like the cat that ate the bird.

Grandpa Jess not only lost his son to cancer, but his daughter as well. Grief beyond measure hit him hard. But he knew where his children were and knew that someday he would be with them.

Grandpa Jess loved his wife of over 50 years. She took care of him in every way she could. And when Grandpa Jess was at the end of his life, she was there to usher him to heaven. With children and grandchildren gathered around him, Grandma held him close as he took his last breath.

When I got the call, I felt a hundred different moments with Grandpa Jess fly by. Knowing this time was coming didn't make it any easier. The only solace was knowing that he was not in pain and that he, in some way only known to God, was with his children again.

Family doesn't have to be defined as a blood line or a name. It is defined by a commitment and a devotion to one another and a desire to be together.

Over the years, some have commented that it was amazing that I still had contact with my late husband's family. I never saw it that way. I was their son's wife and that makes me family, and that makes my family their family. We share a deep respect and love for each other.

And that, Collin, is why we call him Grandpa.

Connie Yates is a wife and homeschooling mother of three in Omaha Nebraska and works out of her home as a graphic artist.

Originally published in Fellowship Focus, Summer 2008.




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