What must it be like to lose the person you have lived with, loved with for 67 years? They are here, you are with them, holding their hand and then, they are gone. Sixty-seven years together, sharing it all and now...alone.
This is where I find my grandmother. Alone, in her house for the first time in my lifetime. Due to my grandfather's deteriorating condition over the last 11 years, but specifically the last 3 years, she has barely lived in that house. It must also be a bit strange to her to wake there and not hurry to him.
Over the last 8 months, she never left his side whether in the assisted-living center, the hospital and at his final stop, the Hospice Home. She toiled over him, catering to his every need, cleaning and trimming his beard, feeding him his every meal until he could no longer eat. Now, she is at home, in quiet and solitude, trying to figure out how to start living again.
My heart hurts for her. She is a strong woman, but her heart is shattered. I know how much I miss him and I know it can't compare. The day after his death she asked me through her tears, "Why did he have to leave me here? Why couldn't I have gone with him?"
I took the girls to her house this evening to eat dinner. She is over run with the generosity of friends who have brought her food and it has given me an excuse to hang out in a house with so many of my own warm memories. Not that I need an excuse to come to her house, but I wouldn't want her to feel the need to prepare anything for me.
It was standing in her kitchen that she spoke the words to me that I know now had been brewing in her mind for several days. In almost a whisper, she said to me with the rims of her eyes filling with tears, "I don't know for sure if he is in heaven." I waited to hear more. She continued, "While he was dying, I told him, you are going on a journey to see Jesus, but I never talked to him about it. We never spoke about it, Kelsey. I just don't know." My own sadness for her nearly tore me down.
I imagine it was partly their generation and partly the uniqueness of their relationship that prevented the discussion of this "deep issue." Despite what was clearly the love of a lifetime, full of laughter, fun, devotion and affection, my grandmother could not recall hearing my grandfather speak of his love for our Savior. My grandfather was a member of their church, he was a leader, an usher, and yet, she never talked about Jesus with him. Not growing up in the church, there were zero conversations with my father about religion, let alone Jesus, until after I became a believer. I know many relationships in my own circles that are the same. It is easier to talk to a stranger whom you might never see again than your own family members and closest friends. I think that even though you have this person with whom you share everything, sometimes it still seems too personal.
Back in the kitchen, I pulled my grandmother to me, putting my hands on her shoulders. I remembered why I was so sure that he was in heaven. My precious, dear sister, years before she became ill and before my grandfather's mind no longer functioned in our world, had had a conversation with him. When Ansley became a believer, she was immediately on fire for Him. She spoke to every one she held dear about Him and praise the Lord for that. She had talked to my grandfather about his faith and he told her that yes, he believed in our Savior and what He had done for him.
As I retold this conversation to her, her crying became heavier and a bit louder, and yet, it became the sound of joyous relief. The burden of the past several days was lifted and there was that blessed assurance.
It is strange to be in a place of ministering to someone so much older and wiser that yourself. She has been the teacher and I have been her student our entire lives and now because of life circumstances our roles seem to be reversed. Is this just another reason I had to lose Ansley? So, I could guide my own grandmother through her own grieving process?
Sometimes I wonder if I say too much. Is it better to not know what is around the bend when "around the bend" is not all rosy and pretty? I think she thought that with the assurance of knowing where my grandfather is now that the hole left her in heart would heal. I had to tell her that that hole would always be there - maybe not as painful or large, its edges no longer sharp and jagged, but it would always be there. She would always miss him. The words slipped quickly from my mouth and I worried that it might cause her more sadness. But, they were out and I couldn't shove them back in.
I try to keep my grandmother focused on the future and all the things we can do together. She desires to know her great-grandchildren. She talks about building her strength so she can get rid of her cane. She speaks of trip to the beach, or "to the coast" as she calls it. We talk of cleaning out the house, taking the girls for tea, redecorating her living room. "All in time," We say to each other.
The irony of feeling like you have all the time in the world does not escape me when I have just lost someone dear to me. The reality is that we don't have all the time in the world. We will all die. It is that fact, along with this conversation with my grandmother that has stirred me to throw open the doors to conversations about Him. It is time to have those difficult, deep and possibly "too personal" conversations with some of my closest and share the blessed assurance that is mine.