My mom, sister and I traveled four and a half hours both ways yesterday to visit my grandparents in upstate NY. We usually stay the weekend, but since I’m allergic to their home (it’s generations old and has goodness only knows how much mold and mildew) we stay overnight in a nearby bed-and-breakfast and join them for church the following morning. However, this weekend was move-in weekend for all the community colleges up near my grandparents, so my mom couldn’t book a room! Who would have thought that there would be demand for rooms in the middle of nowhere?! (And I really mean the middle of NOwhere – the closest things to my grandparents’ house are cornfields, an Amish farm, and more farms. We have to drive 15 miles to find coffee.)
So my mom drove a total of 9 hours yesterday so we could visit her parents (bless her heart).
My grandparents are a shadow of their former selves. They would periodically travel to visit us in Massachusetts when I was growing up, and I remember them napping on our sofas after their long drive, only to wake up and be ready to engage in the witty banter my mom’s family is known for. My grandfather would be the only one bantering, since my grandmother has never been fully “with it” according to my mom, but she would laugh dutifully and add her own one-liners, her hand on my grandfather’s knee and a twinkle in her eye.
My grandpa is going on 93 and my grandma 89; my mom was born when my grandma was in her forties, so I’ve never had young grandparents, which makes this so much harder. They have both have been hospitalized this year for dehydration, and are now both walking with some kind of assistance – a walker for grandma, a cane for grandpa. Grandpa has always been the caretaker for every ailment Grandma has suffered, but now he struggles with being unable to move fast enough to provide for her. Grandma re-told the story of Grandpa’s fainting earlier this year to me and my sister, saying, “I shook him and told him, ‘You can’t do this! You have to stay here to help me!'” I nearly cried.
They’ve been married for over 60 years. They have been through wars (my grandpa was a pilot in the Army Air Force), raised four children (my mom is the youngest of 4 daughters), and have met five great-grandchildren from several of their 13 grandchildren. Their love is tangible.
They look at each other and savor each moment together, realizing that they may not have many more of them. My grandpa has lost 30 pounds in the last 6 months, and my grandma’s heart can’t pump enough oxygen to her brain for her to remember which pills to take to keep it going for another day.
Their time on earth is limited, I know that. But I also know that what is waiting for them will be so much brighter, and I know that they are looking forward to it. They taught me what pure, unadulterated faith is. Their kitchen is filled with Bible verses on ceramic tiles, crocheted on potholders, embroidered on hand towels, and they pray before every meal. At each of their respective “stations” on the well-worn couch and arm chair, a Bible sits open to that day’s devotional verse, highlighted and peppered with notes in shorthand (my Grandma’s) or scrawling cursive (Grandpa’s).
It’s not that they declare their love of God for all to see, because even Matthew 6:6 has its place on a potholder (“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”). Instead, these verses all over the house serve as a constant reminder to my grandmother in her ailing memory that she is loved, cared for, and protected by the Ultimate Father. And when they are in pain or frustrated with their loss of mobility, they have a quick reminder of God’s protection and grace.
That’s comforting to me. That when they are gone, they will be with their Heavenly Father. It provides more than simple relief. It’s abiding peace. And on earth, His Word provides them (and me) with that same peace and comfort, despite daily battles with incurable pain. That alone is incredible, and something for which I am so thankful.
And when the conversation on the ride home turned to my sister’s atheism and my mom’s annoyance with organized religion, I silently prayed that one day they will be able to look back at the faith my grandparents demonstrated through their never-ending love and devotion to each other and to God and decide that they can accept God’s love for themselves. I pray, I pray, I pray.