A Grandmother's Story

Well the day I had dreaded finally arrived.  At almost 100 years old, my grandmother Kathleen passed away in her bed at an assisted living facility.  We knew it was coming, but it's funny how that never seems to help.  She was a hearty soul and a lovely person; everyone called her Kay.  She was also good natured, had a deep concern for others, and a steady faith in God - and now she was gone.  I miss her, and will continue to miss her, in ways that I cannot yet even calculate.  Driving home from the funeral service, my wife and I had an intimate conversation about death.  The kind of conversation you can only have with someone who knows enough about you to tell when you are truly vulnerable.  She knew it was time for me to talk about things.  

One part of the discussion centered around a game that many of you have heard of I'm sure, which involves stacking little wooden blocks on top of each other.  In fact, my kids and I used to play Jenga quite a bit when they were younger.  The level of excitement would build so high during this game that I thought surely they would burst at the seams.  For those of you who may not know this game, the strategy involves building a tall tower one block at a time, but in doing so, you must move the blocks at the bottom around precariously until you find an opening at the top.  At any time the whole thing may come plummeting down.  On many occasions, one of us would be forced to pull out one of the foundational blocks from the very bottom of the structure in order to progress the game.  Usually the tower would stay standing, but missing the foundational girder definitely made things more intense.  I had thought about this game  quite a bit during the car ride home.  A silly kids' game with a profound metaphor attached to it.  Grandma Kay was definitely a foundational block in my life, and now that block had been removed.  Carefully, but at the same time with the sort of dread that only an impending death could conjure up, she had been taken from us.  Our steel foundational girder had been removed from the bottom of the pile.  Would the tower still hold up?  

The priest who officiated at the service earlier that day had mentioned how human beings can build their life from early foundations of love and trust.  How important it is for the rest of us to go on living by remembering all of these things that the departed had left for us.  How certain people can put in motion for us the framework of love that we still depend on today.  The funeral didn't last more than an hour or so, and then back to daily living we all went.  How are we to manage this?  Don't the people at our jobs and out in traffic and at the grocery store realize what has happened?  Doesn't the outside world realize what has been lost?  Apparently not, it is business as usual.

It reminds me of the story of the wise and foolish builder that Jesus recounts for us in the Gospel of Matthew.  Many of us know this story, we remember hearing it in church services or at Sunday School as children.  How different it seems to me now as an adult.  Matt 7:24-27 says this:

 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."  

Jesus spoke these words as part of a section of Scripture often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  The fact is, when Jesus saw that there were so many people gathered in one place, he took the time to lay out these foundational teachings.  In other words, we ought to listen especially close to this pedagogy.  

He was speaking here of the importance of putting God's teaching into action, not just listening to His commandments ... but actually following them.  He was speaking of building a firm foundation, one that the world could not wash away when things get tough.  He was speaking of girders and foundational blocks.  

Grandma Kay would often speak about the Bible and of the importance of faith.  As a group of young and impressionable kids sitting around her living room on the sofa, my cousins and I would be privy to a multitude of anecdotal life lessons about the love of Christ.  It was good medicine; it was helping to gird up our towers. I believe that in this way, Kay reflected the light of Jesus most ardently.  John 3:16 abided in her daily walk with God, and through her we absorbed His goodness by example.  But now here we are, all grieving.  But grief should really be a reflection, shouldn't it?  A vignette of how much we miss someone and the things they represented - not simply a feeling of hopelessness or loss.  No, it is more than that.  Grief should point to something greater than ourselves.  Like a signpost that clearly states for all to see: "Grandmother was here, and she mattered."  But have enough people seen the signpost?  I don't know, I want more of the world to see it.  If they saw it and understood who she was, it wouldn't be business as usual.

We should allow time for this part of life I think - for the grieving.   Heading back to work and juggling kids will try to push it's way back in soon enough.  But I think it is important to spend just a bit of time in that uncomfortable place of sadness.  It is necessary to read, and re-read the signpost - Grandmother was here, and she mattered.  There will be a time to move on in the near future.  For now it is okay to reflect and remember.  It is okay to be sad.

How do we live with a tower that is missing a foundational block?  True enough that it is still standing, but how do we steady the tower when the rain comes down and the streams rise?  We do so by looking for that piece inside of someone that reflects the Light of Christ I think.  By remembering what was contained inside of those blocks, put there by a loving God, in order to uphold and uplift us while we live out the rest of our lives.  We must build our house on the rock.

I actually interviewed Kay about 4 years ago.  I was compiling notes for a book about searching for faith.  In a chapter entitled 'The Prayer Engine', I recorded her giving the following quote: "I pray that God gives the gift of Faith to all of my children and grandchildren, and I am grateful every day because I know He will."  

You see, she partnered with God to help us build towers.  Small ones when we were young, during those days when we gathered around her sofa in the large front room.  Then larger, taller towers when we became adults.  Printed in robust signage at the top of the tower are written the words 'You are here grandson, and you matter.'  I am grateful for this memory, I will treasure it for a long time to come.

We all do the best that we can when someone we care about passes on.  We work to hold on to all of those cherished memories.  We resurrect old signposts and create new ones so that we won't forget.  I remember running around her old house back in the small town where she lived when Grandfather was still alive.  I was very young, 8 or 9 maybe.  Running through bushes and around trees, then under the clothesline next to the garage.  Always when I had finished and it was time to come in, there would be a large meal waiting.  Not microwave pizza or McDonald's mind you - but meat and potatoes.  A grandmother's dinner fit for a king, and I was always ready to eat.  And always she would serve it with a smile and a hug.  Her's was a home built on a rock, steady and indestructible.  And I am certain - though I could never quite see them - that under the basement near the outer walls, lay sections of solid foundational girders and blocks.  The kind that would keep a tower standing firm forever.  The kind that remind us that we are only here for a short while.  But while we are here, it counts.  We matter.



  1. Beautiful

  2. Love reading your blogs! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hey there! It's been a long while since I read your blog. Thank you for faithfully and regularly posting! I am attempting to post regular devotions to my blog. I hope it will be a refreshing to you as you read them! Also, I am sorry to hear about your grandmother's passing. I hope you will be comforted that she is really in a better place - no more sorrow, hurt or pain - in the Presence of Jesus our Lord.


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