When I call my maternal grandmother for semi-regular phone chats, at some point I ask her how she’s feeling in the aches and pains department. She usually underplays the back pain or the leg pain with some cavalier comment like, “Oh there are good days and bad days.” So often she will change the subject to something for which she’s thankful. And every conversation includes her saying how richly blessed she is to have such a wonderful family.
She and my grandfather (who passed away four years ago) have lived extraordinary lives. Her days have not been without struggle – growing up during the Great Depression, watching her father leave the family when she was just a girl, having a still born child after being exposed to a gas leak, losing her husband after 61 years of marriage, enduring debilitating pain from arthritis – yet no trial could squelch her joy. It runs too deep. Both she and my grandfather have exuded joy, laughter, strength, generosity, and graciousness. That is their legacy. I am the one who is so richly blessed to have such an admirable lineage.
I love the memories of Grams humming while working, breaking into song and dance during conversation, and laughing uproariously. Laughter is big in our family, and we usually feed off of each other to a point of no return. When Grams laughs hard she breeds tears with no breathing and no noise, just open mouth and squinted eyes, and then she throws back her head and puts a tissue over her face – maybe as a way to mask the laughter paralysis.
The examples of humor in our family are endless. Here is an exchange between Grams and my mom from last year after Grams had a miserable bladder infection. Anticipating the Q & A time with her friends at dinner that night, she called my mom at work with the following question.
Grams: What’s another word for ‘crotch?’ I can’t be telling my friends that I have a pain in my crotch!
Mom: Gee, Mom, I don’t know. Let me look it up in my thesaurus. [Looks up ‘crotch’ in Roget’s Thesaurus.] There’s only one word here, Mom. Angularity.
[Both start to lose it.]
Grams: So I can tell my friends that I have a pain in my angularity?
Mom: Yep. Matter-of-fact, that sounds so good and genteel, you can even use that in your Christmas letter next year!
[Grams has to get off the phone, presumably to put a tissue over her face.]
A queen of puns. Able to wear big, silly bear paw slippers yet still look perfectly put together – hair done just right with classy jewelry and an outfit that matches her furniture. Wise. Beautiful. Challenging card player. So crafty and clever. Always ready to say how much she loves us.
I learned some valuable April Fools jokes from Grams. She taught me how to make homemade picture frames in 6th grade. She and my grandfather introduced me to the classic movie, True Grit. Their marriage was one to emulate. Their faith was one of the important models in my own faith journey. I have rarely seen such humble sacrifice of time and money for those in need as I have seen with Grams and Grandpa. Their lives have been an offering to God and an overflowing gift to others.
I received an unexpected phone call yesterday. I knew when my mom’s voice broke during the message that the news wasn’t going to be good. Grams passed away. She missed a regularly scheduled brunch in the dining room of her retirement community, and her friends reported her absence to a nurse on staff. The nurse found Grams in her apartment around noon. Shortly after, my mom arrived at the apartment. There Grams was sitting in her chair in the TV room. With cookies beside her and a reminder note to meet her lifelong friend for Sunday brunch at 11:30, she did not sit down yesterday morning knowing that she would not be getting up again.
But you know, as unexpected as this was for all of us, I find great peace in knowing that she was not unprepared. On her footstool lay a page and a half of notes she had taken from the Charles Stanley sermon on TV that morning. For most of her 87 years she professed a faith in the God of the Bible and an acceptance of Jesus as her Savior. In her final moments she continued to worship Him and study His Word, not because of an obligation to perform religious routine, but because of a personal relationship she sought to deepen. She was not unprepared; she was ready at any unsuspecting moment. She was ready at this moment.
Mom and I cried on the phone together as she said that she wished Grams wasn’t alone when she died. I wished that too. But, as indicated in Grams’ sermon notes, one of the discussion points of Charles Stanley’s message yesterday morning was an elaboration of Jesus’ proclamation, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Grams wasn’t alone at her final breath, and she isn’t alone now. She is forever with her Savior.
It is no coincidence that Charles Stanley’s memory verse of the week is Romans 6:4 – “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
My late grandfather wrote a beautiful letter when his mother passed away. I cannot find better words to express the loss of a loved one who has this personal relationship:
“1,952 years ago, a Man stood on a hill near a small lake far away from here – and said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I am sure I have never understood those words as well as I do right now. Thank God for Easter morning! The grave is not the end!
You go on ahead, Mom. We’re here between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – and because of what these two days mean, we can still look forward to more celebrations like you wanted – when all your family is home again – where there is no more hurting, no more loneliness, no more tears, and no more dandelions!”
You go on ahead, Grams. We will look forward to celebrating with you again!