January 23, 2012

On Losing My Husband's Grandfather

DeLloyd with his great granddaughters
On Friday morning, my husband's grandfather passed away at 77 years old.

It was remarkably unexpected.  He had been in ill health, but through several surgeries had been improving greatly.  Thanks to the doctors at the Mayo Clinic, he had saved his legs and, it seemed, his heart from the ravages of diabetes.  However, there was "hibernating" tissue in his heart that put him at very high risk for cardiac arrest, or rather, if he HAD a heart attack he was not likely to survive it.  And so the plan was made to schedule him for a surgery to reawaken the hibernating tissue.

It wan't open heart surgery, it was as non-invasive as heart surgery gets.

They put him under anesthesia and inserted the catheters with their scopes for performing the surgery, but before they could even begin the procedure his blood pressure tanked, and his heart stopped beating.

The entire family is in shock.

It's not just that it is hard to lose a loved one.  It's that this came during what seemed to many of us to be his recovery.  He did not look or, so far as I know, feel ill.  However, he let those family members that went with him to his final procedure know that should anything happen to him, he was completely at peace with the outcome of that.

My husband's grandfather was a pastor.

The first time I was to be introduced to him, I must confess that I was terrified.  Here I was, the Jewish girlfriend, being introduced to the family patriarch, the Reverend.  Although M tried to comfort me with the idea that his family was just having your run-of-the-mill Christmas party, I shouldn't worry about people trying to talk about Jesus to me.  When one branch of the family arrived wearing, "Put the Christ back in Christmas" t-shirts, my nerves heightened and I became, if possible, more skeptical and frightened of what might happen.

DeLloyd administering the sheva bruchot
But DeLloyd was never the sort to intimidate, or to behave in any way that might be seen as frightening or imposing.  He looked to me like Santa Claus with a Van Dyke beard rather than the full Grizzly Adams.  He was kind, he was sweet, and he immediately made me feel welcome and even loved.

I have almost never felt less than welcomed by M's family.  As much as I might feel occasionally foreign or exotic to the clan of Minnesota Lutherans, I feel at the same time loved and respected for my differences, as well as for what we share.  And I believe that much of that has to do with the family having DeLloyd for a patriarch.

When M and I were married, he didn't officiate our wedding.  Rather, he assisted by performing a traditional part of the Jewish ceremony- the sheva bruchot.  Our asking him to do this was something that he found not at all odd, or offensive.  He was delighted to do it, and did so without any hint of disrespect towards us or our friend who had been ordained online for the purposes of officiating the majority of the ceremony.

In a time and a place when Christianity is frequently used as a platform for condemnation and even hatred, DeLloyd always represented, to me, the very best that any Christian can be.  He did not cast the first stone, he seemed to constantly exude an aura of love for everyone around him, he listened and he smiled and he acted as though he knew that God had a plan, albeit mysterious, and that the plan was fundamentally good.

In short, he was a wonderful man.  I always looked forward to seeing him.  I never again felt anxious about what he might say, or even think.

What I learned about him since our first meeting only proved all of what I initially felt about him.  He dedicated most of his life to a school in a downtrodden part of St. Paul.  He didn't believe that it was the Lutheran school's job to proselytize the African American and Latino children, to impose any trappings of his own faith into the school.  Rather, he believed it was the job of the school to educate them, and hopefully to encourage their own love of learning.

SI, DeLloyd, DD, and DeLloyd's wife Barb
I think the moment that he and I shared that showed me how incredibly sensitive he could be, how incredibly kind and understanding, was the day after M's brain surgery.  We had all just learned of M's diagnosis, and had stood quietly by while the doctor explained it to M, still confused and woozy from the painkillers and anesthesia.  DeLloyd offered to lead us in a prayer.

He did not directly ask me to join him.  He did not ask if it would make me uncomfortable.  He simply did what it was that he did- which was to pray for his grandson's recovery.  And in that moment, when I could have felt very much isolated from M's family, he mentioned me in his prayer.  He asked that God look after not only M, but after me as well- newly engaged to his ill grandson.  And he did this without any hint of unhappiness that I did not share his faith- he did it simply with the understanding that I had completely tied my life to M, and that I would be there with him and for him no matter what.  I wish I could remember the exact words that he used.  They were filled with love, not just for M, and for God, but for me.  The future granddaughter-in-law that he had only met a handful of times.

DeLloyd was the first person who, it seemed, really understood how much M and I meant to each other.  And I cried.  Not because I too prayed that God would protect my future husband, but because here- on this earth- a human being understood what I was going through at that moment.  And that human being was DeLloyd.

When I heard the news of his death, I went into shock.  It had only just happened, and Grandma called me in tears.  She didn't even have to say what had happened.  I spent a few moments utterly numb- completely unable to figure out how to do anything.  Once the shock wore off, I pushed my grocery cart the fifteen feet towards the flower section of the grocery store that I had *just* stepped into, and I prayed.  I closed my eyes, and standing over my empty cart, I recited the Mourner's Kaddish.  I tore the hem of my skirt, and I went into the store to pick up my groceries.  What should have been a ten minute trip took me an hour and a half.  I just kept circling the store, unable to figure out what to do.  My impulse was to buy all the food I could think of.  Because people have to eat.  Because I needed to cook.  My impulse was to just sit down with the grapefruit and be as alone with my thoughts as one can be in the produce section of Whole Foods.  I bought a ridiculous amount of food.  I went home.  I baked a cheesecake and a chocolate cream pie, which was on the agenda anyway, I talked myself out of cooking a steak for M, I scrubbed but didn't bake a whole sack of potatoes, and I rearranged the refrigerator.
DeLloyd, SI, Barb, M, and DD

We all mourn differently.

As M's aunts and uncles post facebook messages remembering DeLloyd, I can't help but find myself thinking about all that he, as a man I did not know nearly well enough, had meant to me.  And in M's sadness, and their sadness, and my sadness, I find some comforts.

It comforts me that he died completely at peace, knowing that he would go to heaven.  We should all be so fortunate.
It comforts me that he would have understood the sadness caused by his death, and known what to say to make everyone feel more at ease in their grief.
And it comforts me to know that his legacy is one of love.  That he taught forgiveness and acceptance rather than condemnation and fear.  And those lessons are like seeds, that once planted grow and continue to spread.

M has quoted scripture to me that he says describes his grandfather's teachings, and everything I ever knew of DeLloyd echoed those words.  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." 

The last thing that I can't help thinking of, as I mourn for DeLloyd, are the words of Dumbledore.  I know, my obsession with Harry Potter knows no bounds, but there you have it.  As Dumbledore said, "Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love."

It is a sentiment that I am sure DeLloyd would share.

Rev. DeLloyd Wippich, 1934-2012


  1. So very sorry for your loss. This man truly was a blessing.

  2. Hugs to you all.

  3. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your post was beautiful.

  4. So sorry for your loss. Lovely post too, really sounds like he was a wonderful man.



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