Two years ago this week, my grandmother died. I will always remember her for her fierce love. Literally. She was a cheek-pinching, chest-thumping, chin-grabbing, back-patting, full-on hugger who refused to give any of her grandchildren a kiss unless it was smack on the mouth. But when I say she loved in a fierce way, I’m not talking primarily about a physical characteristic. This fierce love emanated from her like energy. Her eyes flashed with happiness every single time she saw me, and she would laugh with happiness.
“Well, Shawny, Shawny,” she’d say, chuckling to herself, as if she had thought she would never see me again, but look, there I was, a miracle.
Maile and I lived in England from 2001 to 2005, and during our visits back, whenever we saw her, she was intent on monopolizing us. She wanted to know everything about England, what we were doing there, what it was like in that faraway place. And she’d shake her head in awe the entire time we talked, amazed at how small the world had grown. Sometimes, during her last weeks on earth, she thought we still lived there, and she’d ask me about it.
“We don’t live in England anymore, Grandma,” I’d say, and she’d squeeze my hand as if she needed my physical presence to reassure her that my words were true.
“Oh, yes,” she’d say quietly. “That’s right.”
She was very concerned about us when we went on our four-month cross-country trip. Once we returned, she asked over and over again what states we had visited. She wanted to hear about how we lost our brakes, and she’d hold her hand over her mouth in horror. When I finished the story for the tenth time, she sighed with relief, as if it might have ended some other way that time. Perhaps we had actually plummeted over the side of the Tetons. She was relieved that wasn’t the case.
But the thing I will always remember the most about my Grandma is the way the family came together during her last week on earth. The hospice nurse said she wouldn’t be with us for much longer, so we came in from all corners of the world to my aunt’s house where Grandma sat in her old armchair having whispered conversations with people, one or two at a time. In the evenings, when everyone could be there, we sat around and sang old hymns she requested, and she patted her hand on the side of her old chair, still keeping rhythm.
Many of us spent those nights there at my aunt’s house waiting for her to pass. We slept on the floor and on couches and in the spare rooms, and sometimes, if those who watched at her bedside thought she was passing, we’d gather around her and sing quietly. But she would pull through, and for a while it seemed that she would never die, that perhaps we had already entered heaven. After all, we were laughing together and eating together and spending time with those we loved the most, and we were singing together, and time had become irrelevant.
A country where no twilight shadows deepen
Unending day where night will never be
A city where no storm clouds ever gather
This is just what Heaven means to me
What will it be when we get over yonder
And join the throng around the glassy sea
To join our loved ones and crown Christ forever
This is just what Heaven means to me
But eventually she passed, surrounded by a living legacy of artists and business people, writers and pastors, teachers and mothers. She was 92 years old, and if I can live a life as full as hers, I will be a lucky man indeed.
4 Replies to “Two Years Ago This Week (Or, What Heaven Looks Like)”
Amazing. Life wouldn’t be so scary if we knew we’d be so loved till the end.
Thank you for sharing Shawn. Just thinking about “Mom Smucker” makes me smile, what a wonderful woman, we were all blessed to have her in our life. You know sometimes I sit and think about the direction my life has gone, and I question why the Lord led me from a job I loved to Auntie Anne’s. What was the reason? Then I think about “Mom” and realize that if there was no Auntie Anne’s for me I would have never known sweet Amanda Smucker and I would have missed out on the love of this dear saint.
I can hardly believed that it has been two years, Shawn. Wow. What a great lady – and what a loving thing for your family to do. Heaven, indeed.
Thanks, Diana, for this comment and for hanging out here with me for such a long time now. I really appreciate you.
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