“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51
“I’ll see you there.” We say it often and never really think too much about it when making plans to meet a friend later for coffee or making sure our child knows we’re coming to their ballgame. I’ve said it probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of times myself. It’s just a quick way to confirm our presence at a future event. A simple statement.
My grandpa, Pops, passed away from lymphoma two days before Thanksgiving. By itself, that event brings enough sadness and grief for our family. But five days prior to his death, my grandma, GG, fell at their home and fractured her pelvis. She was taken to a hospital and then to an in-patient rehabilitation center. As you can imagine, she was suffering from severe pain as well as the anxiety of leaving my grandpa at home while he was in his last days. Their separation was agonizing to witness. So my aunt, uncles and mom went to work in trying to figure out how the two of them could share Thanksgiving together, just one last time. It was like an act of congress, but the doctors approved a 4-hour leave on Thanksgiving via ambulance to get my GG to my Pops back at their ranch in Texas for them to say their goodbyes. Of course, our whole family made plans to be there! When Pops heard of these grand plans, it became apparent that he had plans of his own. He didn’t want his wife of 70 years, his sweetheart, the love of his life, to see him suffering. He made that abundantly clear. Each time he would wake up from a nap and in the morning over that last weekend, he would sigh in disappointment and say, “Oh, I thought…” or “Why is this taking so long?” It wasn’t that he was in pain or that he didn’t know where he was. His mind was as sharp as a tack! He was ready to go home. His real home. He loved his Father and was completely sure of his future. Yes, my 91-year-old grandpa has a future.
On Monday evening, he asked my aunt Bonny all about the grandkids and great-grands, talking about Reed and Brighton and even expressing what a great thing Cole was doing studying in Argentina. He heard my cousin Tori in the kitchen and sang, “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah”—every word, every verse and on tune. (We get our musical abilities in my family from Pops.)
That night, we were told he had about a week left. Bonny told Pops that GG was coming for Thanksgiving, hoping this would give him hope to be strong for a few more days. But those who know my Pops know that Tom Spoonts is a stubborn man. The next morning, my mom and uncle had a difficult time getting him to wake up. He didn’t seem conscious. Bonny and Tori were with GG and FaceTimed my mom’s phone. As soon as Pops heard GG’s voice, he opened his eyes—bright-eyed—but couldn’t speak. GG, in her wisdom, selflessness and confidence in her Savior, told my Pops, “I love you so much, Tom. It’s okay. I’m going to be fine. Go on. I’ll see you there.”
When the call ended, Pops took his three last breaths.
This husband of 70+ years, dad of 5, grandpa of 12, great-grandpa of 25, elder in the church, business owner, retired traffic engineer for the city of Austin, World War II Navy Veteran, published author, missionary to St. Kitts and Kenya KNEW WITHOUT A DOUBT that his life was not over with those last breaths. He passed that legacy of faithfulness to his children and the next generations.
Two days later, we gathered around my beautiful GG at the rehab center for Thanksgiving. We brought turkey, dressing and ham with all the traditional fixings including homemade rolls and lots of desserts. We even smuggled in her puppy Buddy (although I'm pretty sure the entire staff knew but chose to look the other way). We sang "God Is So Good" and meant every word. We also went around the table and shared a memory or something we were thankful for about Pops' life. We all stayed for hours. The other patients even came out of their rooms and asked us to sing more. It was a sweet and special day that none of us will ever forget.
Pops' life was not always easy, full of disappointments and heartbreaks. But he was also such a joyful man, dancing at Reed’s wedding last year, never missing a grandkid or great-grandkid’s graduation if he could possibly help it and always looking forward to that next anniversary or birthday that ended with a zero so he could throw himself another party. He also never liked to sit. Just two weeks before his diagnosis, he was on a stepladder cutting down dead branches from trees on his Texas ranch. He never let a family member's birthday or wedding anniversary go by without a gift, card or an email. He cried with joy when his grandchildren from an estranged son re-entered our lives. He never blamed, accused or even asked questions. He was just thankful. He also never let the National Anthem play without holding his hand over his heart and saluting the flag at the end. Our country was more than precious to him. He peeled thousands of potatoes in the galley on a Navy ship. He became so good at it, his friends called him “Spud”. He later became a medic and took care of the wounded and got them to safety. Freedom had a different meaning to him than the NFL players who took a knee, and they should be glad they didn’t have to face my Pops about that.
In his days as a traffic engineer for the City of Austin, he was an inventor of several traffic innovations, including the blue reflectors on the streets that mark the location of fire hydrants for the fire trucks, which are still in use all over the U.S. today. When you have to wait for the pedestrian light to give you permission to cross the street in front of the Texas State Capitol Building, you can thank my Pops. (Just a couple of fun facts!)
While all these accomplishments are wonderful (and there are oh so many more!), he would say that nothing compares to gathering the family together for one of his parties, singing along to Uncle Tommy playing the guitar and laughing with his grands and great-grands, the Bible on his side table and the flag on his coffee table, with his sweetheart by his side.
(Celebrating 70 years together this past March)
One day we’ll get to do that again, Pops.
I’ll see you there.
Tom L. Spoonts
June 7, 1926-November 21, 2017
(Pops' new book arrived 4 days before he passed away. This was one of the things he wanted to finish. Good job, Pops!)
Do you want that same confidence that my Pops and GG have? You can have it through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God became man, died for all our sins, was buried, was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God, giving us hope that we too will live forever with him. Don’t go another day without Jesus as your Savior! Life doesn’t have to be over at our last breath. That’s why the Gospel is Good News!!