Friday, August 3, 2012

'Do not be afraid ... He has risen'

Matthew 28:1-10 (NIV)

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
My grandmother died today.

It happened this morning and was very peaceful, according to the people at the nursing home. At the time she went I was sitting at our dining room table, holding Charlie on my lap. I would not find out she was gone for about two hours, but that didn’t much matter. It is comforting to know her suffering is over.

Tomorrow is August 4 — 61 years from the day my grandparents were married. They have not been together for an anniversary since 2007, about a month before my grandfather died. Like my grandmother, he was coming up on his 84th birthday. But by then dementia had been slowly robbing him of his vitality, even before physical ailments began to take their toll. I chanced into a phone call with my grandmother a few days before Grandpa Doc died, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that talk.

I wrote a letter to Jack that day, as I was in the habit of doing while Kristie was pregnant with Max. It ended like this:
His world has shrunk almost back to where it started, totally dependent on the people around him. Recognizing a few faces, trusting people have his best interests at heart. Right there beside him is Grandma, helping complete the Biblical edict that “two shall become one.”

He opened his eyes today, Great Grandma said. She told him “I love you.” He said, “I love you, too.” And after she told me that, she started crying. Bawling, really. And I just listened. The next thing I understood was when she said, “Well, I guess I better go.”

I suppose she was embarrassed to cry. Maybe she was really admitting how near the end is at this point. That makes me want to cry, too.

Grandpa Doc is a great, great man. He loves his God, his wife and his family. That means you, too, although you’ll never be able to grasp how important that really is. I’ve tried to convey it in writing, but I suppose that doesn’t do it justice. It’s the kind of love that defies description, the kind of life that can’t be captured no matter how many paragraphs I write.

I’m blessed to be his grandson, and I can only hope to continue his legacy of making this world a better place just for being in it.
I was blessed to be her grandson, too, and I’d say the same about my mom’s parents, who also are now gone. The special privilege of being the firstborn child of two firstborn children is maximum exposure to older generations. Though all my grandparents have gone ahead of us, I will forever treasure those special bonds.

We had been planning to take Jack out Sunday to spend a few days with Kristie’s parents before school starts. Since we’re all heading that way Monday for the visitation, Kristie thinks it makes sense to just wait a day for Jack’s trip. And while he’s taking the change very well, he’s clearly disappointed. I can’t shake the feeling I need to drive him out there myself Saturday or Sunday. I know it’s extra miles and gas and time, but that boy loves his grandmother as much as anything in the world. The best way for me to honor the memory of my grandparents is to do everything possible to make sure my kids love theirs as much as I did mine, and if that means turning my weekend inside out just to deliver an eight-year-old to his favorite person, well, it seems like the least I can do.

August 4, 1951.
As noted earlier, I spent a lot of time in the last week digging through family photos to prepare a memorial slideshow. It’s cathartic, and it keeps my hands and mind busy, which I very much need. I keep going back to the pictures from their wedding day. I don’t even need to open the file any more, the image is imprinted on my soul. As much as I cared for each of them as individuals, my lasting memory of them will always be the time I realized — well after their 40th anniversary — how deeply they still loved each other. That kind of love is what I prayed to have enter my life.

When Kristie and I were getting married, looking over the church full of friends and family there to support us, we saw my grandparents, crying, both of them. I like to think they were thinking of not just their own wedding day, but their entire relationship, from when they met to courting, the times my grandfather hitchhiked to Cedar Rapids just to take his lady out for a night of dancing, their engagement, three sons, five grandchildren, a lifetime together.

I know what I was thinking — that I wanted to be exactly like them. So far so good. We even have three sons, just like they did. God could not have paired me with a more perfect partner for myself. I am blessed beyond all rational thought.

I’ve been dutifully reading the passages from Matthew as they sprang up over the last several days, but nothing about Holy Week especially inspired me to write, at least in the context of parenting and my personal prayer life. But today, on a day when I am mourning a loss, the lectionary delivered to me the story of Easter morning. Christ conquered death — not just for himself, but for all his believers.

And while my limited knowledge of theology and scripture tell me resurrection is all about our eternal soul being fully united with God, I can’t help but think about my grandparents being together again — free from the shackles of addled mind and body and fully able to enjoy each other and God. Sixty-one years ago tonight they were, after years of preparation, on the brink of married life together. They both went to sleep, knowing they would rise, gather in front of loved ones and commit to forever. They followed through to an inspiring degree.

This morning, as my grandmother left this world, she arose, gathered in front of all the saints and found the real forever. I loved her very much. I am sad she is no longer here, and I will sob uncontrollably when we all gather to celebrate her life. But Jesus told us, “Do not be afraid.” So I am not. Amidst my sadness there is joy and gratitude for the promise of eternal life.

And so today, as I finally let my mind rest and try to sleep (who am I kidding…), I am going to thank God for my wife and my children. I am going to thank God for the life of my grandmother. And I am going to thank God for His amazing grace.

“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guard while life shall last and our eternal home.”

A prayer for August 3:

Lord, I offer you everything. I open my heart to you. Thank you so much for the many years I had to build a relationship with all of my grandparents, and thank you for the chance to see my sons do the same with theirs. God, give me the strength to love as my grandparents loved, to provide for my family as they did for theirs and, following their example, to hold firm to you through life’s hills and valleys. I remain ever humbled by your love and grace. Amen.

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1 comment:

  1. Scott- What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman. May God's peace comfort you as you grieve your loss. CT