So, my grandmother died almost two weeks ago and I have been too busy to truly process yet. Today's post will be a bit of that.
This might sound strange but I am 32 years old and my grandmother is really the first death of a family member that I was close to that I have experienced. My grandparents on my father's side either died before I was born or lived too far away for me to truly get to know. My paternal grandfather died when I was 7 and I only have a few clear memories of him. But, my grandmother has been a part of my life since my birth.
Alberta Springfield was born March 18th, 1908. That's right folks, she was 100 years old when she died! She lived pretty much her entire life in Cincinnati, OH. Her father went looking for work in the early 1930s (of course she was already in her early 20s by then) and never came back, leaving her, her younger sister Georgette, and their mother to take care of each other. My grandmother embraced that role which is why she didn't marry until after her younger sister had and Alberta could be sure that Georgette was secure.
She ended up marrying a man from Alabama who had moved to Cincinnati to work for the railroad (a good job that was deemed necessary to national security, thus keeping him out of WWII). They had 4 children (my mother being the third and the youngest girl). My grandmother was an extremely religious woman. I know that in the present day and age the term "religious" is more often than not used as a negative word, but she truly loved her God and sought to serve in whatever way she was gifted.
Growing up, my parents both worked (well, at least my mother always had a job and worked) so my sister and I would go to grandma's house after school nearly everyday until I got into high school and started playing sports. I remember getting there and her having a snack of apple slices, fig newtons, or maybe even some vanilla wafers and milk ready for us. We would settle in to watch some Thundercats and He-Man (then She-Ra came on so I stopped watching and started either doing homework or playing cards with grandma). Later, she even started preparing our brown-bag lunches for us each day. Her house was on the way home for my mom so she would pick up the lunches the night before. My grandma really took care of us.
She had an enormous impact on my life. I will always cherish the times that I was able to sit and ask her questions about her life. I interviewed her for a paper in middle school on the Great Depression (I wonder if I will ever be interviewed by a younger relative about living through a similar time...) and got an A on the paper because of the amazing detail she provided. She was already a very old woman by the time I started forming concrete memories. She was 40 when she had my mother and my mom was 29 when she had me... a 69 year gap between us. She taught me how to play Canasta (my wife thinks she taught me how to cheat at it but that is just because Kristy is really bad at Canasta), she showed me that grandparents can be indulging to a point, and she showed me that God really can give us the strength to overcome.
One of the strongest memories I will always have of my grandma was how she quit smoking. I remember one day when I was 8 or 9 (she would have been 77 or 78), she finished smoking her 3rd pack in one day. It was right around the anniversary of her husband's death so I am sure that had something to do with it. She realized how addicted she was to those things and decided she was done smoking... she never smoked again! This was one of the strongest women I have ever (and will ever) known. When I was in high school, I asked her about it. She told me that whenever she started craving a cigarette, she simply prayed. Mostly the rosary or pre-written prayers, but she gave that craving up to God... much like a fast. Probably the most valuable lesson on prayer I have ever gotten.
I remember when her mind started slipping. It was scary and strange to see this woman who had always been so sharp start to forget and fade into daydreams and mix them up with reality. It was little things at first, but it eventually got to the point where the woman I had known was pretty much gone. The last 10 years or so of her life were spent in this cloud. It was heart-breaking to watch. I cannot tell you how many times I asked God why she was still here. All of her friends had died. Her sister had died. Her children had all moved away (except for my mom). She could no longer care for herself so my parents bought the house from her and moved in so that my mom could take care of her (which she did for the next 9 years). I began to try to find reasons that God was keeping her body alive. Maybe this was a lesson to me and others on how to truly love and honor our parents. Instead of just sticking her in a home, my mom dealt with frustration and heart-ache for nearly a decade just so that she could make sure her mother felt loved... even if she didn't recognize her own child anymore. Maybe it was practical since my parents and brother sort of depended on her social security check to buy food for all of them.
I think both of those are true in a sense. I also think a powerful third reason exists. Even though Alberta couldn't remember her own children, where she was most of the time, or even her own age (she would regularly get up in the morning thinking that she had to go to school) she could always remember how to pray. I was shocked one day when I went there and saw her in her bedroom with EWTN (the Catholic channel) on. The program was a Latin Mass and my grandmother knew every word... in LATIN! She never forgot how to pray her rosary or did she ever stop whispering her personal prayers to the Lord. If EVER there was an example of "pray continually", it was my grandma.
Just 5 days before she passed, she broke her hip. No one saw how it happened and the theory is that she didn't really fall, but that she stood up and her 100 year old hip just crumpled to pieces. The doctors said it was not worth it (I don't like that phrasing but I can't think of another way to say it) to do surgery. So, they tried to make her comfortable, they gave her pain medication, the nurses visited with her regularly, and my mom's office is in the same complex as the hospital so she visited her every day. They said that because she was going to be laying down all the time now, her lungs wouldn't last long. They lasted nearly 5 more days. Alberta Springfield died at 5:30am.
I am reading a book right now called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. In it, he argues that most Christians today don't ascribe to historical Christianity's teaching about death, life after death, and resurrection. He articulates a lot of what I had been learning through personal study. The hope of Christians is not that our souls would go to heaven to dwell with God in some spiritual realm for eternity. The hope is that death is truly vanquished. After our bodies die, our spirit either enters into some sort of sleep, goes to some sort of waiting area, or perhaps even does dwell with God... but for a limited time. Because, in the end, God will raise all of the dead ("resurrection of the flesh" is one of the last beliefs stated in the Apostle's Creed) but with perfected bodies. God will create a new heaven and a new Earth (and a new Jerusalem) where we will live for eternity in our uncorrupted bodies, in full fellowship with each other and with God. My grandmother prayed the Apostle's and Nicene Creed on a daily basis. This is what she believed and I know that this is where she placed her hope. Someday, I will see my grandmother again, but not as some glowing spiritual being. I will see her as she was meant to always be. Her mind will be sharp again and her body will be strong. She will be funny and insightful as well as able to run and jump and roll on the ground in laughter without any thought of her hip ever breaking again.
I love my grandma and I miss her. Even though she had basically been gone for 10 years, her death really solidified that for me. I can't wait to see her again and I thank God that her pain (physical, mental, and spiritual) is now gone and her hope is all the more closer to becoming reality.