It’s not a new emotion. It’s not an experience unique to me. Every minute of every day, someone goes through this same situation. I’m not surprised by this. I believe in its inevitability. In fact, I count on it. And yet…I am sad. I am moved. I look at the people gathered around me, and I think, “Wow. This is it.”
The Circle of Life.
My Grandmother is 96 years, 3 months and 14 days old today. Exactly. She has lived an incredibly full life…replete with joy, sorrow, birth, death, laughter, tears, uncertainty, doubts, and above all, faith. Her health has been steadily declining for the past year, and it all came to a head one week ago when she stood up, blacked out, and fell, breaking her shoulder and her pelvis in two places. She is too aged and infirm to survive an operation or go through rehab, so she is subsisting on a steady diet of pain medication. She has been shuttled from home to hospital to rehab (thanks to a true quack of a doctor), back to hospital and finally to hospice. She is, quite simply, miserable. And ready.
In her vast lifetime that has spanned almost an entire century, she buried her sister, brother-in-law, & nephew due to a plane crash in the 1940s. She buried both parents. She saw countless other relatives and friends pass away. She buried one son and two daughters-in-law. And after 62-1/2 years of marriage, she said goodbye to her true love and let him slip away to glory.
She has watched as her children and grandchildren brought babies into the world…sometimes with heartache and pain as the unthinkable possibility of a diminished mental capacity became a reality. She witnessed grandchildren unable to have their own babies and experienced the unique joy of adoption for the first time in her life.
Her history is varied and often surprising to those who are not familiar with her life. At 17 she eloped with Donald Bishop, a man 7 years her senior, and spent the next 62 years laughing, crying, living, & loving him. She raised three incorrigible sons with him, and eventually welcomed three “daughters” into her life.
She loved her sons absolutely, often-times turning a blind eye to their exploits (and trust me when I say there were MANY), and boasted of them without fail. When her babies had babies, she loved each grandchild as if they were the only one she had, and even with 6 of us, she always had plenty of love to go around.
We called her “Grandmother” even though her own children called her “Mom.” She was quite formal in that expectation and yet loved with a familiarity that was warm and relaxed. I never thought twice about the fact that I had a “Grandma” AND a “Grandmother.” Didn’t everyone?
Most of all, she had faith. Her faith was her rock. I don’t believe I have ever known anyone whose faith was as constant as hers. She never waivered. She always knew The Lord was in charge, even if she thought he had appointed her his first General on earth when it came to running her family. But the point is, she believed. Truly and without hesitation. No matter the outcome, she believed. No matter the sorrow, the pain, the heartache, the confusion…she believed. Jesus WAS her rock and her redeemer. The only thing she questioned was why others didn’t believe it too! It was so obvious to her.
Now she lies, helpless, pale, in pain, fading away. She rests and waits for the joy that will come when she sees the face of God in all his Glory…and hears the angels singing his praises as he gently takes her hand and says, “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant. I have your mansion all prepared for you. And your husband and family wait joyfully to see you.”
Can you imagine? I cannot.
The family has all gathered to say our goodbyes, and in the meantime, spend some quality family time together. My sister & I are sharing her room. Tonight, as I dressed for bed, I looked around at my Grandmother’s life: the mementos from vacations; gifts from other travelers; her sewing machine; papers she probably meant to deal with later; pictures of her treasured family; clothes, shoes and other garments hanging, waiting silently to be the next chosen for wearing; and, of course, her Bible. And as I took in my surroundings, I felt the finality of it all. I felt her presence in everything. And I felt the circle of life, wrapping around me and carrying me on to the next circle.
96 years. Just shy of a century. I asked Grandmother recently, “Don’t you want to live to be the oldest woman alive in the world and get your picture in the paper?” She gasped and said, “Oh, my. No. Wouldn’t that be awful?” One thing she did wonder about frequently was why so many young people were taken and she was left behind. She often said, “I am ready to go to heaven. And I tell The Lord that I am ready. But,” and she would pause before continuing with a smile on her face, “I also say ‘Not my will, but THY WILL be done.'”
And the circle begins to close.