Christopher A. Grimm
Christopher A. Grimm
Sept 12, 1954 - May 4, 2018
Sometimes people are ripped from our lives so abruptly, so way too soon, that it feels like a cosmic slight. The hurt is most intense, even physical, when these loved ones have loomed large in our lives, like angels sent from heaven. We find ourselves wondering what we will miss out on, what they will miss out on, what might have been. In this moment I feel all this and more. My dear uncle, Christopher A. Grimm, was taken from our family last week by heart failure, at the too young age of 63. Chris was like a brother to me and the loss is shocking, painful, and deeply saddening. Despite the inevitable overwhelming feelings, I am thankful for the profound and lasting effect Chris had on my life. He contributed to my world view, my resilience, my philosophy, and my theology; and he and I had many fun times together. He taught me many things and my life is far richer for those lessons. In the midst of overwhelming grief I find myself latching on to the many lessons Chris taught with his boundless generosity and love. Memories of the times we spent together are flooding back.
One of the things I admired about Chris, and which defined him, was the fact that he accepted his flaws and life challenges and spoke openly of them. Chris was broken and imperfect, like every other person on Earth. But unlike many other people, Chris did not shy from discussing the challenges he faced and his struggles to overcome those difficulties. He embraced his humanity and he showed me that it is our battles with imperfection that define us and make us ultimately worthy of redemption. Chris was a deeply religious Catholic and he understood this most profound and often missed aspect of the human condition, that what matters most is not perfection, but that we admit to our faults and work to fix them throughout our lives. Indeed, in the Christian tradition, the main message from Christ is that there is salvation for those who admit their failures and ask for help.
By boldly speaking of his struggles with alcoholism and his hard, life long work on himself, Chris demonstrated to me the need that we all have to admit and address our flaws and to embrace our own humanity. As a result of his influence I am far more comfortable with my own many imperfections and less afraid to make improvements.
Another principle Chris embraced was that we can choose how we will react to and interpret the events in our lives. One time in particular leaps to mind.
Over 20 years ago, Chris visited me while he was on a road trip through California and the Southwest. He arrived at my home with a large tray of Hostess snack cakes, which he was very excited to share with me. After consuming more Twinkies and Ding Dongs than was reasonable or healthy for either one of us, I noticed that we had barely put a dent in his massive collection of cakes. I asked him why he bought so many and he happily informed me that they were free, a gift. His response to my confusion was, “I was hit by a Ding Dong on the way here.” He laughed and led me out to his car. It was badly scraped along the driver’s side with a broad depression in the rear quarter panel.
While I surveyed the damage, Chris exclaimed, “I told you I was hit by a Ding Dong. Literally!” He went on to describe how a Hostess snack cake truck (with an image of a giant Ding Dong on the side) had accidentally sideswiped him. When he pulled over, the truck driver felt so bad he gave Chris a tray of Hostess snack cakes. I can imagine that after both vehicles stopped, Chris, rather than jumping out angry, probably expressed concern about the safety of the truck driver and anyone else involved, and put himself last. The driver was obviously taken with Chris’ kindness and understanding.
When I asked Chris why he did not seem upset about the damage to his car, he said, “It’s just a car, Michael. And I got these.” He gestured with the Twinkie he was eating.
That was Chris. He saw the happy aspect of a situation that would have stressed most people out and left them incensed. He was relieved no one got hurt and ecstatic that he wound up with unexpected snack cakes.
I will always remember this lesson to look at the bright side of things, appreciate the simple in life, and remember that stuff (cars, toys, furniture, etc.) are just things and, in the grand scheme, mean very little compared to our happiness, health, and yes, the opportunity to share an abundance of snack cakes with a loved one.
Chris was a highly sensitive person who cared deeply for the people in his life. The various states of health and well being of those he loved, lifted him to heights of happiness and down into the depths of despair. He would always say what he was feeling. If he was sad, he did not hide it, he did not complain, he would admit to his unhappiness and talk about his struggles. When he was happy he relentlessly shared his joy with the people he loved. When my brother (his nephew) died at age 39 in an auto accident, Chris was unconditionally supportive. He called me countless times in that first year to share his grief with me and to let me unload and unpack my emotions. He never admonished me for being sad. Instead, he told me how heartbroken he was and listened with unwavering patience as I worked through my grief.
He gave so much of himself to others, it was truly inspiring. Chris sponsored many people in Alcoholics Anonymous and also, despite being busy as a real-estate broker, devoted thousands of hours to homeless shelters and nonprofits in the Seattle area. Chris was heavily involved in his church, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other organizations because he understood the value that community has in meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of members. My strongest characterized vision of Chris is of him turning around, and reaching back to grab the hand of the person following him. Whenever he overcame challenges, Chris always looked back and reached out to the people behind him to help them through the same struggles.
I believe that we are all allocated our particular place in space and time specifically to improve the lives of others and to contribute to the tapestry of creation. Chris was certainly here to enrich the lives of those with whom his own life was interwoven and he did that with great success. Chris was not a cited scholar, he was not an industry titan, he was not a famous celebrity. He was a gentle and kind hearted man who quietly blessed the lives of everyone he encountered; and in that way he left the world a whole lot better for his time spent here. Someone once told me, “It is a good thing to be a great man, but a truly great thing to be a good man.” By this maxim, Chris was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.
There are so many other amazing aspects to Chris, I can’t cover them all here. Over the next few weeks, more memories of Chris will no doubt resurface, bubbling up fill the void left by his absence from the world.
In the face of my own profound loss, it is difficult not to want everything around me to stop. As I grieve for Chris, I watch, confused, as other people go about their lives. I feel the hours continue to march by and am surprised that this is the case. The WH Auden poem Funeral Blues (featured in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral) captures this feeling perfectly. With the sudden, and unexpected death of a loved one, we want the whole world to come to a halt and mourn with us. It takes time for our minds to rewrite the world without that person in it. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that we must acclimate ourselves to the person’s altered place in our lives.
It is important not to forget that, through memories and through the connection we all have to the Universe, we can remain close to our passed loved ones. Almost every human religion and cosmology allows for the deceased to exist in the world, or in some sort of divine paradise. Cultures, worldwide, believe that we can pray to our dead loved ones and have a different kind of relationship with them. I also believe that we can continue to commune with people who have passed on. It is just that when a person dies, their relationship to their loved ones and their place in our world changes to something more etherial.
I know, though my relationship with Chris will be different, that I will continue to be close with him. I will pray to him, I will talk to him, I will feel him looking after me. His generous and kind soul will continue to exist as part of creation and the heavens. Still, it will take time to get used to Chris’ different presence in my world. Right now, I take heart knowing that Chris is in Heaven, turning and reaching back to help the soul behind him.
Till we meet again, my brother, I will hold you close to my heart and continue to do my best to follow your example.