Friday, October 8, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Pop Ball.

In late August, my grandmother's nearly 89-year-old husband took his last breath.

It was a shame for many reasons, and more than just the obvious. The man was brilliant -- I'm talking -- but his body just wouldn't support that strong, thriving mind anymore. Even in his last days, he was giving my mom details about documents that I couldn't even keep up with at age 19, much less now.

Despite the terrible illness that was affecting his quality of life, it was really difficult to say goodbye, but it's been equally tough to know that Nan is now going it alone. Her best friend and last living sister, our great-aunt Mildred, passed away a few years ago. I can't imagine what it's like to lose your peers gradually. Nan is doing well, and is showing some major strength and stamina that I hope to have by my next birthday, not to mention at 84.

During the days after Pop Ball's death, the family did a lot of things. We laughed, we cried, we ate, we talked, we slept, we painted toenails (well, Nan and I did, at least), and we reminisced.

My mom, however, was asked to do something that she begged me to do for her: speak at the funeral about what Pop Ball meant to our family since he married Nan when we grandchildren were in junior high and high school. Knowing my mother's fear of public speaking despite her great talent for communicating, I worked with her on what to say and took the job on as, well, a job. Because of that, it was a lot more bearable to deliver than it would've been otherwise.

This is my part from the funeral, spoken after Cliff's granddaughter Helen beautifully read his obituary, and before my cousin Russ preached a poignant, moving funeral service detailing Cliff's life and death, and their eternal implications:

Cliff Ball was a brave soul -- and not just because he literally fought battles and flew fighter jets and managed crews of airmen throughout his career.

Despite all those accomplishments, I think we all realized how truly brave Cliff Ball was when he walked into my Nanny's family. We don't mean to be dysfunctional (who does?). We really think we're pretty great (who doesn't?). But for a career Air Force Colonel to merge his life with Woolmarket's orginal social networker and her happily protective family?

Definitely deserving of a purple heart.

In time, I think Cliff came to accept our family's penchant for over-hugging, long phone conversations, and even the ridiculous, neverending banter every Christmas Eve.

And we came to accept...well...the retired Air Force Colonel. Who still talked like a Colonel, operated like a Colonel, and all the while loved our grandmother like she hung the moon.

And in time, Colonel Cliff Ball became Pop Ball to my cousins' and my sister's children.

And, not too much longer after that -- especially having watched Cliff nurse Nan through a health scare -- I realized that even though my family is excellent at keeping memories alive, and I feel like I know the biological grandfather who died when I was a few months old, Cliff had been the only living grandfather I'd ever had.

Pop Ball spent a lifetime doing what I have benefitted from for nearly 20 years. He gave a little something extra in so many areas of his life.

I'm pretty sure he would've said he had some regrets. (I am not sure there's anyone who doesn't.) But the Pop Ball I knew and loved gave through volunteerism, and finances, and wise counsel. The man was driving cross-country road trips in his 80s, and tackling technology that some 30-year-olds still haven't mastered. He dedicated himself to things and people he believed in, and in true Air Force Colonel style, put some umpfh into it, always giving a little something extra.

After hurricane Katrina devastated their home in 2005, I couldn't help but chuckle through my tears at the familiarities in the front yard that showed we were at the right driveway: Nan's Slim Fast cans, and Pop Ball's Gideon Bible materials.

My mother worded it well the other day, and I think this sums up how our whole family feels: She said that after she lost her daddy, she never expected to love anyone like that again. When Nan & Cliff married, she accepted and loved him as Nan's husband, but never expected that her love for him would grow to the extent it has. I guess the combination of a gracious spirit, sweet smile, intelligent mind, accepting love, and incredibly quick wit are just hard to not adore.

When Pop Ball died, our family lost a dear friend.

The extra that he gave to the world, he also gave to our family. Because of Cliff Ball's bravery, the Moore family is far more blessed than we ever were before.

At the gravesite, my sister, her husband, and I sang "He Leadeth Me" a capella after a very dignified and moving full military service. It was definitely not easy, and undoubtedly did not sound as professional as the recording below, but we did get the idea years ago of singing this beautiful hymn a capella from this extraordinarily talented Southern gospel trio, The Martins:

He Leadeth Me

He leadeth me, O blessed thought!

O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Sometimes ’mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, o’er troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.*

Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis Thy hand that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
When by Thy grace the vict’ry’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.

*We did not sing the second verse (for brevity and emotions' sake), but it's one of my favorites.

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