It doesn’t seem real. I mean, today is January 4. Only 7 days ago, I spoke with her on the phone. She called me at my home. She was worried about whether or not we’d received her Christmas card. We had received it that very day. The rest of the conversation was rote and we’d had it a thousand times before. The next thing that happened was she complained about something. The previous complaint was about not being able to drive. The new complaint was about being away from her home. Then, she would dote on my children. That was followed by her saying how much she missed me, and wishing that we lived closer. You could tell the conversation was coming to an end, when it got the point where I was giving her a quick rundown of the next time she’d see us. I promised her that she would see us this summer.
Unfortunately, I can no longer keep that promise.
Last night, at the funeral home, someone said that when they walked into Grandma’s house that the reality just struck them. I don’t want to go there. I’m not ready to face the reality that she’s not there. I don’t want to see the how empty that house will seem without her in it. Instead, I like the image in my head of having her there – possibly complaining about some family member not allowing her to get on a ladder anymore, or complaining about not being able to see. I like the image of her going through her daily routine of getting up at 4:30 in the morning and going to bed at 7pm. And, in between, calling someone and leaving a message on their answering machine (which she hated), and in the message saying how much she hated “this stupid machine”. And I like imagining her hanging up the phone, and sticking another log into the stove in order to heat the room a little more than the chilly 95 degrees it’s at. And her watching Days of our Lives. And anxiously anticipating the arrival of Christmas when all of the family will be there. Except every other year when my family spends Christmas with my wife’s parents, in South Carolina. As was the case this year.
I really I wish I could have known that this was to be Grandma Tina’s last Christmas.
But I don’t want to focus on that reality, yet. I want to remember another time. A time where I was awestruck by her wisdom. Yes, you heard me correctly. I said “wisdom”. Of course, we all know that Grandma Tina could be rather goofy on a fairly regular basis. For example, at my wedding. The video guy was walking around asking for people to leave messages to the bride and groom (my wife and me). Grandma took the microphone and held the round part, that you speak into, up to her ear as if the entire microphone was a telephone, and proceded to start talking into the wrong end. Char helped her figure out which end to talk into, and she left a message as if she were talking into an answering machine – which, of course, was a really short message because she hates those stupid machines.
In any case, I mentioned Grandma’s wisdom. Grandma Tina seemed to be a focal point for people to complain about family politics. For those of you outside our family, I’m sorry to have to break this to you. But we have family politics. I know that this is surprising given how reserved we are with our emotions and how careful we are with our tongues. In any case, this rare occasion took place, and someone wasn’t talking to someone else. (Of course, if the occasion really were that rare, I’d be able to remember the details, but I don’t.) What I do remember is what Grandma Tina said about the situation. Her solution to the problem was simple. She said, “You have to forgive. Life is all about forgiveness. You MUST forgive.” She repeated it over and over.
If there’s one thing completely unique to Christianity, it’s the teaching that it provides on forgiveness. It’s the only major religion that teaches how God loved us so much that he made a way that we can be forgiven. And having been forgiven be able to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, and Judaism do not teach this.
This is why I can confidently say that I know where Grandma Tina is right now. She knew forgiveness and she knew it deeply and intensely, as if the truth of it were as obvious as reading the time off a clock. And it’s not because forgiveness came naturally to her. She could carry a grudge as well as anyone. But that day she was a conduit for God’s teaching. She allowed God to use her to teach a lesson in forgiveness. And that day, I was awestruck by her wisdom.
I don’t really know how to end this little talk of mine, except to say this. Grandma, I know that you’re in a better place now. I know that Heaven is greeting you with open arms, and I’d never be so selfish as to take you from it. But I miss you and I want to tell you I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I missed your last Christmas. I’m sorry that we live so far away that you didn’t get to spend more time with my family. I’m sorry that when we were here, that we didn’t spend more time with you. I'm sorry that I can't keep my promise to you. I know that God loves you and I know that he called you home. I also know that he loves me and all of us. And I know that in time, He’ll heal the part of me that misses you. But for today, I miss you. I’m wearing black as a way of saying that my world is a little darker without you in it.
I guess I should end my conversation with her in the same way we ended our phone calls.
I don’t know when I’ll get to see you again Grandma, but I look forward to it. I’d like to promise a time, but I can’t really say, because I don't know... I love you, Grandma Tina... Good bye.