“For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” -Romans 14:8
Today is never a day I look forward to. It has been five years since the death of my grandmother, and this year is a little tougher being on the other side of the world. I look back on that day that still seems to replay in slow motion. While those wounds that cut so deep in the first year after her death have healed, I still find that the anniversary of her death along with birthdays, holidays and big life events open those wounds in a way that make them seem so raw and fresh. Honestly, it still affects me in a way that I never thought it would five years removed from that sad day. While, this day always brings sorrow, it is also a day to celebrate a life that was filled with laughter, love, and joy. Looking back today, I realize that my grandmother’s death taught me many lessons in love, loss, faith, and regret.
Love. I learned a lot about what it truly means to love someone from my grandmother. Fierce. Overwhelming. Unconditional. That’s how she loved. She had these hugs that were so warm and full of love that it filled you to your core, and there was no way you were walking away from them without a smile on your face. She taught me that love is best shown in the way you treat others. Everyone has their own way of showing their affection; hers was cooking. We have a running joke in our family that she had this sixth sense for telling when someone was getting sick. Her remedy: chicken bog. It never failed. She would show up at the door unannounced holding a Tupperware container, and if you weren’t already sick then there was a good chance you were going to be in a few days. Pinwheels, Watergate salad, “flat bacon”. She made everything well. I could list all her best dishes, but that would take all day. She put so much time and effort into cooking, because for her love was when everyone sat around the dinner table and left with a full heart and stomach. Her love through service has always inspired me. For her it was the little things you did for others that showed them how much they meant to you.
While there are many memories of happiness, there were times our relationship was far from perfect. Like every family there were moments when we felt like doing anything but loving each other. We did and said hurtful things; relationships became broken. But the beautiful thing about family is it is the closest love we will ever find that resembles the unconditional love of God. It really is a beautiful kind of love. A love that looks at the other person’s faults, mistakes and imperfections and says, “I love you anyway. All the time. No matter what”. No matter how bad things got that love in our family (even if strained) still remained. She gave love unconditionally, because that’s how we are all called by God to love one another. I want to give love like she gave love.
Loss. Up until the death of my grandmother, I had never dealt with the loss of anyone close to me. At 19, I thought that experiencing that first loss was still a long way off. She would see me graduate college, get married, and maybe even become a great-grandmother. Losing the ones you love is hard. It is even harder when you watch them die right before your very eyes. It’s difficult to describe the grief and helplessness you feel when you can see the life leaving their body, knowing there is no bargain you can make with God to stop it. A little piece of your soul goes with them, and in its place a hole is left that never truly seems to heal. I learned a lot about loss in those first few months after her death.
She died while I was home on spring break. At the end of the week I had to go back to school, when all I really wanted was to be surrounded by the family that knew and loved her most. That semester was hard. There were times when I felt utterly and completely empty and alone. But what her death taught me was that as time goes on, those wounds do heal. I have found that while those moments of immense sorrow that surround her death still exist, there are so many more moments of incredible joy that surround her life. I look back now on those memories that once caused me pain to think about, and they now bring a smile to my face. While losing someone cuts you in a way that never truly heals, it does get easier with time, and I am so grateful for the blessing she was to my life. Loss is a part of life; no one escapes it. But there is also something strangely beautiful about death. It signals the end of our time here on earth, but it is the beginning of something so much better: an eternity spent looking at the very face of God.
Faith. At the time of her death, I had been struggling with some serious questions about God and who He was for almost two years. I questioned if He was really there at all, if He had a plan for me and if He truly cared about me? I kept my doubts and fears to myself, afraid to tell anyone around me what I was struggling with because I felt guilty and ashamed for having these doubts. I tried to push these questions out of my mind, afraid to answer them because I knew the implications if the answer was no. So instead, I spent the next few years running from them. I pretended like everything was ok, while inside I felt hopeless and afraid. Her death, however, changed all of this.
While those first few months back at school were some of the hardest of my life. My relationship with God slowly began to change. I was angry with Him at first, how could He take her so suddenly and deny me the right to say goodbye? I cried out to Him in those moments of anger and desperation begging Him to help me feel whole again. Eventually, those moments of loneliness and anger faded as I prayed for God to get me through the days when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed or the classes where I felt like bursting into tears. I leaned on God because in those moments He was all I had. In reality, He was all I truly needed. As the weeks went by, my life began to slowly feel somewhat normal again. The thought of my grandmother some days made me smile, instead of cry. My faith and relationship with God also became stronger in those months. At first I began to spend time with God each day because it was what I needed to fill the void in my heart that seemed so big. But as the weeks went by, I began to look forward to the time I set aside for Him each day. I no longer doubted if He was there or if He really cared for me. I knew He did, because He gave me the strength to get through my pain and grief. I found in those months, that if we truly put our faith in Him and trust that nothing happens outside of His perfect will, then nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him.
Regret. When someone dies, regret is usually not far behind. We always wish we had told our loved ones we loved them more. My grandmother called me on my birthday, just days before her death. I meant to call her back, but was busy and kept pushing it off. She died before I could thank her and tell her I loved her. I still keep that voicemail on my phone (although even after five years I still can’t bring myself to listen to it). It serves as a reminder that our time with the ones we love is fleeting. The Lord could call us home at any moment. Therefore, we should never hold in how much we love someone. Although, words could never describe how much I loved that woman, there were so many things I wished she knew as I stood there in the hospital that day. I would have given anything in that moment just to be able to tell her everything that was on my heart. I know she knew that I loved her, but something about not saying those words out loud seemed inadequate in that moment.
There are some days when I still feel incredibly guilty for not taking just a few moments to call and talk to her. It would have cost me nothing at the time, instead it cost me so much more. I was selfish and shortsighted; I took her life for granted in those moments, thinking she would always be around. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We should always tell the ones we love what they mean to us, not putting it off; because neither one of us may very well be here tomorrow.
I look back today on my grandmother’s life and all the memories and joy she gave me through those 19 wonderful years. I think about Christmas Eve’s at her house where I sat with my face pressed against the window waiting for my uncle to arrive so we could open presents. Or weekend long sleepovers that were never complete without a two hour-long bath in her giant tub. There was water EVERYWHERE…and she never said a word. I remember how she always gave me things with ladybugs on them, because according to her they were “lucky”. Ladybugs still find their way to me on the toughest days reminding me everything is going to be alright. Then there was the time she tried to ask a dummy in a cop car for directions. It took her 15 minutes to realize he wasn’t real. Her response “I don’t know who the dummy was…him or me!” All of these memories, and so many more warm my heart and remind me that while there is sorrow in death; there is so much more joy in life. Today she wouldn’t want me to be sad, instead she would want me to spend the day in laughter, loving the ones close to me like she did…and that is exactly what I am going to do! Miss you always! Love you forever!
3 thoughts on “Lessons and Ladybugs from My Grandmother”
That was so well written. I pray that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will have good memories of me when I am gone. They show a lot of love for me and let’s me that I am loved by them. Thank you for sharing. It was so uplifting to me.
What a beautiful way you express your true feelings on paper. This is the definition of discipleship and genuine Transparency.
We love you and miss you. I am so happy that you have your eyes on Jesus and following him wherever he takes you.
Praying for you in Uganda.
Eleanor Self Praying for you. Thanking you for you openness about brokenness and how God has
changed you. I am on the same journey at age 78. love you and family so very much