Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Grief upon grief, joy upon joy

I'm not really sure any more who or what I am grieving. The earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan, so I cried every day... and eventually I had to intentionally stop reading the news more than once a day and to continually commit the people of Japan to God in prayer, acknowledging my own helplessness.

Then last Wednesday (March 16), we got news that Grandmother, my mom's mom, had suddenly died of a stroke or heart attack. She just collapsed, and that was that. The last time I saw her was at Granddad's 90th birthday party in mid-January. I'm glad I kissed her and told her that she looked beautiful that day.

Let me tell you a little about Grandmother. She was adventurous and spunky--she loved traveling and being outdoors. She went to Hawaii every year until just a few years ago... and still swam in the ocean into her 80's.

I remember once in high school getting into an argument with her about housewifery. I think I was implying, young and stupid as I was, that she could have had a better life if she hadn't been "tied down" by staying at home. My goodness, she gave me a talking to. I think that was when I realized how deeply she loved her family--that it was her deepest desire to take care of her husband, her 2 children and their spouses, and her 4 grandchildren. Staying at home to care for the family was for her a privilege and a delight, not an oppressive burden to be borne, and she was thankful to Granddad for working hard to allow her to do so. I only pray that I will love my family, in the present and the future, as much as she did.

Grandmother made sure her house was always open to us. It was always kept perfectly clean, and there were many beautiful things to look at. (We grandkids learned at an early age not to touch Grandmother's "pretties.") Even in a beautiful home full of fragile things, I was never made to feel awkward; Grandmother and Granddad's home was my home, too. Grandmother used her beautiful dishes, teacups, and glassware for special meals, so that we would know that we were special to her. This attitude of generous and extravagant hospitality has greatly inspired me. (Still, Grandmother was not ashamed to offer hospitality with a very simple meal--we often had freezer pizza or canned soup when we came over. I am likewise inspired by the simplicity of her hospitality.)

I received many of Grandmother's "pretties" when she moved to a retirement home several years ago. One of my favorite things I received was the sugar jar. When I stayed overnight, I always had oatmeal for breakfast. At home, I ate oatmeal with milk and only a little brown sugar. (That was probably a wise choice by my mother.) At Grandmother and Granddad's house, I had as much cream as I liked on my oatmeal, and I could help myself to both white sugar and brown sugar, which was stored in a special glass jar with a silver lid.

Those are only a few of the precious memories I have of Grandmother. When I think of her life, I think of generosity, peace, and contentment. I know that she loved me very much.

Me (yes, that's me) with Grandmother and Granddad in the backyard of our old house

That is also me, believe it or not.

Grandmother read me lots of books.

She read to all of us grandkids (from the left: Lindsay, Colin, Grandmother, me, Kelly). Check out that awesome couch.

High school graduation

For the last year, it's been really hard to visit Grandmother. I've been grieving her loss for several years now as she slowly declined from dementia. She never learned Keith's name, even though he's been part of the family for more than 5 years. At the end, I think she forgot my name too. I struggled to visit because I didn't know what to talk about. I could tell her things, but she wouldn't respond. And I was angry at her and Granddad for the way they treated my mom--the best daughter they could ever wish for--in the last couple of years. I feel like I'm just making excuses to assuage my own guilt at being a "bad granddaughter." But I also feel that my "duty" is to be a daughter to my mom even more than a granddaughter to my grandparents. Now is not the time to dwell on past hurts--I need to be present with my mom and also with Granddad, who has just lost his beloved wife of 69 years.

So I don't know what all I'm grieving. Part of it is Japan--and in my own personal grief, I feel the loss of life and livelihood in Japan even more deeply. Part of it is losing my grandmother for the last time. Part of it is grieving for my mom and my uncle and my granddad and for all the people in Japan who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Sometimes I think I grieve more deeply for the living than for the dead. It's a swirling mess of emotion. I don't really like being a swirling mess of anything, but now I've gotten accustomed to being "emotionally incontinent" in public.

At church on Sunday, we sang "Blessed Be Your Name," a song which we sang at our wedding. The theme of our wedding was very much our commitment to each other and to God in both joy and sorrow. As I attempted to sing (largely unsuccessfully), I remembered why we chose that song: "You give and take away; my heart will choose to say, 'Lord, blessed be your name.'" Keith is beside me now, just as he has been in times of great joy, and I cannot express my thankfulness for that fact.

In the midst of deep sorrow (my own and others') I feel the peace and presence of God. This is a joyful thing. God was holding me close before, but I didn't notice.

    When through the deep waters I call you to go,
    The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
    For I will be with you in trouble to bless,
    And sanctify to you your deepest distress.

Come, Lord Jesus!

No comments: