Tuesday night of last week, Papa passed away. After many months of poor health, he finally took his last breaths at home, in his own bed. This weekend was an opportunity for family to gather and celebrate his life here and his contributions to our world.
When I was in grade school, a Sunday school teacher asked us to define the characteristic gentle. Of course, we all responded with words like "soft," and "kind." When our teacher explained to us that being gentle is actually having great strength but restraining from using it, my mind instantly flew to a mental image of Papa. He was a very tall man (especially to a young child), strong from his work as a pipe fitter in Chicago's monumental buildings. His hands were so huge that, according to Grammy, he didn't join our tea parties because his fingers were too big to hold the dainty cups. And yet, Papa was mild-mannered and carefully calculated. When my brothers got into trouble, Papa never lost his temper or raised his voice. A quiet reprimand from such a large man appropriately intimidated my brothers because it was obvious Papa was showing such great restraint. He may have been descended from violent vikings, but the Danish man I knew was quite the opposite. Papa was my own definition of gentle, personified.
This weekend, as we shared our memories of Papa, his 13 great-grandchildren ran around, lightening the mood. Tye loved chasing her cousins (once removed? second cousins?) and playing along with them, including an especially sweet game of pretend sleepover in which two of the 3 year old girls moved all the couch cushions and blankets to the floor and pretended to sleep. Tye laid down right between the two girls, placed her head on the pillow for several seconds, then popped up and said her trademark high-pitched "Hi!" Later in the weekend, Tye ran down the hotel hallway after my mom, yelling at her "Guh! Guh! Guh!", her best effort at calling out Gram. It's amazing how a hug and a smile from a young one, or hearing your name called for the first time, can raise spirits.
Tye only met Papa once this past fall, but she'll grow up with his patriarchal legacy. When we have tea parties, I'll tell her about the tea parties Grammy and I had when I was young and why Papa didn't join us. When we gather with family on the weekends and our thoughts travel to the generations before us, we'll tell our children about Grammy chasing her cousin Gordon and his friend, our Papa, around the lake house and how their family shared meals on the weekends. When I make Swedish pancakes, I'll remind our family that Papa turned his over before he filled and rolled it so the "pretty" side was on the outside when he ate it. And when our children ask what gentle means, I'll have far more to share than just a definition.