Arthur Ernest Hartley, 1906-2011.

07 Jun

“God has put eternity in the hearts of man”

Today was my grandfather’s funeral. He had just turned 105. As my uncle spoke, reflecting on his father’s life, he ended his speech by saying “I wonder how many of us had the feeling he would go on forever”. I know I did.

Arthur Ernest Hartley, 1906-2011

Arthur Ernest Hartley, 1906-2011

Logically, I knew he would not. However, we are not logical beings when it comes to death and dying. Logically, 105 if a fantastic age to live to – very few can boast of reaching 5 times 21, and still being active physically and mentally. In reality, everyone in grandpa’s family is now feeling great sadness.

Six weeks ago, grandpa asked us to come and visit him. We did, and treated him to a nice lunch. Three weeks ago, I was asked to give a speech at his 105th birthday party – I took the opportunity to thank him for the many good things he’s put into my life, both directly and indirectly. Then, 11 days later, he passed away. I’m glad we went to visit him when we did, and I’m glad I got to say “thanks grandpa” on his birthday.

In my speech, I said I wanted to follow his example of always staying active and fruitful. I had written down “… and live forever”, but somehow didn’t say it. For me, it points to an inbuilt tendency to deny death is possible. If someone passes away at 70 it’s a shock. If at 90, it’s still a shock. I can testify that it’s still a shock even at 105. Perhaps more so (or perhaps not)  because the rolling years seem to bolster the false sense of immunity from death.

We deny death because it denies eternity. We want to live forever. God has put eternity into our hearts. And yet, the same book of the Bible that says this also says “The living know they will die“.

There was a song I learned in primary school that I always liked. However, from about the early 1990’s, I became increasingly afraid to sing it. The song is called “My Grandfather’s Clock“. It describes a big pendulum clock owned by the singer’s grandfather. My grandfather owned a big pendulum clock, just like the one in the song. Unfortunately, the song said the clock “stopped, short, never to go again, when the old man died” at the age of 90. In 1997 my grandfather turned 91. I could sing the song safely at last. My grandfather continued to defy all the actuarial statistics he taught himself, and lived for another 15 years after the deadline given in the song.

I wondered, after I learned he had passed on, how many of his other grandchildren felt the same way about the song. He had 11 grandchildren. Three are perhaps too young to have learned the song before he turned 90. That leaves, I figured, 6 cousins and 1 brother who might – just might – have felt the same way about “my grandfather’s clock”. I met one of my cousins at the shop on Saturday. Sure enough, they had felt the same way. Anyone else want to ‘fess up?

Our attitudes to death are not rational. God has put into our hearts both a certainty of our mortality, and a passion for immortality. To expect any creature, afflicted with such strong and contradictory passions, to be rational, would itself be irrational.

And that’s ok.

Thanks, grandpa, for all the happy memories. Thanks for building into so many people’s lives throughout your career and retirement. And thanks, most of all, for being my grandfather.



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  1. Nathan

    December 29, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I’m sorry to hear of your grandfather’s death. He used to come into the library I worked at, and I was in awe of the things he read, at that time in his late nineties.

    Great post too, such true reflections on mortality. I understand your feelings about that song.