Monday, May 18, 2015

A Tribute to Donald Norman Morrison

I lost my last remaining grandparent this weekend. Don't get me wrong, I know I am among a rare few fortunate at my age who still have a grandparent. Being half-way around the world only added to my deflated heart. At Christmas time when I got to celebrate his 95th birthday with him, my dear Grandfather told me to "Stay in Hanoi if anything should happen to me." I was having nothing to do with this non-sense conversation. I told him I planned on him living past 100 so we need not have this talk. When my idea was nipped five years short my heart was torn asunder. I had amazing visits with my grandfather over Christmas holiday. We always signed off our visits with a kiss, hug and "I love you." No regrets there. However these times of grief are for the living and I wish I were there for my mom. (Maybe even more a bit of vice-versa as I grieve alone an ocean away). My parents reiterated my grandfather's sentiment that I "do not need to come home." Even my 11 year old gave me a firm chat ending with, "Mom it would be redundant to go home now when we fly out in a few weeks." My son was more empathetic. "Mom, look at the glass half full...okay, I got nothing. Papa Morrison being gone totally stinks!" He made me laugh, but also displayed keen empathy. It would be easy to say things like, "He was 95!" "He lived a full life." "It is just better." While these statements may be true, they do not appease the pain and sorrow I was and am feeling. It is difficult...for me. Another difficulty was capturing just how much this man means to me and who I am becoming. I agonized over choosing the right words and wasn't sure I was even close to hitting the mark until I Skyped with my cousin, who is like my big brother, and we wept our way through it. Me reading and him listening to my tribute to grandpa...

When I think of my grandfather I think of the word patriarch. He was the spiritual backbone of our clan. A staunch Scots-Irishman who tread lightly and thought deeply. Somewhere in my brain each story, laugh, and walk becomes a memory. As I wade through the river of his legacy I find myself faultily scooping water only to have it trickle through my fingers barely captured. My tears adding to the surge and rush threatening to pull me under.

My grandfather was a gardner.

It may have been his farm boy roots, agricultural studies at Michigan State, or it may have been his proclivity towards a green thumb, but his work in the garden yielded vegetables that my grandmother would turn into delectable culinary delights.

Gardening with him taught me that patience and care yields plentiful returns.

My grandfather was a Detroit Tigers fan. He cheered on Ty Cobb, the G-men (Gehringer, Greenberg & Goslin). He respected Al Kaline and Sparky Anderson. From Trammell to Fielder; to Cabrera and Verlander, he followed the team through ups and downs, triumphs and upsets, victories and defeats. Watching the Tigers with my grandfather taught me loyalty and grit during difficulty, and grace in defeat.

My grandfather was an explorer.

In my early youth we would set out meandering down the rural roads of Reeman, perhaps winding our way to the railroad tracks to place a penny on the rails to check later.

As we would amble along grandpa would be scoping out the just right size disk of a stone. When he would make the discovery he’d then pluck it from the gravel on the side of the road. The paradox of his rough gnarled and smooth hands would then nimbly flip the rock about between his palm and fingers, because “it was good for circulation.” We would talk and trek.

Walking with my grandfather taught me that moving stirs my imagination.

My grandfather was an ornithologist; a kindred spirit to John James Audubon.

Possessing tomes of birding books as well as field experiences on song, feather hues, flight patterns and migration tendencies. We would scope out the trees and skies as we would walk and he would readily share his knowledge with me. When last year from deep within the wooded heartlands of Michigan I brought back photos of a beautiful cerulean bird with a russet chest, we poured over his books to rule out the Indigo Bunting and discover the Eastern Bluebird. Birding with my grandfather taught me to observe the world around me and ask questions to seek the answers.

My grandfather was a story-teller. He could spin a tale like no one I’ve ever been blessed to meet. Typically he’d begin a yarn by folding his arms across his body, nodding his silver topped head with a twinkle in his eye. I would lean in knowing there was a tale to follow. His narratives would be punctuated with intermittent resonant bass belly laugh that I, or anyone else listening, could not help but chuckle along with him. Listening to my grandfather’s stories taught me about the fabric of character and the warmth humor can bring to any situation.

My grandfather was a tender caregiver. He held to his vows of “in sickness and health.” He was the perennial gentleman with my grandmother. For all their healthy years together whether it was a drive about town or a trip to Florida he made sure he provided what she needed. In her months of sickness he was vigilant at her side ensuring she was as comfortable as possible. Watching my grandparents together taught me the meaning of commitment.

My grandfather was a Biblical scholar. When I would bring to him my struggles with all the sorrow in the world, church decisions, or personal trials he would listen as a captive audience of one. Instead of offering any quick fix advice, or “chin up” adages he would say, “I want you to go read…”and would share a specific Bible passage. Don’t read it once or twice. Read it at least three times then we will talk again.” Confiding in my grandfather taught me that the good Lord provided inspired Scriptures, and blessed me with a brain to think and a spirit to love.

Because of these reasons, and a hundred more, my Grandfather, patriarch Donald Norman Morrison leaves a legacy of love. I may still wade about in the current of sorrow, but I won’t stay there. I won’t stay there because my grandfather was also a man of faith. He knew the struggles only last for a season compared with the glory that awaits; and THAT is the most important lesson he leaves me-- and all of us. Saying "goodbye" to this earth just means a phenomenal "hello" to heaven.


  1. Wow! What a beautiful tribute! I'm deeply sorry that you are feeling such a loss. In the words of your son, it "totally stinks!" Your grandfather has left you a wonderful legacy. I liked the structure of your tribute, with each paragraph starting with "My grandfather was..." It gave us a full picture of all his interests and gifts. Thank you for your last line. Goodbyes here only mean hellos in heaven!

  2. What a beautiful legacy of 95 years! You expressed his life and love. Keep that close to your heart always.

  3. Theresa, at this time of loss the memories last. Yours are so fitting a tribute to a life that affected yours in so many ways. May your tears be filled with the joys of knowing such a great man who influenced and enriched his family members' lives. Your closing tied the whole piece together for me under the bridge of endings and beginnings.