My grandfather, Murray Anderson, who I’ve mentioned before at least in passing here, here, here, here, here, and here on this blog, passed away last Sunday. He was a few months shy of his eighty-sixth birthday, and he was the finest man I have ever known. I gave a eulogy at his funeral yesterday, and people thought it was very well said. As this blog has featured him so heavily already –and will continue to do so– and as it serves as a place for my writing, I thought I should publish his eulogy here. I also have a copy of a speech I gave at his sixtieth wedding anniversary a few years ago somewhere. I saw it a couple of days ago, but I can’t seem to find it at the moment. I’ll put it up when I do.
Eulogy for Murray Anderson
April 20, 1924 – January 31, 2010
My name is Geoff Micks. I’m Paulette’s eldest, which puts me in the middle of Murray and Serena’s six grandchildren. I’m here to say a few words about my grandfather, and from time to time I may drift from my prepared notes, so if you hear me call him Bunka, I’d ask you to let it slide. I’ve called him that since I was too young to remember the why of it. To me it fits him like one of his old sweaters –comfortable and warm- but I understand I’m in a minority of one there, so I’ll do my best to call him by the titles you know best: Murray, Mr. Anderson, Uncle, Father, Grandfather.
A few years ago I heard a piece of music that made me tear up: The songwriter had a great uncle who served in the Second World War, came home, and then spent many long and happy decades quietly going about his good and honourable life. As a boy, the songwriter spent most of his weekends and holidays with his great uncle, and you could hear in his voice the love and respect he had for him; for the way he lived his life; for the way he carried himself. The songwriter spoke about his great uncle in just the same way I feel about my grandfather, and so when I got home from work that day I sat down at my computer and wrote my grandfather a letter.
Now my grandfather –as you all know—was a quiet man. Reserved. Composed. Old fashioned in all the good connotations of that term. If you walked up to him and tried to praise him, he would have been self-effacing and humble about it. He would have minimized the importance of what you were saying, without being argumentative about it. He definitely would have found a way to change the subject or end the conversation as quickly as possible. Attention made my grandfather a little uncomfortable. Self-aggrandizement didn’t sit well on his shoulders.
This man spent two and a half years on a heaving, freezing ocean and was deafened in one ear off the D-Day Beaches, but he didn’t march in a Remembrance Day parade until he was 80 years old because he didn’t want a fuss made about him. He only let my grandmother throw a party on their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries because he knew it would be even more uncomfortable being the victim of a surprise party. In short, showering my grandfather with kind words was not an easy task.
Still, I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me –to all of us– and so I decided to write him a letter. I figured it was something he could read alone, in private, with no one to watch him puff up his chest a little, or smile his quiet smile. Among my family it has come to be known as the secret letter, because I asked him to keep it a secret. I thought if he told my grandmother, Serena would tell everyone about it. My grandmother loves to tell a story with a happy ending, but I didn’t want this letter talked about far and wide. Still, Murray and Serena are a matched set, and have been for longer than most of us have been alive, so in the end he did tell her about the letter, swearing her to secrecy. To my grandmother’s credit, she told only my mother, swearing her to secrecy. To my mother’s credit, she only told the rest of my family, while asking me for a copy.
You can see how the old values are falling away over the years.
Well, I don’t have a copy, and my grandfather’s copy is wherever he put it. It’s lost, but it’s not forgotten. I don’t see any reason to keep its contents a secret any longer. In fact, there has never been a better time to talk about that letter in great detail. It was a eulogy, but it was a eulogy he was meant to enjoy while he was still alive. While he still had all his strength and all his wits. While he was still with us, to enjoy us, and to know how much we enjoyed him. What is the point of saying all those nice things after you’re gone? I asked him. I knew he wouldn’t reply. The letter was my gift to him, and I knew he would only enjoy it in private, without anyone seeing the pleasure he took in it. We would never talk about the letter, and we never did. I only know he got it when my mother asked me for a copy.
I told him that he was the finest man that I have ever known. I told him how much I admired his morality, and his virtue, his calm, quiet nature. His good heart, and kind actions. Murray Anderson was a good Christian in the most literal meaning of those words. He honoured his mother and father, in their time. He raised his children as a firm head of the household, guided by what he felt to be right. He doted on his grandchildren. He loved his neighbours, and they loved him back.
Everything he did was for his family, his friends, his community. He had a can-do attitude, and he was always willing to listen to the other side of an argument. He was prepared to admit when he didn’t know something, and new ideas didn’t frighten him or daunt him. The strongest oath I ever heard pass through his lips were “Oh, for Goodness sake!” And how that reproof burned whoever it was directed to, for Murray Anderson almost never raised his voice in anger.
My grandfather had a keen mind. He was always reading, and he read about things full of hope and purpose. There was his Bible, of course, but he also read about the Heavens through the study of astronomy. He poured over books about rockets, planes, trains, ships, and submarines. He explored the world and the universe and the ocean’s depths from the comfort of his easy chair, and he contemplated the wonders of creation on his many long walks. He once told me in an idle moment he hoped he lived long enough for the Cassini Space Probe to reach Saturn. He wanted to see the pictures. You’ll be happy to know he succeeded in that ambition. He told me not long ago that those photos were well worth the wait.
I mention my grandfather’s mind, because I have an idea as to how it works. I knew, when he read my unsolicited praise, he would feel unworthy of it. His mind would go to those hidden shames within all of us. The doubts. The regrets. The baseless jealousies or rash words spoken too quickly over a long lifetime. I absolved him of those with the simple truth that my grandfather was a human being, and we are all flawed. No one is perfect, and I pointed out to him that he was a lot closer to it than most of us.
I know there must have been times where he wondered if perhaps he held his children too tight, so that when they became adults they distanced themselves from him in the pursuit of their own lives. I told him that if that was a mistake, it was one born out of a father’s love, and there is no sin in that. His children love him, honour him, respect him. That’s the highest praise a father can earn, and he had it from all of his children. And how far did they really go? They’re all here today. They were all with him in his final days. None of them were ever strangers to him. There are few large families as lucky as the Andersons. He ran his family his way, and look at the success they have become.
I also know how much he wished he had the same easy rapport with all of his grandchildren that he enjoyed with some of them, but I told him that we all know what sort of man he is, and that while it might be me writing this letter, I’ve heard the same words of admiration from each and every one of us. Not one of us thinks him aloof, or cold, unapproachable or unkind. Whatever he feared, those fears were baseless. I asked him once if any of his friends had the same relationship with their grandkids that he enjoyed with us, and he said, “No. Not one.” He meant that as a high compliment to us, but he was about as good at giving praise as receiving it. Trust me, all of you, he loved us and was proud of us in words he would never have been able to express.
I really don’t remember everything that was in that letter. It went on for pages and pages. It talked about everything in his life that I knew about, and I know a lot. My grandfather had so much strength. So much courage. I know that he saved a man’s life once. A sanitarium patient fell off a cliff, and my grandfather grabbed the man with one arm while the other clung to a broken piece of fencing. Spread eagled against the vertical rock face, my grandfather heaved the falling man over his head to safety. Every muscle in his body seized with the effort, and he couldn’t move for days afterwards, but he did it. That was a feat worthy of a hero. My grandfather was a hero for that, and for many other reasons.
A year or so ago my grandfather was in a car accident. It was a bad one. He broke his sternum against the steering wheel, lost his glasses, and he had a streaming head wound. He got out of the car under his own power, shoved a handkerchief to his bleeding brow, and walked a hundred yards to the nearest store to ask the clerk if he could please use the telephone to call CAA. I promise you, at 27 years I could not do what that 84-year-old cancer patient did. That was sheer strength of character. That was a super-human effort. He doesn’t even remember it, but when he was told about it later he admitted, “It sounds like something I’d do.” When my grandmother went to the hospital to pick him up, the police waiting for her told her, “Your husband is a fine old gentleman.” If my grandfather had heard that, he would have tried to downplay the compliment. That’s the kind of guy he was.
My mother has had a couple of dreams about my grandfather that I hope she won’t mind my sharing with you today. When she was a teenager, still living at home, she saw an angel floating, knelt in prayer, over my grandparents’ bed one night. I do not think that vision is too fantastic to be true. If ever there was a couple that the angels might take an interest in, it was Murray and Serena Anderson. Many years later –I think it was less than a decade ago, actually– my mother had another dream: Her father had passed on to his eternal reward, and when he got to the gates of Heaven, every dog he had ever known was there to greet him. He got down on his knees, surrounded by wagging tails, and he reached out to pet each one of them. “There’s my buddy! Hey, there you are! There’s my buddy!” I told my grandfather that story, and he just shook his head and smiled at me in such a loving way. “Dogs don’t go to Heaven,” he told me. “Bunka, there will be dogs in Heaven for you. I guarantee it,” I said to him.
This is a sad day. Of course it’s a sad day, but I would say the circumstances that brought us to this time and place are also proof of the blessings of the divine Providence that my grandfather believed in with his whole heart. My grandfather lived to be 85 years old. He was diagnosed with cancer more than a year and a half ago, and he was given just a few months to live. I took him for a walk shortly after he got the news, and I told him, “You’ll go in your own sweet time,” and he did just that. He lived with cancer for much, much longer than his doctors thought likely –and survived a car accident that would have laid low any one of us in the process—and throughout it all he had very little pain and the full control of his faculties.
Every one of us here today had the opportunity in that time to visit with him, to talk with him, to make the most of our time together. When he went, he went just as he wanted, peacefully, in his sleep, surrounded by his loved ones. He even had the simple, honest decency you expected of him to wait until his wife of 63 years left the room before his heart beat for the last time. That’s not just lucky: That’s a true blessing and a gift.
The time he had and the way he met his end with courage and grace is the wonderful ending my grandfather earned for a lifetime well lived, honourably, righteously, with love and respect for everyone. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss him every day for the rest of my life, but I have no regrets, and neither did he, and neither should any of you.
He was loved. He knew it. He loved us. We knew it.
That’s what life is all about.