Friday, December 21, 2012

A Celebration of Life

On Sunday, December 16, 2012, my father, Ray G. 'Sonny' Gryder passed away.  So many of you have expressed sympathies and offered your concern, thoughts and ceaseless prayers, I and the family are very grateful for them all.  Today's post is the remembrance I delivered on this past Wednesday during the Celebration of Life service.  

-Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP) is the most common form of Guilluan-Barre Syndrome (GBS) an auto immune disorder affecting the nervous system arising from an infection.
-Kidney cancer resulting in removal of a kidney
-High Blood Pressure
-TIA or mini-stroke
-Degenerative kidney disease resulting in dialysis 
-Amputation of lower left leg as a result of Diabetes
-End stage heart disease as a result of Diabetes 

My father's health issues began in 1996.  For the last 16 yrs. he and my mother visited countless medical professionals and my mother, acting as care giver and organizational guru has without a doubt learned enough over that time to petition a university for a degree in pharmacology.  

Mom you were his Florence Nightingale, truly 'a lady of the lamp'.  Thank you for being his nurse and caregiver.  

Dad was out of work for close to a year with the GBS.  Strangely, it was in the midst for the search for that diagnosis that Kidney cancer was discovered.  The doctors remarked then that if that find had not occurred in '96 my father quite possibly may have died from the cancer some 3 to 5 years later. 

With the exception of most of 1996 and a few brief hospital stays here and there, my father continued to work until June 2010.  He retired just shy of 31 yrs of service.

On this past October 25th he entered the hospital and was eventually diagnosed by late November with end stage heart disease.  This was the culmination of all the medical problems exacerbated by the diabetes.  The calcification around his main aorta was extensive and was being ravaged by the demands of trying to keep up with 3 day a week dialysis.  

He was able to be at home from November 1-11 and then again from Dec 3 to Dec 13.  Dec 13 he went into respite care and eventually passed peacefully this past Sunday at 330 in the afternoon.

I was not as close to my father as I would have liked to have been when I was growing up.  I suppose that is because he was gone so much of the time working to support his family.  He was always very tired and lacking to spend time with me like I wanted.  After I became a teenager it only seemed to get worse and I know I contributed to that as well.  I disliked him and held a grudge for a long time.  After I was grown and finally began to settle down with my life, he and I had a confrontation at work one afternoon about an indiscretion that resulted in things being said between us that we both just recently acknowledged regret over and asked forgiveness for.  But at the time it caused me to not want to be around him, so for almost a year I stayed away from home, very rarely visiting.  All the while, mom continued as caregiver and bared the brunt of many medically induced mood swings, confusion, agitation, embarrassments, rudeness and discomfort that my father exhibited because of his anger over being afflicted with so much, that was so debilitating.  This for a man so used to using his hands for work with plumbing and the relaxation of being on the water fishing.  This for a man accustomed to easily hoisting large 200 lb cast iron pipe onto his shoulder at a work site.  The GBS virtually destroyed his dignity that he would not soon recover from.   

I apologize to you mom for not being there more to help you through that time.

Only when at the depths of despair prior to his partial leg amputation and its aftermath by around Thanksgiving 2009, through his retirement the following summer and up to about August of this year did he regain some of that dignity.  He was astoundingly proud of his prosthesis and would pull up his pants leg to bang on the metal one he had prior to the artificial looking leg he eventually got.  For almost 3 yrs he was again his old self.  Something that was a total surprise to us all.

Although words of forgiveness were left unspoken until very recently, my father and I let ourselves move on with our lives and I began visiting again and it all culminated with the opportunity to stay with him all night this past Friday and Saturday nights.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it was the most spiritually rewarding and uplifting experience I've ever had.  To be able to care for my father at the foot of 'his' cross; to console him as he shouted out to God for mercy and guidance; to give him access to ministerial care; to be witness to his rally from 130 to 245 AM on Sunday morning where he shared jokes, stories an anecdotes one final time; to see him enjoyably take his last drink of two cups of iced tea in the midst of the rally time talk...all this for me was truly a blessing for me.  This resurgence was there to let us know that he was going to be OK and that he was the same he'd always been...that the vessel holding his spirit the last 73 yrs was worn out and unable to continue to hold him earthbound; that his spirit was going to remain intact and carry on in a new dimension.  

What unexpected excitement, what solace and comfort felt as family gathered together just after his passing.  The room was filled with his spirit.  It was uncanny!  Even after we began departing from there my brother remarked how unique a feeling it was standing in the hospital parking lot; like we'd all just broke out to go our separate ways after an enjoyable family occasion; a feeling of comfort and utter fulfillment.  He passed at the conclusion of a sponge bath, change of hospital gown and last but not least his hair being combed before being carefully laid back into a fresh set of sheets where he took several more breaths and then departed into the glorious mystery.  This was truly reassuring to us all because he left on his terms with none of us in the room.  

I find it quite ironic that he died just after having his hair combed as this was always a pet peeve of his.  He always wanted to have his hair combed.  It was drilled into him by his father, Lester Gryder who would not allow you to dine at his table unless you came with shirt on and hair combed.  

I'm not sure when this story occurred but apparently during one hospital stay he was being moved by wheelchair from one floor to another by a male orderly.  Upon reaching the floor where he was to be wheeled out, the elevator doors opened to a nurse's station full with many female nurses standing attentively at an apparent floor meeting of some sort.  As my father was about to be wheeled over the threshold onto the floor he loudly protested for the orderly to stop, saying, "Wait, wait...I can't go out there, my hair's not combed!"  This was my father...storyteller, teller of jokes and old family anecdotes.  So many stories so little time.  Many of you here tonight most likely have one that comes to mind.  He was forever picking and kidding around.  During that rallying time early Sunday morning as he sipped some water through a straw he asked this question, "Know why straws were invented? So dummies would know when they reached the bottom!"  A happy soul indeed.  He and his father together again will be undoubtedly causing a commotion among the cloud of witnesses they now reside with. 

The last thing I will share with you about my father was his love of nature.  He was an avid, skilled bass fisherman.  I know it pained him to have a bass boat sitting in his driveway for the last few years and not be able to use it to get to his myriad of special fishing holes.  He learned to love it from his father who was the master fisherman that all interested parties residing or visiting the Charlotte Co., VA area wished to fish learn the tricks and skills.  I don't believe it was skill at all.  I believe that my grandfather and father shared a bond with one another when it came to the appreciation of what the Creator has given us.  My grandfather possessed a special gift of being able to call a turkey naturally with his voice and mouth cupped just so.  Dad says he possessed this gift but killed very few turkeys.  It was mostly for others who'd want his expertise.  Dad had that same gift for nature.  In what we've in the last few days referred to as an almost Dr. Doolittle fashion, dad was uniquely drawn to the many squirrels, chipmunks and array of birds populating his backyard.  Since his retirement he had spent most of his time sitting on the back porch at a small table under a gazebo with some sort of treats to hand out to his furry friends.  They ate from his hand all the time.  The connection he made with these animals was truly something to watch and I am so truly blessed to have caught some of it on video recently as he introduced my 2 yr old son Gabe to his friends.  

So...the pain is all gone.  The suffering at an end.  None of it changed who 'Sonny' Gryder was in his heart or in his mind.  He was just the same down to earth man from Keysville, VA that he ever was through it all.  I know that dad is now at peace.  He was a Jesus Follower.  A soul that was always concerned about the well being of his fellow man because of what he learned from his father about devotion to God and commitment to carrying out Christ's Beatitude teachings.  I have no doubt that my poppaw, Lester was standing there along with Jesus reaching out to him on Sunday afternoon, Lester with rod and reel in hand as Jesus smiled, saying, 'be at peace my son, now rest, you good and faithful servant' and God's voice echoing through the heaven's saying, "Alright!  That's what I'm talking about!"  God speed Pop.  I'm proud to know all I know because of you.  Thank you for guiding me into manhood and sharing your faith and your families faith with me.  I am so thankful to have the family I have.  I will continue to walk humbly with God on this earth because of what you have taught me.  Peace be with you.  I love you pop.



  1. Good words, Ray. It must have been difficult to share, but I'm so glad that you were able to let others lean in, look over your shoulder, and glean some of the wisdom from your thoughts.
    Peace - DEREK

    1. Derek,
      Your unexpected kind and compassionate words provided through Greg during Wednesday nights service were so very appreciated and meaningful to the entire family. I am so proud to call you friend, brother and fellow Jesus Follower! Peace to you and the rest of the Maul family! I'm confident that Geoff and Dad have already exchanged greetings and are looking down on both our families this special Christmas 2012.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us Ray. Continued prayers of peace for you and your family.

    1. Many thanks to you Darren for all the posting of prayers and concern. Peace to you and the Anderson family this Christmas!

  3. Words can not describe my feelings at this moment. What an amazing article about your father! Thank you for sharing. It was very heart warming. God bless you and yours Ray.
    Love Julie

    1. So kind of you Julie. Your kind words of concern are much appreciated. I sensed the comfort of your prayers from Facebook. Thanks so very much.
      Peace to you and your family.

  4. So, so sweet Ray. My heart goes out to you & your family! I’m so sorry for your loss, but so happy for the time God allowed you and your father with each other; giving you both time to heal from past wounds & time to show each others love from the heart!
    Reading through your words hit close to home, as my family has been hit with bad news regarding my mom. Nov. 21st, 2012, a day I will never forget as mom mother was diagnosed with a fracture on her spine, due to a cancerous tumor, which we have since found was caused by stage 4 breast cancer. Those days I spent sitting with her around the clock for 9 days at the hospital caring for her. As I watched her go through so much pain, each day unknowing what tomorrow would hold, crying with her, hoping for good results & praying with her. Those moments with her, are moments that I will forever cherish! Although mom is still here with us, until God takes her home, I will continue to cherish every moment God allows us to have her here. I love her so much and can’t imagine my life without her in it.
    I know your heart, must feel so much peace, having spent those final moment with your father, moments you will carry & cherish forever!! I’m so happy that God opened that door for you and your dad, allowing you both that time you needed with each other.
    Although we don't know, nor understand why our loved ones become so sick, we do know God has a plan for all things.
    God bless you and your family!!

    1. Peace and blessings to you. I'm glad my words have given an opportunity to reflect on your mom's health situation. Cherish each and every moment. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.!