I remember when we were in Paraguay years ago.
I was 15 and we hadn't been there in a long time. We were all so excited to see everyone. That first day, we got to Oma and Opa's and sat down to eat lunch. I mentioned that I loved the dulche de leche from Loma Plata (carmel spread) and it always tasted like my childhood. Opa jumped out of his seat, ran outside and jumped on his motorcycle. He was back in 5 minutes with a bucket of the stuff!
That was my opa.
He loved us so much, would jump through hoops for us!
He was proud of who we were becoming, thankful that we were getting an education in Canada and living for the Lord.
When Andrew and I, along with my parents, went to Paraguay together in 2010, I will never forget how Opa greeted me. By this time, alzheimers was settling in, making him forget words, names and people, making a jumble of his memory. When we got to his house, he came up to me and, ever so gently, put both of his wrinkled hands up to my cheeks and held my face.
"Ohhh", he said "Its you! You look just like I remember. I know you." He said it so sweetly. Although he couldnt remember my name by then, he knew in his heart who I was. He knew I was special to him and that he loved me. It almost broke my heart with sweetness.
That was my Opa.
Tough, leathery hands, scarred with years of hard labour. "Four and a half fingers" he would always say, since he lost half of one finger years ago.
A gravelly voice and laugh, from years of smoking. He started smoking when he was a young boy and continued for about 50 years. Until one day, he decided to stop. And he did, just like that. Cold turkey. "I will not smoke anymore." And he didn't touch a cigarette for the rest of his life.
That was my Opa.
Stubborn and tough, set in his ways and oh so sweet.
I remember when my young cousin wanted to join us while we were up in a tree. She was too small to climb up alone and we weren't helping her! Up hopped Opa, hung upside-down, by his legs, from a branch, and lifted her up! I remember thinking (and possibly saying aloud!) "Opa, you're supposed to be old!" To which he would have laughed.
That was my Opa.
Always playing tricks on us, telling us stories that fascinated us.
Oh the stories he told!
Some so wild, you wouldn't have believed them. Unless you knew Opa. If you knew Opa (or about Paraguay!) then you would know that they are true.
The time he killed a cougar with a stick, then sent me a tooth. The snakes and animals he had encountered over the years. The hard life, the hard work, the joy of family, how much he adored his children and grandchildren.
And when he looked at Oma. Well, that was a story in itself.
It would be their 53rd anniversary this year.
A lot of things happen in 53 years. I believe Oma and Opa grew in their love for each other and for God. They had hard times and
good times. Through it all, they were together.
The last time in Paraguay, in 2010, Andrew and I were engaged, just a few months away from becoming man and wife.
Oma and Opa sat us down to have a chat. While they talked, I translated for Andrew. They wanted us to know that they fully supported our union. They would pray for us, and cheer us on. "But," they told me, "you must never, not for one second, think about getting a divorce." They told us, on no uncertain terms, marriage is for life. They stressed the importance of commitment in marriage. I love them for that. They were not afraid to say the truth.
Opa, I will miss you.
Many times, I wished we could live closer to each other. But distance certainly didn't make me feel separate from you. I adored you when I was young, I admired you when I got older and I will always, always cherish you. I will tell your great-grandchildren about you and your crazy adventures.
You left us this morning, but you are not gone. Not really.