Reflections on the passing of my beloved Papa, Peter Loewen

On July 14, 2016, I received some very unexpected and sad news: my beloved grandfather—my Papa—had collapsed and died. We had celebrated his 90th birthday the October before. Despite his advanced age, he was still enjoying excellent health, mobility and vitality. He still drove competently. He walked daily. His mind was still clear and sharp.

Born in Manitoba, Canada, of Mennonite descent, he had lived a full life, complete with his share of joys, as well as trials and tribulations. He was humble and wise, quiet and charismatic in equal measure.

A veteran, he had enlisted for WWII as soon as he came of age (he tried to join before his birthday, but had been sent away again). He met my Nana at Camp Borden, Ontario, when she came to sing for the troops. A serious knee injury sustained in training kept him from seeing action. I have been told he experienced prejudice and harassment at camp due to distrust because he spoke ‘low’ German.

He and my Nana had raised five children; they eventually settled in North Bay, Ontario.

Papa had travelled the length and breadth of North America as a transport truck driver. He broke his back on the side of a highway when a jack failed while attempting to repair his truck; during months of recovery in hospital, he painted paint-by-numbers suspended upside-down on a back board.

Peter Loewen
November 14, 1925 – July 14, 2016

When permanent damage to his back meant he could not endure the constant jarring driving truck, he trained as a barber and established his own barber shop, complete with a candy-stripe pole. When I was little, he cut my hair ‘pixie style’ on a stool in Nana’s kitchen.

When he could no longer endure standing all day cutting hair, he returned to transport truck driving, now more comfortable due to advances in cab technologies. Upon retirement from that profession, he and my Nana traveled in a vehicle he had fitted himself as a mobile home.  

After my initial shock and anguish at the news of his death, I began to fully comprehend the blessing of my Papa’s passing. He had spent a glorious day in the summer sun by the beach with my aunt and uncle and their family—surrounded by a number of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. After a beautiful day, and good dinner together, he announced that he was heading out. He casually left the house and collapsed in their driveway before reaching his car. A quick death.

Since then, I have been reflecting the lessons he has taught me about living well. In my experience, my Papa wasn’t one for spouting truisms—he was too humble a man for that. The few times I ever asked him for advice, his answers were intelligent and practical. But, example speaks louder than words. So, I thought I would share with you just some of the lessons I learned from Papa; I originally shared these with family and friends at his Celebration of Life.

Top 10 Things I Learned from My Papa

1. Enjoy your Work: Do what you love and love what you do

Some of my fondest memories with Papa date back to going on transport truck trips with him. Laying in the bunk of the cab. Eating pork rinds. Drinking creamers while we waited for our dinner in a good old-fashioned truck stop—Papa would let me drink the creamers and eat the butter patties straight! My Papa and I ate a lot of butter together in our time. He loved to drive. He loved the road.

I also remember Papa’s barber shop—the candy-stripe pole—watching him talking cheerfully as he cut someone’s hair. When back issues meant he couldn’t stand on his feet anymore to cut hair, he returned to the driver’s seat trucking. He was practical—more so, he practiced contentment.

2. Make People Feel Good

I watched Papa at restaurants or interacting with the nurses who cared for my Nana. He liked people. And they liked him. Because he made people feel good. He was considerate and cheerful and generous with his smile and praise. He left people feeling happier than before they met him—and appreciated—he made people feel appreciated.

3. Try New Things

My husband, my kids and I love international food. We’ve taken Papa out for Japanese food, including sushi several times and he ate enthusiastically with us each time. He never hesitated or commented that something was too different for him. He even commented that he would return to the restaurant on this own “for a change.” He sincerely enjoyed trying new things and he embraced them.

4. Troubleshooting Skills: You don’t have to know how it works to fix it

Papa had a natural capacity for fixing things. He was a clever, capable, resourceful man. One time, our old dryer broke. And he fixed it. Just like that. He just figured it out. I don’t tinker with motors but, as a website designer, I think of him when I troubleshoot broken website code—I’m not a programmer, but I follow his lead and just figure it out.

5. Mind over Matter: You can do anything with enough will power

My Papa had a will of iron. He had used it to overcome many hardships in his life. And he understood moderation. If he knew he needed to change something, he made the decision and changed it. And he stuck to it.

6. Don’t Complain

Papa didn’t complain. In the last years with Nana, he occasionally discussed issues around Nana’s care. But, it was never with the intention to complain, or speak disparagingly—it was always with respect and the sincere intention of solving the problem. He didn’t vent and he didn’t find enjoyment in judging other peoples’ actions. He minded his own business.

7 and 8. Be Loyal and Love One Another

I watched Papa’s devotion to Nana in their last years together with awe. His patience, dedication, and love. Nana and Papa may have experienced challenges, disappointments and frustrations, and even some heartbreak. But, Papa always treated Nana and, after her passing, spoke of Nana with the utmost respect and tenderness. He chose to remember the best times. He chose to focus on love, and it brought him, and all of us, happiness.

9. Complete the Job

Whether it was washing dishes, cutting the lawn, or trucking across Canada, Papa finished what he started. Papa committed himself fully to any and all tasks. When he started something, he finished it. He worked hard. He did what needed to be done—willingly, with determination, and to completion.

And, finally, number 10—the last lesson I learned from Papa about living well:

10. Leave on Good Terms

Maybe some of us had disagreements with Papa at one point or another in the past. Maybe there was a hard feeling or harsh word. But, I can’t remember. Because he healed wounds. He let go of any grievances from the past and he lived his last years in the present, in joy and contentment. From Papa, I learned gratitude and forgiveness and grace.

I learned from Papa that when it’s time to go, pack light. Embrace the journey, and hit the road without a fuss—after a full day in the sun and a good meal with people you love—with your sandals still on, and still full of sand from the beach.

In loving memory of my Papa, Peter Loewen.