My confident, courageous and spitfire-of-a-Grandma is getting ready to go home to Jesus. I’m writing this at 2am as I sit on her bedside, watching her step a little closer to heaven. It will be so hard to let her go; I suspect she’s nearly ready. Although Grandma Verlie is nearly 95 and has lived an incredible life, my heart aches just thinking about losing her. She is more than just a grandmother to me, she is one of my closest friends.
Spending time with grandparents has often been something I should do rather than something I actually do. Last year, I decided to make Grandma a true priority. I set a reoccurring appointment on my calendar to see Grandma every Wednesday at 11am. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I made this a personal habit. Even through her dementia, as I would walk in her room, her face would light up and she would say to me, “It must be Wednesday! Can you stay for lunch?” I will always treasure those Wednesday’s lunches.
In 2012, Grandma lost her husband, my Grandpa Alvin. Theirs was a love story for the ages! Grandpa fell in love with her the minute he laid eyes on her. He was hired to chop wood on her family farm (talk about romantic!). After they courted for a few months, he went off to fight in World War II for three grueling years. He begged her to marry him before he left but she wasn’t ready. I suppose she was playing hard to get. They wrote hundreds of letters back and forth while he was away. The thought of seeing her again kept him alive as he fought from the foxholes in the South Pacific. Needless to say, he returned from war and they were married shortly thereafter.
Although, they did not have a perfect marriage, their bond was unbreakable. In 2012, Grandpa was put in hospice care. It was so hard to see him decline, especially for Grandma. One night, he was overheard praying for his wife beside his bed. He told God, “She’ll do alright, don’t you think? Yeah, I think so. She’s a smart cookie!”
After Grandpa died, I could see Grandma was struggling to claim a new role as widow. She was no longer a caretaker. But as time progressed, I saw her identity begin to flourish again as she found security in her faith in God and recalling how deeply she was loved by Grandpa. Grandma would share about her thriving prayer life and how God was sustaining her in her loneliness. She would also remember Grandpa’s care and admiration for her with gratitude and fondness. She knew she was special, chosen, and loved by God as well as her late husband.
In September, I interviewed Grandma about her relationship with Grandpa for The Rclaimed Podcast. Take a listen to that episode here. Little did I know in October she would break her hip which would then lead to this decline in her health.
As I sit by my grandmother right now, I see what’s left of her body and mind. She is pale and very weak. Unable to swallow, she can no longer eat or drink. Sporadically she will try desperately to communicate, but her words are not understandable. Tonight, she’s agitated. I think she’s longing for her mansion in the clouds. In between sleep and restlessness, she sees visions of heaven around her. I want to believe she can see angels, family that has gone before her and even Grandpa. I think they are waiting for her graduation just like we are.
My grandma is barely recognizable right now. Her face is tense, and her toothless mouth stands wide open for air. Bound to the hospital bed, the staff come in periodically to move her from her back to her side, and to her back again in prevention of bedsores. The congestion in her chest cannot be coughed lose no matter how hard she tries; the medication helps to dry it up, but it also leaves her dehydrated and with a severely dry mouth. All I want is for her to be comfortable.
The end of life is not pretty, but in many ways, it is beautiful. It’s here in these uncomfortable, authentic, challenging and heavenly moments that the real beauty of a person is brought right to the surface. I see it right now. I see her beauty because I love her. This fiery, brave and passionate woman of God is one of the most beautiful women I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and I can see that clearer than ever now, in this holy moment.
During many of our weekly lunch dates, Grandma and I would talk about relationships and marriage. She was often asking me if I was seeing anyone. She was always encouraging me to hold onto hope for a new relationship after my divorce. Her advice would always be, “You’ll know when you meet him. He will just love you.”
Love sees and embraces the ugly, the agonizing and the painful moments of life and death. Love calls these moments beautiful. This is true love. Right now, I am seeing Grandma in her weakest and most vulnerable moment. That moment where she’s preparing for death. It’s here, and all I can see is her beauty and love.
When we experience love, we live like loved people. Grandma knew in her heart of hearts she was loved by her Savior and by Grandpa, so she lived like it every day. Although you may never have been loved like that in the earthly sense, we can experience the true love of Jesus daily. Far more extravagant than my Grandparent’s story, this love is truly relentless and completely unconditional. In our weakest, most unattractive, and desperate moments, Jesus is looking at our spirit, soul, and body with total acceptance and affection. He sees us with awe and kindness, and he is fully convinced that we are his beautiful, chosen ones.
Lord, I pray that I may I never forget the lifechanging power of true love, the relentless fight for hope and the beauty of my unbeatable Grandma.
My talented cousin, Peter Miller from We Are the Willows released an album a few years ago called Picture (Portrait) based on my grandparents love letters.