Those of you who have been with me from the beginning of this blog know that my very first post four years ago was about my grandmother being moved into hospice. Throughout those first posts, you journeyed with me as I grieved her passing from afar as I was living in Nairobi, Kenya for an internship. Some of you will know that her husband, my grandfather, Sammy Lee Myers, passed away on October 28th, 2017, and that I was honored to deliver the eulogy at his memorial service. Just as I honored my grandmother on my blog those four years ago, I likewise honor my grandfather’s life and celebrate the years we had together with this post.
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 27 – 31 (New Revised Standard Version)
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
27Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. 29 God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. We have gathered together today to seek comfort for ourselves, to acknowledge and celebrate the life of a great man in my grandfather, Sammy Lee Myers, and to proclaim the good news of the gospel – that nothing can separate us from the love of God. A lifelong member of the Zion Baptist Church and later a Deacon, Sammy was born October 4th, 1932 to Anna and Shady Lee at the Myers homestead. From an early age, his faith was an important part of his life, and you could say he wanted to make sure all others had the same opportunity to profess their faith, including the cats that his mother once caught him baptizing in the river by their house. I never did ask if he walked away from that experience unscratched, though it’s hard to imagine that any cat would willingly like to be dunked under the water, even if only for a second.
Sammy was in many ways a man of few words, often resorting to grunts of approval or pensive “hmmms” when you asked him questions. In fact, it is often hilariously recalled that when his daughters, Joy and Laura, brought home a boyfriend, he wouldn’t speak to the man. So when he spoke to both Roy and Dave when they were introduced, it was taken as a seal of approval, and sure enough both decided to stick around. He was a man of few words because I believe more than anything he wanted his actions to speak for him and likewise express his faith. He was an advocate for many an organization, most especially organizations that helped those with special needs such as the Victory Junction Gang. He and my grandmother, Laura Nell, were also only too happy to host when members of the special needs Sunday School class that my parents teach needed a place to go for the holidays. He would always get so excited about making the Christmas traditions come to life for these individuals, making sure milk and cookies were always left out for Santa, maybe some carrots for the reindeer, and making sure everyone got to bed on time for fear of Santa skipping over our house that night. Likewise, if he knew people were in need, he often did his best to help raise funds, talking to his friends privately to find funding to purchase wheelchairs and other supplies to try to make life easier for folks.
This attitude also led him into a life of public service. He served as a firefighter for 30 years with the Winston-Salem fire department, eventually retiring as a battalion chief. Although he did not like to brag about it, as the battalion chief, he did his job and he did it well, having a 100% success rating for getting fires put out with no flare ups. Any time we would drive passed one of the fire houses in Winston, he would always wonder about the many friends he had made during his years with the department, and would sometimes arrive home to immediately pick up the phone and check in on them. Whenever there was a fire in the area or being covered by the news on the TV, he would always watch until the coverage was over, because he wanted to make sure everyone was okay. He knew the dangers associated with his work, but that still did not stop him from suiting up and heading out each time there was a call, and after his retirement, from reaching out and worrying about the women and men that so bravely followed the same courageous path.
He found pleasure in the simple things, his farm and especially his family chief of those. His daughter Laura remembers how he loved to climb up in his Massey-Ferguson tractor and work the family farm. He had such an affinity for his home place, that when he found out that Interstate 77 was going to run through the middle of the farm, he dismantled the house board by board and stored them instead of seeing the place demolished. Likewise, he loved spending time with both his family and his beloved Laura’s family. When they owned a small plot of land on Lake Norman, gathering the family for a nice day of sunbathing, boating, and eating was a joy. And many family members remember that he was the one who taught them or others to ski. In his later years, he always looked forward to the week when his family would gather at the beach for relaxation and to catch up.
He adored his beloved wife of 57 years, Laura, and always sought to provide and care for her and their two daughters. They remember how on my grandmother’s birthday or for holidays, he would love to surprise her with a special gift, a new piece of jewelry or a nice new outfit, and then beam with pride as she modeled her new gift. He was her adamant guardian, protector, and strongest supporter. He also brought a great sense of humor to the household. One Christmas Laura Nell had insisted that the four of them go to see the Winston production of the Nutcracker. After they arrived home, Sammy still grumbled, “I just don’t understand why anyone would want to go and watch GROWN men dance around in their long-johns”, after which he quietly disappeared. Except moments later, he reemerged having changed into his own pair of long-johns, pirouetting, dancing and leaping all over the house as the rest of his family laughed!
Sammy’s children and grandchildren were his pride and joy, although he rarely if ever said it to any of our faces directly. I think this was an attempt to help keep each of us from getting “too big for our britches”. However, he loved talking about each of our accomplishments to others and introducing each of us to any of his acquaintances that we ran into when we were out and about. In his later years, when at least the three of us grandchildren graduated from our secondary educations, he was present with us via the livestream of the ceremonies which he was always so meticulous to get set up, usually with Lalee’s help. He learned to use FaceTime and earlier iterations of technology, all in an effort to keep in touch with us more. He didn’t want to miss a thing and especially loved to spoil us grandchildren rotten, almost always stopping at Krispy Kreme doughnuts when we were all gathered together. And trust me, the HOT Now light was always on, and a half dozen doughnuts or more never even made it to the house because we’d open that box right up! He beamed when Andrew and Liz got married. He loved checking in and hearing all about Physical therapy school and how life was going from Sarah, and he loved grilling me about being Presbyterian and why we did this and that because in his words “being a baptist just seemed so much easier”.
In the last four years, when his mobility became impaired, he was still so bound and determined to do as much as he could by himself, for as long as he could. This stubborn attitude ran off many a caregiver, until Tarsha Woodberry came along. Lord only knows how much she had to put up with, but we are so profoundly grateful for her presence as she was a friend to Sammy Lee when he most needed one.
I know that I have already mentioned my grandfather’s faith, but it was so profoundly important to him, especially after the death of my grandmother. After her passing, he often said how much he couldn’t wait to be with her again and knew that when his time came, they would be reunited. Within the last few months of his life, he had begun to see her and his mother, and found comfort in knowing he would be seeing them again. He also always had an affinity for birds, especially eagles, and often felt that they were earthly reminders of the saints who had gone before. This is why our scripture passage from today from Isaiah resonated so much with him. It is a passage that has long been my personal favorite and which will now hold an even deeper meaning for me. You see, Eagles are strong, with keen senses. They are also incredibly graceful and soar to amazing heights. Eagles are everything that I imagine my grandfather being. He was strong, yet graceful. He was gruff, yet incredibly loving. In his final years when he would be so frustrated with his leg and getting around, it seemed like this passage gave him more and more hope that when it was eventually his time, he would soar.
And he is. He is soaring. He is dancing with my grandmother. They are finally reunited, just the way he wanted to be. He is no longer in pain, and his bum leg is no longer an issue. And just as he believed birds were reminders of saints gone before us, I know he is fully embracing that. As I was driving to the airport on Tuesday afternoon, a hawk, gliding on the wind flew right in front of my car. It was so low that if I had not put on my breaks, I would have hit it, but at the last second, soared upward and out of sight. As I told my mother, I have no doubt that hawk was my grandfather, soaring in just to remind me of his presence in my life. I know that he is free. I know that he has finally found the rest that his body and soul desired for so long. And I know that not only is he with my grandmother and his mother and all of his other loved ones who have passed, he is with God, for as Rev. Tomlin read earlier from Romans 8: 35-39, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [him and] us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
So, while we who are left behind mourn the loss of Sammy Lee’s presence in our lives and will will miss his smile and quick wit, we should also celebrate. Celebrate because he is made well. Celebrate because he is with his beloved Laura Nell. Celebrate because we know without a shadow of a doubt that he has entered into glory eternal and will meet us with open arms when we one day make that same journey. We celebrate because just as the scripture says, he waited upon the Lord and the Lord has indeed renewed his strength! He is running and not growing weary, walking and not growing faint. And best of all, he is soaring. Soaring with and upon the wings of eagles that he so loved and found strength in. And for that I give God all of the glory. We love you Papa. Rest well in the heavenly presence.