“And she laughs at the time to come,” Proverbs 31:25
The last time I spoke with my grandma, late on an August afternoon, she had labored all day with chest pain and asphyxia. She closed her eyes for the last time just hours after we hung up the phone.
While we spoke, she marveled at the love of her family and caregivers; she blessed me and expressed her joy that I had started a new job; she said something light-hearted about her transfer to hospice; and she told me she loved me.
But in that sixty seconds she gave me, distilled, the treasures of her life: self-forgetting gratitude and light-hearted courage.
Self-forgetting. Grandma held her life lightly. Free of self-importance, she showed avid interest in the people close to her. In her last moments, in spite of her pain and anxiety, she remembered my job and cheered me on: “I am so happy for you!”
Grateful. Grandma was grateful for Every. Little. Thing. If we called her three days (or three months) late to wish her a happy birthday, she delighted to hear our voices. She kept no lists of what we had not done for her; rather, she expressed effervescent gratitude for any gesture of affection or care.
Light-hearted. Grandma had a playful courage. When she came to live with my family in 1988, she had recently lost her marriage, two daughters, and a granddaughter (One daughter and her granddaughter were murdered; another daughter died of pneumonia; and perhaps as a result, her husband spiraled into the most extreme bi-polar behaviors.)
My grandma tossed aside this tragic narrative and took a clowning class; she presented herself at church, at the park, at family gatherings, as “Patsy Late-Bloomer”—in full clown regalia. Years later, after she moved into a nursing home, she sent me a hand-written “advertisement” for Staffholdt Good Samaritan Center, calling it the Last Resort Hotel. One morning, mysteriously paralyzed and struggling to even open her eyes, she joked, “I am dying to see Jesus.”
She punned and laughed her way through grief, loss, war, uncertainty, disability, and the indignities and frailties of aging.
But I can’t miss her Courage.
Grandma suffered in her last years from partial blindness and deafness, frequent bouts of paralysis, pain, and collapse, and the uncertainty of not knowing how bad her physical struggle would get before it ended.
She laughed, “I’m having another M.L.A!”(“Momentary Light Affliction” 2 Co 4:17). She put her losses on her imaginary “It Doesn’t Matter List”—a list she didn’t write upon the things she had to relinquish, a list she didn’t put in a place in she couldn’t find. She let everything go—driving a car, sleeping through the night, walking to the bathroom alone—with a little laugh. I marvel at her light-hearted courage. And I know her bravery emanated from her confidence in Jesus’ love for her.
She knew he forgave her many regrets and that when all the M.L.A’s had passed, He would take her home. She gladly gave Him her life, her dignity, and her failing body, trusting Him for future joy.
So she could laugh, forget herself, show avid interest in those around her, pray for her entire family by name using the alphabet as her prompt, and face diminishment and death with a wink and a joke.
I will never be as funny as my grandma, but I hope when my body fails I will learn, by the grace of the Lord, to hold myself lightly, to age humbly and light-heartedly, to be so grateful for everything that no one ever feels guilty about me, to show tireless interest in everyone near me, to pray without ceasing for those I love, and to smile and laugh to the last of my days, trusting my Heavenly Father with all my heart.
Thank you, Grandma, for your legacy. I miss you. But I imagine those near you in God’s Kingdom today delighting in your funny puns, and the Father Himself laughing with joy over you.