It was Friday night when they called to tell me that Grandma had died. Somehow, I already knew. I knew her spirit was free. I was just waiting for the confirmation. “I’ll get on a plane tomorrow. Can you pick me up at the airport?” I asked my uncle.
“Sure, I can. You’re free to stay with us too. We were wondering if you might want to offer the eulogy at her funeral? The priest told us that a family member could say a few words at the end of the service. So, we all thought of you, since you two were so close.”
“Yes, I’d be honored.”
The small passenger plane bumped along the runway of a rural airport in Northern Minnesota where the red-stained earth, gaping with open wounds from years of strip-mining iron ore, welcomed me home. Grandpa was a superintendent of one of those iron ore mines many years ago. Grandma was a school teacher. She was a strict school teacher, the kind that kids either loved or hated, but never forgot. I was the sparkling joy of hope in her eyes. Upon me rested all her hopes and dreams for a better future.
Actually, I had lost Grandma three years ago to dementia. For almost twenty years we had chatted on the phone every Sunday afternoon. We talked about my college courses, my roommates, and my dates. Later we talked about my wedding, my career, and my pregnancies. I missed her so much. But no one could understand my grief because she hadn’t died yet. She was so much more than my grandma. She was my mom, my best friend, my cheerleader, my tangible source of unconditional love who gave me the confidence to keep on going even when things got tough. Now I was called to write a speech to honor her legacy. As her only granddaughter, I was her legacy.
My thoughts traveled back to our last face to face visit. We were sitting on her bed as one of my toddlers was crawling at our feet. Grandma had said to me, “Thank you for coming to see me while I still know you.” She knew that her most dreaded reality was coming true. She was so proud of her astounding intellectual gifts. She had graduated from high school at sixteen-years-old. She was one of the few women who went to college in the 1930’s. She also said to me that day, “When I die, if I can, I will come back to you. I promise.”
After settling into my uncle and aunt’s spare bedroom, I told my aunt, “I’m going to take a walk to think about what I’m going to say tomorrow for Grandma’s eulogy.”
“Oh Honey, you know you don’t have to speak if you don’t want to.”
“Yes, I know, but I want to. I’m going to walk down past Grandma’s old house and think about what I want to say.”
The snow crunched beneath my winter boots. The wind whipped at my face while the bright sunny sky offered hope in something greater than what the eye could see. My thoughts were somber and serious as I contemplated the structure of my speech. I paused for a moment looking at the house that Grandma used to live in. There was a strange truck in the driveway. Grandma’s fancy curtains had been replaced with ordinary blinds. Then I heard a voice, a giddy giggling voice say, “I’m not there anymore!” My spine went ridged with shock. I turned in circles looking around for the voice, but there was no one in sight. The cheerful voice continued, “I’m right here! Now, I can be with you always! I’ve missed you so much.”
“Yes, I am here with you always. Your life will be just beautiful, just beautiful. You have nothing to fear. It’s real.”
“What’s real…Grandma?” But there was no response, just an unspeakable presence of unconditional love surrounding me.
This presence not only accompanied me to Grandma’s eulogy the next morning, it walked with me through my graduate school studies in pastoral theology, and onto a career in hospital chaplaincy. From that day forward, I have never been without hope in the reality of eternal life. In all I do, I seek to share this spirit of unconditional love with others when they are most in need.