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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Zello

A Reflection Of Grief

Updated: May 1

I have been restless. I have been tired. I have grieved and here is my grief. Pardon my lack of eloquence or attention to formal writing norms in this… emotions seem to have little use for formality anyway.

“Eat the frogs first.” It echoes in my mind over the chorus of other maxims. ”Eat the frogs first.”

I am in my late teens, old enough to drive, and my grandfather had taken a job painting his friend’s basement. My grandfather “hired” me to come and work this job with him. I would find out later that he actually paid me his wages for the time I spent helping him. I see now he wanted to spend time with me and was willing to sacrifice for it. Had I known what was coming, I would have done it for free...and I would have done my job much slower.

He handed me his roller and instructed me… “you can start on the ceiling and I will start cutting in.”

“Fair enough,” I thought.

He followed, “We will eat the frogs first.”

“What?!” I laughed.

He smiled, “It means that we do the hardest part of the job first. We eat the frogs. We use the energy we have on the front end to take care of the most difficult parts.” Man… I wish I had paid better attention. I know he said more but I didn’t hear it. Shorty after his instructions, I put my headphones in and started rolling the ceilings as fast as I could… in a different room.

In most ways I cringe at this memory. At first, he didn’t know I had headphones on. At one point I adjusted them and I heard him talking in the next room. I know he was talking to me. I was young and didn’t have the patience for talks, nor frogs, that day. I put my headphones back on and remember rolling faster and faster from room to room. I am sure he figured it out when I didn’t respond. I still don’t know why I was in that type of headspace.

I was done in a quarter of the time it should have taken me. My haste showed. My work sucked. Pop tried to hide his reaction when I said I was done, but the chaotic lines and drips made it evident that I had done a terrible job.

I can’t imagine his disappointment when I left the job as quickly as I arrived. He never showed it though. He smiled, gave me some cash and a hug, and sent me along. I could do no wrong in his eyes, but I can imagine this event pushed his graces to their limit.

My grandfather was a master at eating frogs. “Cutting in” and repainting my botched ceiling job were reflections of a skill he had acquired through a difficult and unsupported childhood, a laborious and unforgiving profession, and tumultuous physical ailments. My grandfather faced many frogs and, to my knowledge, he ate them all.

What's more is he ate others’ frogs as well...many others. I find it amazing that he lived this way. A man does not have to take on the most difficult task at hand… in fact it is counter to our nature. Maybe he understood that taking on those tasks ensured a precise outcome. Maybe he knew personal choice is our greatest weapon and most effective tool. Maybe he understood that using that tool effectively protected and provided for his family.

Maybe he knew all of those things. Maybe I would have heard those messages if I had been listening. But I wasn’t. I was avoiding my plague of frogs. I was ignoring my responsibilities and running. I would learn the hard way, as my frogs slowly emerged from their toxic swamp throughout my twenties, at some point I would have to sit down to eat.

But for now, I reflect on my grandfather. The man who took personal responsibility for what he valued most. His family - his highest ministry. He bore our suffering and protected us. He raised us… all of us… both teaching us how to live and elevating us, lifting us higher with each choice.

He ate generations of frogs - holding back curses of addiction, violence, and neglect. He held them behind a giant dam made of his personal choices. This set a new trajectory for the future generations of his and our children.

Yesterday I had a conversation with him in my heart. I thanked him for eating my frogs in the basement that day and I apologized for my attitude.

He chuckled… “I am proud of what you have become and of all the things you will do.”

He smiled and winked, “Remember, always eat the frogs first.”

I will pop. I will…

Written by: Joshua Zello LPC-MHSP

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