On Friday my grandmother died. It feels harsh to write it out like that, so blunt and factual, but I don’t really know how else to put it.
The reality of death is a paradox to me. Death is natural. All things decay and die, second law of thermodynamics, the natural order of this world. And yet in my spirit, there is an uncommonly strong resistance to it. Death doesn’t feel natural. There is something in me that protests against it, that knows by instinct there is something more and that I was meant for whatever that something is. I don’t think we were meant to die.
But we do, the reality of death is everywhere. At first it hits you hard in the face, like freezing water smashing against warm skin. And then it filters in slow, sinking deeper and deeper into you with every remembrance of the person gone until before you know it, it’s lodged itself so firmly inside it becomes a part of who you are. Grief is such a strange process.
Grieving is necessary, but so is celebration. In fact I think the two go hand-in-hand. My grandmother was a strong woman. As many of her friends and relatives affirmed to me, she was a “real firecracker” and “Ms. Buie, well she’d shoot you straight.” Of all the people I’ve ever met, I don’t think I know anyone who worked as hard as she did. She taught me how to use a broom, how to clean a kitchen, how to shuck corn and snap peas. You’d have to fight her to get her to sit down, and if you turned around she’d be at it again, finding something else to do. If only I could be half has hardworking.
My grandmother wasn’t soft, and she wasn’t easy to get along with all the time, but she was always thoughtful. She never missed my birthday. If I missed her call, she’d sing happy birthday to me in a voicemail. In the evenings, she’d drive her scooter to the porch so she could read her Bible while watching the sunlight fade across the farm. She was so lovely.
The thing about death is that it makes us take a good hard look at life. It forces us to look at the people we love, it shines a flashlight on our every day doings, on what consumes our time and our thoughts. It begs a question of importance and necessity. What actually matters?
As my grandmother was dying, we sang her favorites hymns to her. I don’t actually remember the name of one of the last songs we sang, but I know I’ll never forget the words.
“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; see on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, you who are weary come home. Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling O sinner, come home.”
I don’t know what life after death is like. I don’t really understand heaven. But I like to think that when she finally let go, she opened her eyes and Jesus was right there in front of her in all his warmth and glory, arms spread wide for her to run into.