Legacy Beyond the Grave
This weekend I joined my wife in laying her grandfather, George Veach, to rest. “Papa” was larger than life in every sense of the word. Honestly, it’s hard for me to articulate who he was through a simple blog post, but I'm going to do my best. I learned an invaluable lesson this weekend. Love has no specific time frame.
In short, Papa was an extraordinary man. He spent his life devoted to the ministry, preaching his first sermon at eleven years of age. He and his wife, Ruth (Mima), would go on to become global missionaries, reaching lives across three continents and preaching the gospel of Jesus in North America, Cardenas, Cuba, Argentina, Chile and Peru in South America. Check out just a smidgen of his accomplishments and feats:
He served as Home Secretary Elim Fellowship (EF) in Lima, NY, VP of EF and appointed Elder to the Latin community of EF. He served as President of Worldwide Christian Fellowship in Atlanta, GA. Rev. Beach served in the foundational years of Iglesia Evangelica Betel, Cuba, with Sixto and Ruth Lopez, founders. He also served the founder, Rev. Sam Sorenson, of the Movimiento Cristiano y Misionero, Argentina, and worked with the founder of World MAP, Prescott, AZ, Rev. Ralph Mahoney, in training leaders all around the world. Veach was also bilingual, fluent in Spanish and English, making him an exceptional communicator.
As his grandson-in-law, my experiences with Papa were much lesser than the rest of the family, but it's amazing how someone can impact your life in such a short amount of time. I had the privilege of meeting him for the first time in April of 2018. Anna and I were engaged to be married that upcoming June. We wanted to see him, but more importantly, I wanted Papa’s approval. He wasn’t able to travel far distances, so we met him where he was.
I walked into the nursing home to find a smiling Papa sitting in his chair. He was expecting us. He reached out to embrace Anna with a kiss, then turned to me. I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard stories about who he was, but to be in his presence for the first time was somewhat, nerve-racking. Most family members reach out for a handshake when meeting me for the first time; but not Papa Veach. With the most affectionate embrace, he grabbed me with his strong arms and hugged and kissed me. I was shocked, but I felt like I belonged; a feeling I would relive during my last moments with him. Before we left he prayed for us, blessing our union and speaking into my life as if he’d known me forever.
I’ll miss that.
My second encounter was during the weekend of my first wedding anniversary. We drove up to New York City and stopped to see Papa on the way. This time he met us in the hallway, same smile, same hug and kiss. We took a brief moment to catch up on small talk but transitioned to the common area where the piano was. He asked me to push him real close to the keys and asked me to pick out a hymnal to sing. We stood there with him as he rattled off 4-5 hymns from memory and hit every note and key. He even asked some of the other tenants if they had any requests, to which they groaned, “No George,” but that didn’t stop him. We unashamedly worshipped some more. As we prepared to leave, he asked me to hand him a bag from his dresser which contained one of his hats. “I want you to have this hat,” he said boldly.
I felt honored. He was a giver.
I’ll miss that.
The final time spent with Papa was hard for me. I stood in his room with the family, laughing and catching up, but I couldn't look at Papa. I knew he was going to Heaven and would no longer have to live in this broken world, but selfishly, I wanted more time with him. The room once filled with his boisterous voice and loving embrace was now much quieter. His body was weakened and although he was alert and would give me an occasional wink, I couldn’t bear seeing him in the condition he was in. He wasn’t my biological grandfather, but bloodline didn’t matter. I walked in and out of the room fighting back emotion and trying to stay strong for my wife and her family. No one knew the inner battle I was experiencing.
In our last moments together, just before we left his room, I went to give him a hug. I didn’t expect what happened next. I leaned in and as I embraced him, I felt his strong arms embrace me. I whispered in his ear, “I love you papa and I promise to take care of Anna for the rest of my life.” He squeezed me, and I heard him, very faintly, say, “I love you too,” as he kissed my cheek.
I will carry that moment with me for the rest of my life.
That was my Papa. He became my Papa.
As I sat in the pew listening to family recount their funny stories and experiences with him, I couldn’t help but see life differently. Papa accomplished a lot, and it was incredible, but that wasn’t what made him special to me. He never knew a stranger. He held no one at arm's length. He never condemned others. He loved recklessly.
He loved me.
The day continued on and my emotions overtook me. I ended up crying in my wife’s arms. I felt the roles reverse. I’d done my best to be her support, but I needed hers just the same. In a funny way, her hug felt like Papas.
As I sit to write this I smile thinking about Papa singing next to Jesus. We’ll miss you here on earth, but we will see you again. I know you’ll be waiting with open arms, ready to embrace your family.
Love you, Papa Veach.