Father of the fatherless, and protector of widows, is God in His holy habitation. Psalm 68:5
This summer did not go at all how I envisioned. Plans were made. My better half would build furniture pieces for an upcoming art festival, and I would dive into gardening, preserving food, and painting the greenhouse. Nothing went according to those plans.
At the end of May, my grandmother (Nana) had another heart attack. Weeks later she was finally released to a nursing home near me, thirty miles away from her house and the rest of my family.
This was not an accident. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, God will always find a way to put you where He wants you to be. He wanted me at Nana’s side.
Since my grandfather’s death ten years ago, my Nana had become sad and bitter in life, almost unbearably bitter. She had heart disease, and one of its effects was a bad attitude.This coupled with deep loneliness made it hard to be around her.
She lost the man who saved her and five of her children from despair and the person who understood her the most. In her last few years, I would spend time with her in spurts, and then retract because I could only take it for so long. The memories of the ‘good times’ were distant.
One morning I popped in for a quick visit. Having a busy day planned, I expected to just check on her, find her sleeping, and get back home to babysit for a friend of mine. What I found was every light turned on in Nana’s room while she was trying to rest, she was cold with her blankets out of reach, and she was thirsty.
She was alert and thanked God out loud that I was there. I quickly made her comfortable. She begged me not to leave her. I cancelled my plans.
We shared our feelings with each other that day. We recalled better days. Looking back, this was God’s mercy and grace to me. I can hold on to this conversation now. It was my gift. There was a lot that needed to be said between us.
This morning before I sat down to type this, I woke up later than normal, at 7:11; that was the date of my grandfather’s death.
Since Nana’s death I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what she went through taking care of my sick and dying Papa for years. My aunt is reading Nana’s journal entries that she wrote during this time period. What an amazing woman she was, despite her faults.
I think I understood Nana more than the most of the family because I could relate to her in a meaningful way. Some of my life choices have resulted in bitterness and yearning as well, and I could see her pain.
She used to quote scriptures that called to care for the orphans and the widows, and I knew she was right. I had to make an effort to understand her. Only sometimes could I see through the hurt.
It helped that I knew the stories from her difficult past: her mother’s harsh treatment of her, her hard labor on the farm, and raising five of her children on tips as a waitress and the charity of others. The regrets she carried and the people in her life that she lost. My problems pale in comparison.
As a child I witnessed her charity to strangers often: the homeless, immigrants, and a widow that no one could stand to be around.
When I was little we were traveling through East Gary. We saw a homeless man on the street and I pointed him out, “Nana, he just needs a friend”. She was so impressed. But that’s what she was, she taught me.
I saw her grow food with great care, preserve it, and cook for hours to celebrate the arrival of family and friends at her table.
Her wonderful dinner tables! The smell in her house, and the mesh-mash of dishware made up from her flea market finds and yard sales. The home-canned green beans with bacon grease saved for such an occasion, and her Parker house rolls smothered in real butter. To feed people well was her joy.
Growing up, times were hard. Her dad worked as a coal miner in Kentucky saving his wages for a farm. He acquired some acreage in Tennessee through a land owner that he labored under.
Nana often spoke of the churches, friends, and family that went out of their way to help her feed her children when times were tough. Nothing came easily. She considered it a sacrilege to snub your nose at anything she set out before you. Gratitude should always be at the table.
In her last years and with the arrival of my daughter, I decided to set aside my health-food-snobbery (which didn’t end up being the answer to all of my problems, surprise, surprise) and allow my grandmother to feed me and my daughter to her heart’s content.
This brought her such pleasure late in life. She would sit and watch her great-granddaughter eat every bite of the food she prepared with this huge smile on her face. I loved to see it.
I felt like God was showing me that I was making health food my religion, especially when I refused to dine with people that I loved, and eat the food they prepared, even if it came from MegaLowMart. The table was for gathering together, expressing gratitude, sharing our stories and dreams, savoring the bounty of hard work, and celebration.
He blessed me with those two special years, and I will forever hang on to those memories. My Grandmother, My Daughter.
At the end of Nana’s life, God was merciful to her.
I knew she wasn’t going to recover by the things she was saying to me. This place was cold, harsh, and lacking the atmosphere that she had spent her life creating for everyone else. I started the process of getting her home on a Tuesday.
By Friday she was home, and by Monday all six of her children were at her bedside. It’s what she wanted. A mother with her children, I understand why this is important now, because I miraculously have a daughter.What gifts of His mercy.
My uncle carried her in from the car; my mother, aunts, and uncles took care of her in her most vulnerable state. Hymns were sung and words of love were spoken. It was raw. Life turned into something finite. Time was precious.
There was a sense of the infinite too. God was there. It was His holy habitation. I felt it firsthand, and then reread it in His word… just this morning. I was supposed to read that. I am so grateful.
She died that Wednesday.
My cell phone rang as I was on my way to see her. I was singing “the Old Rugged Cross” in the truck. I downloaded the song on my phone the night before so I could practice singing it for her. I couldn’t recall the lyrics. The song was cut off by the phone ringing. She was gone.
I felt the newest, deepest sadness I had ever felt, followed by overwhelming gratitude for the entire experience, and for her life.
We always fought about the old hymns, Nana and I. She loved them; I preferred something else. But in the end I sang several in her presence. I loved her, and what she loved is at the foundation of what I love now.
It was in my childhood that I learned those hymns from her. It was in my late thirties that I strangely recalled them and loved them anew.
I inherited my grandmother’s gigantic pots and pans. They would be nothing special to anyone that saw them, but to me they are filled with memories of great meals, the remains of shucking sweet summer corn, and the bounty of snapping beans together. Chipped enamel. I couldn’t bare for a stranger to have them.
I miss her deeply. I will carry on with Nana’s pots and pans. I will use them to serve my friends, family, and new friends along the way.
I will tell my daughter stories of my Nana, and those pans, and of all the time I spent in her garden. Of the seeds that she planted in her lifetime and the ones that she planted in me.
I will tell the stories of her tough times to my daughter. And how God was always there for her, how He wanted good things for her. I will teach her that God uses everyone for His purpose, despite their faults.
I will teach her that there are some parts of our past that are meant to be held on to. And there are other parts that are in need of redemption. And His mercy is our inheritance.
I will teach my daughter that redemption happens throughout a person’s life, up until the very end. That God has woven and is weaving the ultimate redemption throughout the generations. We have that to look forward to.
My grandmother was a part of my new experience as a mother. I am so grateful to God for it all! It is now woven into the fabric of my family; it’s a part of who we are. A blessing that has influenced four generations.
The blessed assurance she always sang about. My inheritance.