(In the pool with Grandpa and my cousins. Excuse my low-cut top. I was feelin’ frisky?)
When I was eight years old, the Ballif cousins all traveled to visit my grandparents on their service mission in Kirtland, Ohio. We went to the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra as a family as part of the trip. I remember being both nervous and excited about the characters in costume, milling around and signing our programs before the pageant began.
I also remember my dad spotting Great-Uncle David, Grandpa Ballif’s brother in the crowd and although Grandpa wasn’t convinced it was him until he got right up close, he was thrilled to see his brother, at the pageant of all places. After some conversation, my grandpa quickly noticed that David was poorly dressed for the cool evening, and quite literally took his favorite shirt off his back and gave it to his brother.
I don’t think I fully understood what I was seeing, but I do remember how I felt. I felt and feel the same way whenever I reflect back.
When I was eighteen, a freshman in college and home for the weekend, my mom woke me by saying that Grandpa Ballif was in the hospital – that something had gone wrong suddenly in the middle of the night and they didn’t know if he was going to be okay. Tears rolled down my cheeks before I ever opened my eyes that day.
Time stood still and also raced past without feeling in the hospital, with Ballif cousins all gathered around again, this time for no celebration or pageantry. I wept like it would change something, and wept because it didn’t. I had never known arms could hold so much. I held my dad and my mom and my older sister. I held my 14-year-old lanky cousin like he was the curly-headed baby I’d toddled with all over again. We held each other, all the while knowing the one thing we were white-knuckling was actually completely beyond our grasp.
And when Grandpa did go later that day, quickly, I remember my cousin Brock, steady and strong, scooting against the wall down to the floor, tears falling and hands clasped in prayer. I remember how humbling, heartbreaking, and big it all felt. Utter shock and loss, and utter privilege and awe to have shared in the day and moment that someone so wonderful took their last breaths in mortality before moving forward. It was the shirt moment times one hundred, because he had given not a shirt but a life, a legacy, to everyone in the room.
Most of all, I remember my sweet grandma, in utter shock, holding his hand and saying over and over that this must be a bad dream, alternately scolding my grandpa for going first and then saying, “He was just the best man I ever knew.”
I remember the weight of that moment, understanding in my eighteen-year-old brain, this what love is.
Love is the shirt off your back, the life you live, the last hand you hold – the anger and shock that the person you love the most went first. And I wanted that – not just young love or (pardon the phrase) #relationshipgoals or #lifegoals, but real life and love and sacrifice. I wanted a lifetime with someone who would give my kids and grandkids a legacy, their love, and metaphorically or literally, the shirt off their back. Someone who would leave me breathless and angry when they went, wanting more time, humbled and grateful for our life.
I don’t know why there is a stigma about talking about the love we feel for others sometimes. Sometimes I feel nervous to say how much I love my husband or how good he is because I am hesitant of what others will think or if it will make them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I don’t care. Sometimes I do. It’s something I’m working on. Because really? Love is good. It’s of God. It’s eternal. Isn’t that the kind of thing that matters/needs to be shared most? We shame others or shame ourselves for honest emotion and positive care. WHY, though?! Still, sometimes it’s more vulnerable than we’d like to be to say just how much we love someone.
But this month, spending time with Cody and thinking about my grandpa, about the shirt, and his last moments in mortality with my grandma, I have realized, I got my wish. I got that kind of person who would give his shirt, and I get a lifetime, and if he goes first or I do, we get that moment. And I am eternally and endlessly grateful to share life with someone like that. I have to express gratitude for that sweetest blessing from my Father in Heaven, and for the example of my sweet grandpa. No shame or hesitation about it.
Cody is so deeply good. He is the hardest worker I know. He has a tender and pure heart. He cares sincerely about others and doesn’t hold grudges. He is humble about his weaknesses and kind about the shortcomings of others. He is endlessly patient. He is quick to love, and willing to help anyone – whether he talked to them yesterday or hasn’t heard from them in a year. He will loan time, tools, talents, etc., to everyone and anyone at any time. He reminds me of my grandpa.
In only five months of marriage, I have seen him grow in these Christlike attributes and have felt that same spirit of tenderness from the day with the shirt, that day in the hospital room again and again. I have gotten off the train to find him deep in conversation with a sweet older woman recently graduated from rehab and working to have a relationship with her grandbabies. I sat in the front seat and listened to him talk to her like she was the most worthwhile, capable person in the world while we drove her home because her ride fell through. I have seen him drive an hour to help relatives of mine he has never met move in so that the rest of my family could attend my uncle’s viewing. I could go on and on.
Last night, I saw him give up two hours of homework time and inevitably sacrifice sleep later on this week to carve pumpkins with me for FHE at his insistence, even though he was incredibly overwhelmed with a project (or five, as happens with art majors). In essence, in that moment, he gave me the shirt off his back, because he put me first.
He exemplifies to me my grandfather’s final advice: “Work hard, keep smiling, always do what is right and you’ll always be happy.”
And although he isn’t old or gray, sometimes I look at him and see a weathered, smiling old man ready to notice the chill on the arm of another on a summer evening. I can almost see my grandpa smiling down and I can tangibly feel his blessing on my choice. And I just feel thankful and blessed to be loved and to love.
I love my husband and I love who he is becoming, and I’m grateful to do life with him.
Love is the shirt off your back. Love is your life. Grandpa taught me first, and Cody has given me both.