The grandpa, the grandson, and the holy ghost

God.  Mere mention of the word “God”.  Who is God?  WHAT is God?  If you knew my grandfather, you would know.

My grandfather recently passed away.  He had cancer, and his last few months were extremely tough, for all of us, but especially for him.  He was a fighter, but even the toughest soldiers will have their time.  He had his.

If you knew my grandfather, you would believe in God.  Without a doubt.  Most people say that Christians are naive and bigots… ironically enough, this could not be more true for half of them.  Most Christians (or those who call themselves Christians) ARE bigots and ARE naive.  Then there’s the other half.  Those who believe not because “This is what God says” or “My Parents told me so”… but because they BELIEVE.

My grandfather was always the tough type.  He always held a stern grin on his face, and he was strict… but I love that old man.  He wasn’t always the talkative type, but at the right times, you could have a pretty good sit down.  My grandpa was the least naïve person that I have ever known in my entire life… and my grandpa was also a devout Christian.  I am not kidding you when I say I’ve seen scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, and atheists… that are more naïve than my grandfather was.  Odd world we live in.

Why do I believe?  I believe not because my parents do.  I don’t believe in God because “I’m afraid that I’ll go to hell if I don’t”.  I believe in God because I BELIEVE.  There is more proof of the existence of Jesus Christ than any ten major literary compositions in the Renaissance age.  Yet, we STILL read these works like jello and pudding.  Prove to me that Shakespeare really wrote Romeo and Juliet.  Can you?  Nope.  Does that mean he didn’t write it?  Nope.

My grandfather lived a harsh life.  He grew up during the great depression, and that was a thousand times worse than the economical issues we face in the United States today.  We are all delinquents run amok…  living off Nintendo and easy mac.  Hmm.  I don’t think those “necessities” have been around that long.

My grandpa also fought in the Second World War.  Have you ever heard of the Rapido River Crossing?  Probably not, unless you’re a WWII junkie like me.  In Italy, stiff German defenses cradled the countryside, all the way to the tip of Italy, all the way to Sicily.  When American forces landed, they needed to clear the way for more troops to enter.  A General gave orders for my grandfathers regiment to move in on the Rapido River, a stretch of land heavily fortified with German artillery, machine gun emplacements, heavy mortars, and well-trained infantry.  Unfortunately, this was a military blunder that cost MANY lives.  He was supposed to give the order to a different squad entirely… but no ones perfect.  Oops.  BIG oops.

My grandpa was a technical sergeant with his regiment, and from what I hear, he was a tough one.  Everyone respected him.  Nobody gave him any crap without expecting a pile out the ying yang back from him.  The guys liked him.  He liked the guys.  Unfortunately, most of them wouldn’t make it back to the land of the free.

Once they began to cross the Rapido River, they were instantaneously fired upon by German forces.  They had no choice but to hold their position, as was ordered.  (They weren’t actually supposed to move in… but like I said… even four-star generals aren’t perfect, and communication issues were pretty common in those days)  My grandpa saw his best friends mowed down like blades of grass… in an instant, gone.  He saw things no mortal man should have to see… shards of what used to be humans being blown from a boat… bullets ripping through his friends like a hot knife through butter… and death.  Death stood there that day on the battlefront.  Death beckoning gently to all those mortals, all decked out in combat gear, all getting ready to piss themselves.  Ha.  Death was laughing the whole time.

If I recall the numbers correctly, there were approximately two hundred and fifty soldiers that attempted to cross the river.  Only about twenty five made it back.  Guess what?  My grandpa was one of the twenty five.  

Death didn’t take him then.  Not that river.  Not that dark day.  Death had better plans.  Death wanted to wait.

My grandpa was wounded three times.  I can only recollect two incidents though:  He was shot in the hand once, and a piece of shrapnel pierced his helmet and entered his head.  Had he not been wearing that helmet, he wouldn’t have made it.

Have you ever been on a battlefield?  Have YOU ever stared death straight in the face?  Have you ever heard his laugh?  Have you ever seen death swallow up all of your friends right in front of your face?  Have you ever… prayed to make it through?

There was another figure on that battlefield.  He wasn’t as frightening, or cumbersome… but he stood just as tall as death.  His name was Jesus Christ.  Christ knew when he hung on that God Damned piece of wood that this would happen.  He saw the war; he knew the lives that would be lost.  He died so they didn’t have to be lost eternally.  He also stood on that field, and watched the whole fight… and every drop of blood, he shed a silent tear.  He knew who would make it, and who wouldn’t.  He knew I’d be sitting here typing this.  Then why the hell don’t you know HIM, I ask.  Well, don’t worry about it so much.

My grandpa.  A hearty old man.  I knew him since the day I was born.  This past few years, I’ve seen him age.  I’ve seen death lurk a little closer minute by minute.  Only… death wasn’t laughing.  Death didn’t laugh as he took my grandpa.  He cried.  A silent tear.  Death only laughs when the merciless are slain.  Death only cries when the merciless slay.

How did he believe in God through all this?  How did he not give up faith at some times?  How, you ask me, could a man see what he saw and still believe?  It’s all in the eyes.

The past year, I have seen my grandpa’s health deteriorate.  His life lessened to the point I couldn’t bear.  In his last six months, he wasn’t able to walk.  He spent the whole time in a bed.  A GOD DAMNED BED.  He sat there thinking, all the while.  “Why me, lord?”.  But no, not why me… as in, why am I sitting here in this bed.  He thought to himself “Why me?  Why did I make it across the river?  Why couldn’t the rest of them come home?  What did I do that deserved your good grace?”

I talked to him when he was sick.  He lost so much weight, he looked like something straight out of Auschwitz.  His face was pale, sullen, and gray… but his eyes were full of life.  The rest of his body was about to give way, but his eyes still held that glint of wood from the cross.  He died happy.  

My cousin had a baby a year before he died.  Just watching her on the bed with him nearly brought tears to my eyes.  A few generations ahead, where as old life sprung new life.  I watched young Brianna Gilliam, not even a year old, sit by my grandpa’s side.  I looked into her eyes… and there he was, staring back at me.  Then I knew he was happy.  Just having a full family, a blossoming baby girl, and all of his relatives by his side… and THAT answered his question.  “Why me?”.  Well… he found out.

I watched him hallucinate… I watched him vomit… I watched him in utter PAIN.  I watched him refuse the pain medicine.  I watched him suffer through a harsh six months in bed.  And at times, I saw the lord sitting there crying with me, his tears as bright as mine.  His eyes…. The same as my grandfathers.  Full of vigor.  Full of love.

I saw a great many things through my own eyes.  I hugged my grandpa two weeks before he passed away.  The last thing I ever heard him tell me was not to worry about him.  I wasn’t worried about him.  I knew that he had something better coming; a well earned home in heaven.

Many times had I shared a good laugh with my grandpa... and never had I shared a bad tear with him.  No, those were saved until later.  Those were saved for the day he died.

I had known him all my life, and he never told me a lie, he never spoke one thing that wasn't truth.  He was wise, and with wisdom, comes power.  He had seen life through the eyes of a war-torn veteran, a heartfelt father, a loving grandfather, and through those eyes... in those wonderful eyes, you can see CHRIST.  The last thing he still held.

That ragged body lying in the bed... a grim reminder that we all have our time.  When I look back on those last few months of his, I try not to think of the near lifeless man that lay in that bed... but I see his eyes.  Still shining bright as the sun, I still see those eyes.  Oh, if only you could see them.  All you sinners and saints out there alike, I wish you could see them.  There isn't much difference between a sinner and a saint.  The only difference is in the eyes.  The only difference is that glint of life, that abundance of hope, the greatest thing in life.  THAT'S knowing life.  The answer to all lifes questions... they are all in the eyes.  Look into your own eyes.  Are they really that different from the eyes of Edward Milo Creekmore?  Look deeper.  Look into your own eyes.  Go look.  Tell me what you see.  

I was on a walk when I heard the news: he had passed away.  I put my arm around my mother, and I didn’t cry until later that night.  I had only cried once before then, because I realized that hid clock was ticking faster.  His door was about to open, and only God held the key.

That night, as I went on another walk, I prayed to God that he take good care of Papa.  I prayed that he get a gentle home, because that’s what he needs after a harsh life.  I almost could hear his voice again.  I almost could hear him telling me not to worry about him.  Not almost… I did.

I went to the funeral home a few days later.  His lifeless shell lay in the casket.  I couldn’t see his eyes.  So cold, so… hollow.  He was empty that day.  Hid soul no longer was confined to that ragged body… but it was hanging above us.

At the funeral, I watched as they closed the lid.  I listened to the preacher’s words of comfort, and I listened to my grandfather’s favorite song.  The title of his favorite song… is... "Why Me?".

I can almost hear his voice.  I can almost hear him asking, "Why me dear lord?  Why of all the good men did I make it across that forsaken river?  Why did you choose me?  My relatives are all here by my side, crying, and why are they here?  Why me?"  His question was finally answered.  

I put my arm around my grandma, trying to heal the empty hole that could not be filled.  I looked up to the casket and noticed I wasn’t the only one crying.  Jesus Christ stood there.  He looked down into the casket and another silent tear was wept.  He stood as tall and bright as he did on that battlefield, many years ago.  Death wasn’t to be seen.  He was miles away.  Only the lord stood there, his eyes as bright as God’s own.  His eyes as bright as Brianna’s youthful stare.  His eyes as bright as my grandfather’s.  His eyes full of love.

I got into the car as we drove behind the hearse.  I couldn’t remember a greater time of sorrow.  I felt like a part of me was being buried there that day.

He had a military burial.  All of the soldiers volunteered, as they felt no greater honor to their country as to take part in the burial of a WWII veteran.  The flag was presented to my grandma, the very same flag that was placed on the casket.  The flag still sits on the mantle of her fireplace.

We drove off into the distance that day.  They placed him in the grave, but the pallbearer’s weren’t alone as they carried him up that hill.  Standing a few feet behind him was my lord.  No, death was far off in the distance.  He wasn’t laughing, either.

I have seen the fires of hell, and their radiance is too much to bear.  I have seen the cloths of heaven, drawn out in elaborate strings of silken wonder, as the finger of God crafted each one delicately.  I KNOW that my grandpa sits in heaven, looking down on me.  I can see a little glint of him in my eyes.  It reminds me daily of the price of love, and the price of life.  It reminds me of the silent tears shed on that day.  

If you had known my grandpa, you would believe in God.  It is impossible to look into his eyes and not see something deeper.  Radiance of life flowing.  But most of all, love.

I cannot explain to you how much love is poured daily upon the earth.  Unfortunately, hate is also blooming, all the time.  Only realization can force back the mighty river of hate.  Much like that Rapido River, I suppose, with the banks strewn with the blood of good men.  I can’t explain WHY… I can only explain HOW.  What is love?  Love is an untouchable thing.  Love is life, and life is love.  Love is in the eyes.  Look into your eyes, and what do you see staring back at you?  Look harder.  Yea, there it is.  

I can look back on that day, and all I see is blackness.  Total silence, total misery, utter pain, and him.  All I can see is his lifeless shell sitting there as they closed the casket.  All I can think about is him asking "Why me?".  Well, why him?  I'll tell you why.  JESUS FUCKIN' CHRIST.  That's why.

I am a sinner.  Aren't we all?  My grandpa was a sinner, JUST like the rest of us.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't, but why did he still believe?  What shard of hope kept him hanging by a thread on that bitter day on the blood strewn shores of the Rapido River?  

If there was a single prayer in my life that wasn't ansered...  nope.  Come to think of it, there hasn't been.  Even through my darkest hour, I can talk to my father who sits in heaven, hear his voice sweeter than the sweetest sugar, yet stronger than the strongest steel... I can hear him.  Think I'm insane?  Think what you will.  I can't hear his son's voice.  Unfortunately, Jesus is a little more shy than we all think... but he's still there.  I talk to his father every day.   Sometime's we laugh, sometime's we cry... sometime's I'll get a lecture about various things that I don't need to do.  Sometime's he has to sit and listen to me complain for hours on end, but you know what?  God is a dang good listener.  That man (if you call him a man) won't let you down, it doesn't matter what you've done, he will listen.  I promise you.  The strongest man has his weakness.  Even ME, however strong I may seem.  My weakness is religion.  But you know what?  I don't need to be strong, my grandpa is strong for me.  

Silence.  Then it starts.  Like a train through Bethlehem, the bullets come ripping at you, trying to shed your blood and life, like diamonds in the rust.  Men fall beside you.  Not merely men, they are your COMRADES, your best friends, and your loved ones.  The boat has tattered holes, a grim reminder that the strongest titanium isn't invincible.  BAM.  Another went down.  You clench your M1, and you crack a few shots, but those mortars are a ghastly apparation from hell, those machine guns on the shore just mock your excuse of a rifle.  You crouch, hoping to seek assylum from the grim battle... then you see him.  Your assylum.  Your light.  Standing on the banks, there he is... crying silently as the bullets whiz on by.  You watch as another man falls to his knees, and JUST when you thought to give up faith... faith comes to YOU.  Standing on the banks, taller than death, stronger than the strongest titanium, faster than all the mortar shells... there he is.  Then you found your answer.  Then you know why your heart will see you through.  Standing on the banks is the holiest of holy, the most merciful bullet on the battlefield.

Just remember the story about the grandpa, the grandson, and the Holy Ghost.

Why Me:

Why me Lord, what have I ever done

To deserve even one

Of the pleasures I've known

Tell me Lord, what did I ever do

That was worth loving you

Or the kindness you've shown.

Lord help me Jesus, I've wasted it so

Help me Jesus I know what I am

Now that I know that I've need you so

Help me Jesus, my soul's in your hand.

Tell me Lord, if you think there's a way

I can try to repay

All I've taken from you

Maybe Lord, I can show someone else

What I've been through myself

On my way back to you.

Lord help me Jesus, I've wasted it so

Help me Jesus I know what I am

Now that I know that I've need you so

Help me Jesus, my soul's in your hand.

Song by Chris Kristopherson

My grandpas very favorite song...

He found the answer, now can you?

Author's Notes/Comments: 


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Todd Pack's picture


This has got to be one of the most honest, forthright, and compelling arguments for belief that I've ever seen . . . and I've seen a lot. You use both emotion and raw intelligence, combined with experience to make your point. It was fantastic. You've got some chops, son. I'm sure you grandfather's proud . . . and, you're right. BELIEVE. If more people understood what faith was all about . . . well, I guess I don't need to paint you a picture (I don't think I could paint a more compelling one than you did). Powerful, powerful words. Please continue. And if you wanna chat sometime, look me up on AOLIM at RagneyRokPoet or Yahoo IM RagneyRokPoet. Peace.


Katie Hansen's picture

Hey Justin im not sure if you remember me but thats good stuff i try to forget bout my Pop Pop b/c i know it will just hurt me so much more but this helped to finally get these tears about and the funny thing is my story is so alike to us its weird but thanks again and maybe email me some time