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To my Grandpa Norm..

A letter to my Grandpa Norm, who passed away on October 16, 2009.

Grandpa Norm,

You died a year ago today. I’ve been very fortunate; you were the first person that I’ve been really close to who has passed away. I still think about you every day, and cherish my memories of the time that I spent with you. It was an honor to be able to be with you the last days before you died; I hope that you knew that your family was with you in your last moments, telling you how much we loved you and remembering you.

I am so glad that you were here long enough to meet your great-grandson Malakai. I tell him on a regular basis how much you meant to me, and how much of a Carlson he is already becoming. My dad reminds me often how tools would disappear from his toolbox when I was young, and when he went looking for them, he’d find them in my toolbox.. and then he’ll grin as he remembers that you use to say the same thing about him. Well, this morning, as I was fixing a window screen, I looked down for one of my tools, and it was missing. What do you know – at 14 months old, Malakai is already “borrowing” his dad’s tools! I guess that is one tradition that does not want to end! I think I first saw the Carlson genes in him when he was a few months old, and thought it was a blast to sit on his bouncer, reach over to the wall, and unscrew all of the speaker terminals.. yup, he’s one of us!

Grandpa, I hope and pray that I will become a man like you. You were the type of Christian that I strive to be — you didn’t just talk the talk, you walked the walk, and showed the love of Christ through your life. If anyone you knew (or didn’t for that matter) needed anything, you were there for them, and never asked for anything in return. You didn’t wait; you just got it done. I may have had my rebellious periods, but I always looked up to you as a role model.

One of my favorite memories from my childhood is each Christmas Eve; after dinner, all of us grandkids would gather around you, and you’d read the Nativity story to us. At the time, I may not have seemed all that interested (there were presents coming after all!), but Grandpa, thank you for taking the time to do it. You helped shape my beliefs on what Christmas is really about.

Thank you for raising my dad, and helping him to follow in your footsteps. I look forward to continuing that tradition with my kids. Thank you for being an involved and loving husband, and not just a breadwinner. Thank you for being willing to punish me and tell me the hard truths, and not just leaving it up to my parents; it is so crucial for kids to have consistency on what they are being taught. I may have had tons of fun at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, but it wasn’t because I was getting away with things that I wouldn’t at home.

Grandpa, I am so sorry that I did not come to see you more often in your later years. My intentions were good, but that means nothing – actions speak louder than words. Once you moved back to Minnesota, I found it so hard to see you — I know that your mind was still with you, and that you understood what I was telling you and that you needed time with your family, but it broke my heart to see you like that, so I didn’t come nearly as often as I should have. Now that you are gone, though, it breaks my heart that I didn’t get those moments in with you; I pray that my grandchildren will be stronger if I am ever suffering like you were.

It was such an honor to attend your funeral, and join with so many friends and family members to celebrate your life. I never had expected that I would want to be a pallbearer, but Grandpa, it was such an amazing honor to be able to help bring your earthly remains to their final resting place. At the reception, it was so much fun to hear the stories about you, and see how much of an impact your life made on others. I saw Stan Harder there, and mentioned that it was great that he was in town so he could join us… turns out that he wasn’t in town for anything else; your impact on him was enough that he took a quick trip up to Minneapolis to say goodbye. Grandpa, your life mattered.

There’s so much more that I could say.. but just know that I love you, I miss you, and I wish you were here.. but I also praise God that you are in a better place. It was so great that you knew where you were going, and that one of the things you were able to say in your later days is that you wanted to go home.. we all knew exactly what you meant, and you are home now. It brings tears to my eyes as I can almost see you being greeted with the phrase “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” Know that your legacy lives on here on earth; I try to remember every day to take the opportunity to help people as you would, and I know that others do as well. You live on through those you left behind.

Your grandson,

Nathan Paul Carlson

A snippet from a song that reminds me of your life every time I hear it — “One Day Too Late” by Skillet:

Today I’m gonna try a little harder
Gonna make every minute last longer
Gonna learn to forgive and forget
‘Cause we don’t have long, gonna make the most of it

Today I’m gonna love my enemies
Reach out to somebody who needs me
Make a change, make the world a better place
‘Cause tomorrow could be one day too late

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Mary December 13, 2011, 6:23 pm

    Dear Nathan,

    Hello, my name is Mary. I would first like to start by telling you, that your letter to your grandpa touched my heart in a way I didn’t think was possible. Thank you so much for sharing. Your grandpa would be so proud of the man you are.

    I am writing to you as my grandpa passed away 3 months and 6 days ago today. My grandpa and I shared a special bond that some will never share with anyone in a lifetime. His birthday is December 14th (tomorrow) and mine is December 15th. On my 1st birthday my mom bought my grandpa a beer mug from me as gift. For the past 32years (since my 1st birthday) my grandpa and I have shared a beer together out of that mug. It started that I would get just enough to get my lips wet and as I got older he would have a “swig” and I would get the rest. One beer and the mug would get put away until our next birthday.
    That mug has some miles on it…..it travelled with my grandpa 16 hours to visit me at college….for “one” beer. The following year I drove home for one night to have our beer together and drove back, only to drive 8 hours back home 3 days later for Christmas break.

    Then……6 years ago my grandparents moved to there cottage to retire which is 3 hours away, I would drive as he was getting older, until 2 years ago when I couldn’t make the drive as I had major knee surgery done. He made the drive 3 hours down….20 minute visit, one beer and 3 hours back.
    Last year, there was a snow storm coming…..my grandpa told me not to make the drive, it wasn’t worth the risk. I got in my SUV, put it in 4 wheel drive and drove in hopes I would beat the storm. Three hours took me 4 to get there ( not too bad) had a quick visit (and our beer of course) and he told me to get going before the storm hit, I gave him a kiss goodbye and on my way I went. As I drove the snow got heavier, but I tried to make it home as I had 3 littles ones waiting for me…..after 4 hours of driving I was only half way home. The weather got so bad I remember praying to God to please just let me make it to the next exit and I would pull off…..I did….and I stayed the night and waited for the storm to pass…..That night they closed the major highway the storm was so bad. I am so thankful that I made it off the highway safe that night, but today I am even more thankful that the storm hit on the way home and not on the way there.

    September 7, 2011, my grandpa passed away suddenly and I know I have yet to come to terms with his passing. I am trying to come to terms with the fact that December 14, 2010 was the last beer that I will share out of his mug with him.

    Your letter has reminded me of the good times with him and I thank you for that. I am trying my hardest to remember the memories in my moments of hurt. When I read your letter in makes the hurt ease some.
    With that said, I am going to read it every time my heart aches for him.

    I know these are your words for your grandpa, and I wouldn’t ask if it didnt mean so much, but would you mind if I edited your letter to suit me to remember my grandpa, as I am still at a loss of words and am still grieving.

    Please do not feel in any way obligated to, as I said they are your feelings and I would never want to take that from you……I can always just read yours. (smiles)

    Thank you again Nathan, from the bottom of my heart.


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