Thursday, July 27, 2017

Gronk's Grace

So here I am, on Thursday, July 27, one day before my 63rd birthday, trying to figure out how to wear a Gronk's Grace t-shirt to a funeral.

Well, not a funeral. A service that is a celebration of the life of my son Kris Grahnke, who died on Monday evening after three and a half years of living courageously with ALS. His blog, "Gronks Finding Grace," chronicled the reality of a devastating disease that destroys the body's ability to move, talk, swallow and finally, breathe. He also told the story of God's amazing grace in all of this -- in his wife, Michelle, who bore all the burdens of caregiving with wisdom, faithfulness and a radiant smile; in friends and colleagues who became the Gronk's Grace fundraising warriors for ALS research, and in the blessings of life in God's good world—summer, beer, multi-tasking in the bathroom.

Now he lives in God's eternal kingdom, safe and whole and still blessed by grace.

Back to the wardrobe issue. Last night, as I considered different options for the bottom half of a Gronk's Grace outfit, I fumed just a little, in my mind, at Kris. A t-shirt at a funeral, when I've got a perfectly lovely navy blue summer dress? The things I do for this child! It was a familiar, comforting feeling, and when I recognized it, it made me smile. I thought of my Cub Scout Den Leader's shirt, not near as flattering as a Gronk's Grace shirt, but worn so that I could be included in an important part of Kris's growing-up.

Kris often pushed me past the life I was accustomed to, got me out of my rut, and forced me to be more outgoing, just to keep up with him. His friendships in junior kindergarten brought me lifelong friends. He introduced me to Facebook and cell phones and to many wonderful young women and men, drinking beer at Poor Phil's. (I learned about the beer, too, from him.) For what it's worth, I use the f-word more freely because of Kris. More critical—I survived my husband's dementia and raised three healthy kids because of Kris's help, his ability to plan and be flexible, and his fierce concern for his siblings. He negotiated change and adventures with Eliza. He helped Kurt become his own person, his own kind of Grahnke cool.

A week or so before Kris died, I heard myself think, "his life has become a burden to him." Struggling to breathe is hard. Not being able to talk and be understood was, I think, harder still for Kris. He connected with everyone, and conversation was the medium for that. It was fun to watch him work a room. It was also fun to de-brief with him after a party or family gathering. One thing we shared was an interest in people and how they interact.

In these days since his death, there have been news stories about Kris--one on local TV in Rockford and one in the local paper. They used footage and photos from past stories about him as a teacher and someone fighting ALS. It was good to see his round, smiling face, to see him in a classroom, with kids, to see him buzzing down the hall in that power chair. When he was a baby, we often described him as "alert," always looking around, tuning in to his surroundings. Grown-up, this quality became enthusiasm and friendliness and social intuition. Yesterday, in our back-and-forth about the obituary on the funeral home website. Michelle told me that the information about his masters' degree needed to specify "behavior interventionist," because he frequently pointed that out to people. His gift for understanding people and the many different ways in which they see the world became a resource for helping children adapt to the school environment--and for adapting the environment to the children.

I will think about Kris and love him and miss him for the rest of my life. My heart, somehow, is not broken, it's full. Full of love for him, and blessed by the love of all the people he touched--the quirky individual kids he had such great relationships with; his beautiful Michelle and the whole Jamerson family, who took such good care of him; Eliza and Kurt, and Kamm and Cate and Rosie and so many other friends; Emily, his caregiver during this last year.

May Gronk's Grace, which is really God's grace, be incarnate in all of us, in memory of our dear Kris.


Mari Callahan-Ross said...

Gronk's Grace will forever live on in our hearts. 🌻

Alison Moran said...

Beautiful tribute, Gwen! From now on, 'Gronk' will have a whole new meaning for me... keeping all of you in my prayers. Hugs!

haugerz said...

This is beautifully written!! I never met Kris but have followed him as he was/is an inspiration in so many ways!! My sincerest sympathy goes out to you and Kris' family.

Bruno said...

Kris has inspired my son who has scoliosis to keep trying and just because you have something that is trying to hold you back then you push back by not giving up. Thank you Kris for inspiring my son to never give up. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family as they go through their loss of a wonderful and never forgotten person. His inspirations will live through many of the lives he has touched.

Susan Foran said...

"My heart. somehow. is not broken, it's full"....sacred words. Thanks for sharing this beautiful tribute to a beautiful man-an amazing son.

Kjerstin Julia Anderson said...

Thank you for this.

Carla Luttinen said...

Kris enriched the lives of so many...God truly intentionally, placed Kris in this time, in this place, for the purpose of being a blessing to others. He fulfilled that calling and is with Jesus where he was destined to be.