Saying Goodbye To Poppy
My grandfather, Bill Bailey, known to me as “Poppy” passed away on July 26, 2016. I was asked to give his eulogy. It’s a unique and honorable experience to speak on the life of someone you love dearly. Here is what I prepared.
Before I share about my grandfather, I want to be honest with you. It does not seem real for me to be here, saying goodbye to him today.
When I saw him this morning, I kept thinking he was about to mutter to me, “Hey Kyle, pull my finger” and then he’d release the loudest fart ever.
I’d like to think he’d appreciate that idea.
I can’t remember exactly when it started, but several years ago Poppy forgot when my birthday was. He called either several weeks too early or too late but he very genuinely wished me a happy birthday on the wrong day. I told him thanks but it was definitely not my birthday. We a had a good laugh at the time. I told him it was fine because in all honesty I couldn’t remember when his birthday was either. Since then, we formed this unspoken agreement to wish each other “happy birthday ” every time we talked in order to cover our butts. We figured if we said it every time we spoke, we wouldn’t miss each other’s birthdays again.
I was looking at photos of him on my computer this week, I found this text message from him from Christmas 2 years ago.
“HO HO HO happy birthday! I mean merry Christmas!”
Our conversations over the years were usually brief, but within our inside joke everything needed to be said between us was there.
And sure enough, our last time to talk was last week as the doctors were taking care of him, and without skipping a beat he said, Hi Kyle, Happy Birthday.”
That’s my Poppy.
Since Tuesday, I have been struggling to recall memorable stories of Poppy, especially when I was asked to speak about him today. And it’s been hard—emotionally hard yes—but also difficult because instead of recalling stories, I keep fixating on mental images of times with him.
I picture him smelling like oil and gas and covered in grease when my mom and I visited him at Enfield Ford. I pictured him on his sail boat, the Mar-Kay-Lin, letting me pilot the dingy or showing me how to catch crabs with raw chicken, or drinking ginger beer as we sat on the ships deck. I picture him winning a beauty contest in Mexico and people cheering “Poppy! Poppy!” as he danced an afternoon away on a catamaran. In fact picture on the right him on the table is from that very afternoon.
The two most lasting images I keep going back to in my mind are two actual photos I took of him.
One is a portrait of him standing in the surf, wearing his Tilley, which of course is the greatest hat ever made, according to Poppy. A wide horizon goes endlessly behind him and he’s gazing off into a clear blue sky.
The second photo, happened mere minutes after the first one. He’s standing on the beach, frozen mid-laugh with his little digital camera out as he unsuccessfully tries to subtly make photographs of women sunbathing.
For me that’s the perfect juxtaposition of him. That’s the grandfather I know and love. He was this and more to each of us. Anyone of us could stand up here and share so many stories about his friendship, his ingenuity and his infectious sense of humor.
Speaking of stories, he himself was a rich storyteller, I could always see and smell what was happening as he told about various sailing trips around the New England coast, one story that I heard often was a memorable canoeing trip my with father and his friend Dave Grant and coming face to face with a moose one morning. He loved to recall all the pranks he pulled on his family and friends. He could hook anyone on a tall tale in order to set them up for a good joke.
Poppy had the spirit of an explorer. He enjoyed a good time with good food and drink and made friends with all he met. He loved his children, grandchildren and closest companions unconditionally.
Poppy didn’t want to cause a fuss for anyone. I know he would not want us to be sad about his absence. He would want to make sure everyone was having a good time today and he would be so glad to see each of us.
I think it’s ok for us to make a fuss about him today because we miss him. He was the only grandfather I knew and I miss him terribly. But let us all take comfort in the fact that he is now very alive in heaven with his Savior, that he is well and in a much better place.
If I could say anything to him now, I know the first thing would definitely be “Happy Birthday Poppy”.