The day stretched before me, grey and ordinary, especially compared with the excitement of the last few days. To tell you the truth, I really just wanted to curl up on The Big Chair, drink my tea, and retreat. For about a week. Knowing this was hardly realistic, I instead stepped toward the thing I knew would at least get me jump-started on the day. I sorted laundry.
Somehow, this prosaic act is often the gentle nudge I need to "do the next right thing." There's always laundry to be done, and the act of quiet, rhythmic sorting or folding can be the warm up I need to then move on to the next task in my day . . . and the next.
Heavy on my mind as I sorted and piled, however, was the news that my grandfather was in the hospital, very likely living his last days on earth. Indeed, the next day, a sense of urgency prompted my family to gather at his bedside. My parents, sister, aunt, cousin, and I knew that our "next thing" was now to sit, visit, remember . . . to watch and wait.
We watched and waited all day, and late that night, after my sister and I had gone home, Grandpa drew his last breath. A text flashed on my phone, and I knew. Even as my eyes blurred over the message, my heart rejoiced. He was released from pain, from confusion, from the mind disease that had infiltrated and robbed him of health and vitality. He was home with his Savior.
I grieved as memories flickered across my mind, memories of the way he called me "Hunny Bunch" and "Juni," memories of him expertly navigating the tractor over the sands of El Morro . . . memories of him conversing in his Donald Duck voice . . . memories of watching him slow dance with Nanee . . . memories of his strong, work-worn hands resting on his Bible.
This was the grief I expected. Yet as I looked through old photos and recalled sweet memories, I was blindsided by an unexpected grief. It was as though I'd inadvertently re-opened an old wound, and I grieved anew over the death of Nanee. I wanted to update her on the kids; I longed to tell her all the fun little details she loved to hear; and I really wanted to take her out to Beaches for a nice, juicy burger.
My mind delved into the deeper strata of loss, and I grieved unexpectedly over my maternal grandparents. Why had my grandmother died at such a young age? I was only eight when she passed at 55, and it didn't seem fair that I never had the chance to share my adult life with her . . . . It didn't seem fair that my own mom never got to share the delight of grandkids with her mom.
Grandpa's passing marked the end of an era. He was the last of my grandparents, the last of my kids' great grandparents. His passing, therefore, had somehow awakened a sense of loss connected with each of my grandparents. Yet it also threw into greater relief the season in which Jamie and I now live. It's a season of great change, transition, and excitement. Our kids are growing, and while our nest is not empty, our birds do have nice, strong wings. And boy are they eager to use them.
Yet even here I have discovered an unexpected flicker of grief. It's the grief that comes with change, the grief that comes over remembering what once was and what can no longer be. For over 21 years my life has been devoted primarily to motherhood. And, while I will never stop being a mother, I grieve over the ways in which my role has changed. My kids don't come running up to me with fist-fulls of dandelions anymore. They don't beg for another reading of Goodnight Moon (which I still have memorized). They don't shout from outside, "Mama! Come watch me!" (Yet, thankfully, nor do they holler at me from the bathroom.)
Yesterday, as I was walking the pond, I listened to Emily P. Freeman's podcast of the week. The topic was remarkably poignant and timely: Hold Space When Someone Dies. As I circled past the towering foxglove and cheerfully nodding daisies, I wondered if I had "held space" for my grandpa, if I had taken the time to pause and grieve in a way that brought a sense of peace to my heart.
I then recalled the Psalm I had read the day after Grandpa's death. It was Psalm 100, a passage I had known since childhood. Yet never had I connected it with death. Suddenly, it was a beacon of light: Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and bless His Name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting; His faithfulness to all generations.
I could envision Grandpa entering heaven's gates with thanksgiving. And I could proclaim in my heart that "all shall be most well" because of the Lord's faithfulness and lovingkindness to all generations: to the generations that now remain, to the generations to come. This, then, is the way of grief. It is a way that hurts, yes. Yet it is also a way that gives thanks, a way that penetrates through the tears and the ache. Whether our ache lingers over a death, a change, a loss, a season of unknown, or even if we find ourselves in a season of what seems prosaic and mundane (see: children who still holler from the bathroom), no matter the ache, we have reason to give thanks.
Finishing my jaunt around the wetlands, I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, and gave thanks for a quiet moment to "hold space" for my Grandpa, to allow myself time to consider and give name to the grief I'd held over both the expected and unexpected events, changes, losses, and transitions of the past weeks, months, and even years.
My phone buzzed and I looked at the screen. (This is the young adult phase of "kid holler.") Bethie had just picked up her cap, gown, and cords. She will graduate with honors. Later, Drew would text me, saying he got the editor position he'd hoped for . . . Aidan would pull together his paperwork, eager to dive into Running Start as a junior this fall . . . and Avery would whip up a fresh batch of cream puffs. Life continues, life is beautiful. And it's okay for a mama to "weep a little weep" of joy, even over cords and cream puffs.