There was a well worn path in the dirt road from our house to my grandmother’s two bedroom home. I could make it there on my purple bike with the plastic streamers coming out of the handle bars in five minutes flat if the red-winged black birds in the oak tree at the corner didn’t take me out. Grandma knew I was scared of those birds. I told her everything.
On one of my visits, she proudly pulled out a large pinwheel. I was confused when I first saw it. Then she told me I should hold it over my head as I rode to her house. The pinwheel whistled as I rode my bike and scared those stupid birds. Nothing would keep us from our afternoon visits.
I’m not really sure how we filled all of the hours we spent together.
She helped me with my homework. I always was up for a ride to “the city” to help her buy groceries. We ate red licorice together and painted our nails….always with clear polish. I watched hours of Gospel Sing TV with her, and she attended every band concert, play, and art show. She taught me to drive and took me on my first airplane ride to visit the cousins in Florida. When I was all grown up and traveling on my own, she wrote to me weekly on her old typewriter and mailed me phone cards.
When I was a self-conscious middle schooler, she taught me to sew. She had this way of making me feel like the most talented kid while at the same time telling me truth without sugar coating. Her words still ring in my ears: “You don’t have to be perfect. It will all iron out.” What seemed like a lesson in stitching a seam on my latest 4-H project, really was so much more. She knew me and my struggles.
This week, I lost part of my heart. Alzheimers (what I now call the cruelest of all diseases) has slowly been stealing her from me. Robbing us of any new memories. But, I guess I am still the little girl on that purple bike….hoping to race faster than the black birds. Every time I was able to sit next to her on the couch in her nursing home, I was hoping for one more moment. We had always been good at sitting together and not doing to much. I could take in her smell, feel her presence, and pretend we were just watching the Gaithers together.
Even that is now gone.
I have gone back and forth about writing this blog post. I usually save this space for stories about living and teaching cross-culturally and how that affects raising my family. I wasn’t sure if writing about the death of my grandmother fit that.
This week, as I have cried over her death, the miles between my childhood home and Asia have felt even longer. I wanted to stand at her graveside. I wanted to cry with my family, who would understand why I am 40 but a weeping mess over losing my grandmother friend.
But, it is even more than that.
Some of my tears this week are over my mother and my own children. I am crying because my kids can’t ride their bikes down the road and eat licorice with a grandparent who loves them with extravagance. In my grief, I question the stolen moments that might shape my own children.
Living cross-culturally, it is what we are called to, but man, sometimes the cost is high. I want to write and say it is all worth it. But, honestly, I am not sure if I will ever know if it is or not.
What is worth something…following Jesus and trusting him with my heart. I guess that means I should trust him with the heart of my kiddos and be thankful for video chats. So much easier to write that then to truly live it out.
Years ago, Dr. Kinlaw gave a sermon at a summer camp that included a story of a young single woman who was living cross-culturally. She was asked if she was scared of living so far from home in a strange land by herself. Her response. “I am more scared of NOT living where God wants me to be.” I can’t remember the rest of that sermon. Actually, I am pretty proud of myself for remembering anything from 20 years ago! Funny, the things that come to mind as you are grieving. The simple answer that young woman gave….I want it to be my answer as well. With all my heart, I want to be where God calls us.
Lord, help me in my weakness. Help me when the days are hard and my tears fall in abundance.
Often, when I sat next to Grandma at church, tears would gently slip from one eye. She joked with me that she had a leaky eye and not to worry. The one time I really remember seeing Grandma cry was when she said good-bye to me as I was leaving for college. She sobbed – deep heart wrenching cries as we hugged in the driveway.
Now, I am the one sobbing as I have to say good-bye to her. There are no promises about Christmas and spring breaks….but I am thankful to know there is the promise of eternity.