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“When I leave this frail existence…”

Many do not have the privilege of having a relationship into adulthood with their Grandparents, not to mention Great-grandparents.  I have been blessed to have known well all 4 of my grandparents, all of whom have had an impact on my life in various ways.  This week my Grandad Gates was the first of my grandparents to pass from this life to the next.

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I’m the baby in white! Grandad is standing in a light suit, Grannie is sitting in front of him.

His name was known by many in the world (he was a well-known composer and symphony conductor), but to me, he was my Grandad.  When I was little, our family took occasional road trips from Washington to Wisconsin so we could visit Grannie and Grandad (and for reunions with the Gates family as in the photo above).  We spent a lot of time all together on those trips, but I remember one specific bonding moment when Grandad invited me into his study alone, set me on his lap, and played a game of memory with me on his computer.  I don’t remember much else, except that when I walked out of that study, I felt smarter than when I had entered.  He had a knack for building people up and helping them see the best in themselves.

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Grannie and Grandad have celebrated many major milestones with me: my baptism, my graduation, and my wedding (photo above) to name a few.  They have been able to know my husband, support us in our marriage, and they have celebrated several special occasions with us as our little family has grown.  What a blessing that my children know their great-grandparents!

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Grannie getting to know her new grandson (my first). Grannie and Grandad flew out to Houston for his baby blessing and my college graduation.
Grandad’s turn to hold my new babe! This is a photo from that same visit to Houston.
Visiting with Grannie and Grandad Gates at their home in Utah.

Several years ago when I had just begun writing my first piece, my oldest son commented to his brother, “Mom is writing music, just like Grandad does!”

Grandad was in his mid-nineties and lived a wonderful, full live, so there is much to rejoice over about his life, and little to mourn.  We will miss his presence here, and yet we can only imagine the happy reunions in heaven.

As I prepared to put the finalizing details on “Come Home” last week, I had an interesting experience.  We had received news that Grandad Gates had been hospitalized due to a heart attack the weekend before, but it looked like he was on the mend, and would bounce back as he has done many times in the past.  But on Monday, the news was not nearly as optimistic, and it was not a hard leap to see that we may not have much time left with him.

My first thought when I read the email sharing the most recent updates about Grandad  was “Tonight I will finish “Come Home” and send it to Grannie and Grandad Gates.”  I thought it might be an enjoyable distraction for Grannie, spending many hours in a hospital. And in case it was the last time I’d have the chance, I wanted to share with Grandad one last piece that I had written- from one composer to the other.   So I finished the last details and sent it off.

Grandad stabilized enough for him to be moved to an assisted living facility a few days after his heart attack.  Then less than 24 hours later, his spirit was freed and he returned to his Heavenly home.  Grandad left a larger-than-life legacy behind, and there are so many things that I could share in memory of him here, including many inspiring pieces of music that he composed.  But I keep reflecting on the one-on-one experiences I’ve had with him that are mine alone to treasure and share.  I’ll share two experiences that had a particular impact on me.

When I was 19 and going to college at BYU (Provo, Utah), I lived closer to my Grandparents than I ever had been before.  They lived in Wisconsin during my early years (while we were in Washington State) and then they moved to Utah.  So it was a neat opportunity to live close by, and develop an adult relationship with them.

One day on a visit to my Grandparents’ home, I was in Grandad’s study and somehow we got on the topic of dying.  He had probably said something offhand about dying someday.  I asked him if he was afraid of dying (because I sure was!).  He very emphatically said, “No, I’m not.” And then he went on to explain: “When we die, it’s like walking from one room in our house to the next room.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation.  Grandad was not afraid to die.

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This visit was right before I began a summer term at BYU. Here I am with Grannie, outside Grannie and Grandad’s home in Utah.

The second was an experience I had in my parent’s home in Washington State.  Grannie and Grandad Gates had come to visit and I was there for the occasion as well.  I had started composing music about a year before, and had found that although it was exhilarating, I struggled with self-doubt and perfectionism as I wrote every phrase.  I sat down next to him in the living room and engaged Grandad in a discussion.  I asked him some questions and I wrote down some key things he shared.  Here are a few of the nuggets:

-None of us are perfect, but we are DANG GOOD!

-You must not be negative about yourself- that is a decision.

-Thank the Lord for the gift you’ve been given and ask him to magnify it on the next go.

-Be the best YOU can be- not compared to anyone else- not me (Grandad) or anyone else.

-If you are finding joy in writing music and time flies, that means you’ve joined the club; I think Beethoven must have felt that way too.

Enjoying time with Grannie and Grandad

Many years ago, Grandad arranged the hymn “O My Father” (one of my favorites).  The words to verse 4 are so appropriate as we say goodbye to a dear Grandfather:

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

~O My Father


Grannie and Grandad Gates celebrating a special baptism day (my second son) last summer!

(There are many pictures of this wonderful couple I could end on, but currently this one is my favorite.  Here they are sitting with a great-grandson between them, filling him and us with their love and support.  They couldn’t miss this occasion to celebrate!)

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