One year ago today, my Grandad died.
There are certain moments that vividly stick in your memory. For me, one of these is the phone call I received from my Dad with the news. I remember stumbling over my words as I asked “When?”, “Why?”, “How?”. I remember walking into the kitchen, unable to hear Carole’s words as I told her he’d gone. I remember forcing myself to keep going, get into college and welcome a chapel full of new Trinity students. I remember it all, every moment, but most of all, I remember the numb fog that surrounded me as I did it.
Later, I was asked to do a reading at the funeral and completely failed to say anything else of consequence. Luckily my cousin had more guts and was able to say something of what we all felt. I’m so pleased she did. However, I simply couldn’t. If I said something, there would simply be too much left unsaid. The trouble is, what can you say?
A few months later the Guardian printed his obituary (see here), which tells many of the facts about him and communicates a bit of what he was like as a person and a minister. But it doesn’t tell you what it felt like knowing him, the “presence” that he somehow had or his manner with people.
I never really realised that he was well-known in Methodist circles when I was young. In fact I remember when I realised. I was on placement at a special school in Blackpool, I was 19 years old and chatting to the Duty Headteacher. She mentioned that her husband was a Methodist minister and, simply as a way of maintaining conversation, I told her that my Granddad was also a Methodist minister. She asked his name, I told her and you’ve never seen such a reaction. “Your Norwyn Denny’s grandson, THE Norwyn Denny, ex-chairman of the Methodist conference Norwyn Denny. Wow! I don’t believe it, you wait till I tell my husband that I have Norwyn Denny’s grandson in my school. He simply won’t believe it”. And so it went on. My answer to her next question probably summed up my reaction to the whole episode. “What’s he like?” … “Well … he’s just Grandad.”
Not that I didn’t realise he was a very special person. When he spoke people listen, because you just knew it was worth listening to. So many of the things he said and wrote to me over the years have suck with me and encouraged me. For example, I remember in my first year uni being really knocked by encountering, for the first time, the idea of a devil who was alive and active in the world. As often, when spiritually struggling, I wrote to Grandad. He wrote numerous things, many of which I wouldn’t want to share, but the last line was “As for the devil, laugh at evil in all its forms, because you believe in Jesus.” He wrote that to me over ten years ago and I remember that line without any problem at all. It’s jumped into my head on numerous occasions. Last year I had to perform an exorcism, and as I did it, this line gave me the strength.
I still “hear” his voice on so many occasions. Still know what he’d tell me if he were here. As I write this, there are two of his books on the shelf next to me, one he wrote and one he co-authored. The titles do a pretty good job of describing a little of what he was like. The first is simply called “Caring”, something which he believed passionately that the church was there for. The second is called “Beware the Church”. Time and again during his ministry he was never afraid to hold the church to account. He may have risen to the highest position in the Methodist Churches governing body, but his allegiance was always to Jesus. I remember, only about a year before he died, chatting to him and him telling me that his enthusiasm for his faith had only increased with age.
The older I get the more I realise the huge role he had in making me who I am. I didn’t realise this growing up. Didn’t even consider it. After I decided to get ordained, Grandad wrote to me and let into a secret. Apparently, when he was younger he prayed regularly that he would have a son to follow him into the ministry (women couldn’t do so at the time). As such, having three daughters came as some what of a surprise! He wrote and told me that he thanked God for the blessing of answer to his prayer, by provided a grandson to do so.
Having said that, the idea of following him into ministry is terrifying. I’m not half the man he was. On the day of the funeral one of my relatives told me “We’ll all be looking to you now you know?”. I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know. The fact is if I manage to achieve even a quarter of what he achieved for God in my life time, I’ll be a very happy man.
But this is all stuff that can be written and described. What I really want to say is the unsayable. I want to let people know that I miss the way he always pottered around his garden. That I miss the way he was useless on the phone. I miss the way he always seemed to wear the same the green cardigan. I miss how he had the worst taste in hats. I miss the way he used to use the same set words to say grace. I miss watching him play scrabble with Grandma. I miss the way he would send me articles from the paper that he thought I might be interested in. I miss his cards and letter on my “baptismal day”. And so the list goes on. I miss him. I just miss him.
The last contact I ever had with him was a letter I sent him. I finished the letter with these words:
I want to end by telling you again what an inspiration you have been to me. You have lived a life of service to our Lord, and I only hope I can do the same. Thank you for your example and the many wise words you have said and written to me over the years. I feel honoured to be called your Grandson.
I thank God that these were the last ever words I got ‘say’ to him. He wrote a short reply and finished with the words “I will write a more specific reply when I come out of hospital”. He never did. But praise be to God, death has been defeated and will NOT have the last word. One day I will see him again, but until then, I miss him and will continue to do so.
My Grandad was a great man. If you knew him then you know what I mean. If you never met him then you missed the opportunity to meet one of God’s greatest men. I really am proud to have been his grandson.
I miss you Grandad.