The End and The Beginning. My Grandmother Part 5

*Written and shared at my grandmother’s memorial service

September 21, 2008

Cozy “Memaw” Morrow 10/5/17-0/17/08

When I was a little girl  we lived in a small house with my grandmother. I can remember times of waking up in the middle of the night. It was dark, quiet and very still. Not unlike most young children, I was afraid.

Memaw’s room was at the other end of the house from the rest of us. It was a long walk in the dark for a 4/5-year-old. It required walking down the hall and through the kitchen where there was a furnace in the floor with a grate over the top of it. Down under the house were all of my childhood fears. I knew with certainty that this hole in the floor was their entrance into our house.

But if I could cross over that abyss, her room was right around the corner. I remember lying there in my bed calculating the cost of making the journey. Was the end result worth the means  it would cost me to get there? The answer was yes. Because on the other end, was my Memaw.

It was her in her soft cotton nightgown that smelled of lavender. It was her with a  full, squishy grandmotherly embrace.  In her room, the morning always came. Where I was going was worth the scary, dark  journey to get me there.

I have always had my grandmother. She was a constant presence in my life and more accurately described as a parent to me, but with the knowledge of having her came also an early realization that she could be lost. I knew she could and would one day die and leave me alone. Unable to process such thoughts, I would dismiss them.  In that deep fear, I sadly made her larger than life.

This notion was easy to oblige simply based on the sheer determination of her will, the gentleness of her spirit, but mostly due to the well of faith in which she drank. Who was the woman whose life we are celebrating today?

From the perspective of the one she referred to as the ‘little one,’ she was a wife of one, a mother of three, a grandmother of five, a great-grandmother of eight, a friend to many, and a Memaw to hundreds.

She was my roommate from the time I was 11yrs old till I went away to college where she and I would argue constantly over the use of the telephone. Her having more and longer conversations than me as a teenage girl.

She was a basketball buddy.  She would tirelessly rebound shots for me out in the driveway, coach me on free throws, and she could stay up believing in the victory of the Boston Celtics or the Carolina Tarheels long after I had lost hope and had gone to bed.

Memaw was my math tutor, easily doing my high school math equations that I was at a loss to begin. She even understood SAT math which to this day is something I cannot comprehend.

She was a shrewd and diligent grocery shopper. She was able to stay under budget as church hostess for years by scouting out prices all over the area, yet she managed to feed everyone to their fill for Wednesday night suppers and for the school and day care five days a week.

Even when she was relegated to riding around in a motorized cart due to aging, my oldest daughter commented that Memaw could still beat her and my mother to the check-out counter on their weekly trips to Harris Teeter.

She was a chauffeur, a cheerleader, a cook, a counselor, a nurse, and an encourager to all of those who were fortunate to have her in their corner. But as my uncle and I were discussing the night she died, there were so many people who loved her and in which she gave of herself.

There were many in this church whether adults or children who received from her, yet there was, miraculously always enough to go around.  I remember early on hearing children my age calling her ‘Memaw’ and wanting to fight every one of them to prove the point that she was in fact MY Memaw and not theirs.

Shortly after feeling an immediate surge of jealousy and possessiveness, it would fade and then did fade forever because after about six or seven years old, I never doubted her affection for me and just how much I meant to her.  No matter how many lives she taught and touched in Sunday school, no matter how many long drawn out adult conversations she had sitting at those tables in the gymnasium- and they did go on forever-, no matter how many children insisted everyday of running up to her during lunch to give ‘their’  Memaw a big hug, it did not take away from how much she loved and devoted herself  to her family. Even two weeks ago, I told her that I loved her. She responded, “I love you too, Carrie. I love you all.”

On a deeper, more personal note, she was an orphan. She was a little girl in an orphanage who often times went to sleep with the pains of hunger. This is something that I want to emphasize about my grandmother. Is it any wonder at the economy of God who would take those moments of loss and use it to fuel a desire for that little girl to turn into a woman who committed her life to feeding us whether in body or in spirit?

She lived a painful reality in those early years and God used that redemptively in her life, allowing her to experience fullness to her emptiness as she fed on Jesus and then served Him to others. Besides her love and fierce commitment to individuals, this is what defined her life.  So whether it was a pound of spaghetti and a yeast roll lathered in butter, or a chicken patty sandwich or a word of encouragement, or a quiet prayer on your behalf, you would never leave her presence empty-handed.

She was also tenaciously tough.  As a testimony to her spirit that was imprinted deep in my heart and mind a few months before she died, I had a dream of being in her nursing home room. I crawled in the bed with her; it was dark and quiet with a pale soft light. As I layed there she began waving her hands as if she was swatting away a bunch of flies.

I looked up and there were angels coming down to take her up. And I whispered, “Memaw, those are angels.” And she said with all reverence, “I don’t care who it is, I am not ready to go anywhere, yet.” When I woke up after I had called mom and confirmed that she was still here, I just had to laugh.

And this is what made my last few weeks with her so heartbreaking, beautiful, and life changing for me. Like I shared in the beginning, she was larger than life to me, and I honestly had convinced myself that she would live forever. I was still much a child in this notion. But there was no denying or overlooking that fact that she was becoming weaker and was unable to get better.

Two weeks before she died, I went into the nursing home to say good night. She had just come under hospice care. I was astounded at the change in just three days. I broke down and began weeping at her bedside, because I could see that she was leaving us. I felt an overwhelming urge to yell out and beg her to make me ok with it. To get her, as always, to make me feel secure with her strength.

But the Lord impressed upon my heart that night to give her a gift. My last gift to her which was to allow her to be human. To allow her to be weak, unsure, and weary. So, when I sat with her the next day, I told her how much I loved her, how thankful I was to be her granddaughter, and in spite of my own heartbreak that it was all right be weary.

I was able to return her 34 years of selfless acts to me with just letting her know that I would miss her so deeply but that it was ok.  And so, my life had truly come full circle from when I was a little girl.

Only she was the one having to make a journey into the darkness, wondering if what awaited her would be worth all the fear of taking the first few steps.

But she was not alone. She had her faithful children. Her son who would hit HWY 40 and head east when she needed him to bring a warmth that only a son can give to his mother and maybe even a broiled fish plate from Captain Steve’s or fried vegetables from Gus’.

She had her daughter, a constant companion over the years who would bring her coffee in the morning loaded down with her favorite International delight French Vanilla creamer and would also bring her home on the weekends so that she could still make banana pudding and wash dishes.

There were the five grandchildren who never lost sight of her impact in their lives.

The wonderful staff at White Oak Manner in whom she had crept in a captivated their hearts in her three years there with her outlandish spunk and humor, particularly her day time aide, Gertrude who would often come in on her days off toward the end to try to help her eat a bit.

The nighttime nurse Ilene, who would come in with medications, run her hands through Memaw’s thick beautiful hair and take all kinds of jeering from her on how nasty those concoctions were that she made Memaw drink for stronger health.

She had her pastor who visited her often, sometimes with a chocolate milkshake from Zack’s that she relished. And finally, but not exhaustively there was her loving extended family and her devoted church family paying visits to bring fellowship and music to her, because she was no longer able to get to them.

And so, I am very proud of her because she did it. She made the long walk through the valley of the shadow of death. She is now with her husband who died when I was a new-born. She is there with friends and siblings who went before her.

But mostly she is in the presence of her savior who undoubtedly said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful server.” She is in a place where the night never comes. And I truly believe she is happy, because she told me so the day before she died after about three hours of silence.  I know that she is either swimming, diving, fishing, or playing basketball. Or maybe even serving up some baked chicken, ham biscuits, and chocolate pie.

But what I do know for certain, is that she is no longer here, and I will look forward to the day when I see her again, not simply as her “little one” but also as a sister.

Puppies in Heaven: My Grandmother, part 4.

On September 16, 2008, I was asked to sit with my grandmother for the day. My mother, who had rarely left her side, needed to finish up some things at work, and my uncle was en route  from Albuquerque, New Mexico to be with his mother in her last days.

I got to the nursing home a little after lunch time. She was asleep and wouldn’t respond to me. I held her hand and said her name, but her sleep was too deep to hear my words or feel my touch. I sat down in the chair beside her bed and read my book. She was so quiet.

After about two hours of silence, I became very afraid…like a child in the dark. I didn’t know what to do. I began praying Psalm 23 over and over again to myself. Then, I took out my Bible to read the Psalm, filling in the parts that escaped me. I needed to hear words from someone. I needed to be comforted, because I felt so alone with the one person who was always near.

All of a sudden my phone registered a text. It was from a sweet friend who knew that I was with my grandmother for the day. She asked, “Are you alright?”

I responded, “I am just praying Psalm 23 until I believe it’s true.”  She told me that she and her husband were praying for me, and that I was not alone.

I took my Bible out again as the tears ran down my face. I felt so little again, trying to get to her when I was afraid.

And then it happened. It spoke to me. It spoke to me in ways that my grandmother could not.

I got a highlighter out of my purse and began marking the words.


Psalm 37 “The one thing I ask of the Lord– the thing I seek most is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.  For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me. My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds……”Lord, I am coming.”***

The words poured over me, and I felt better. I was more at rest. So much so, that I picked up my book and began to read.

Another 30 minutes passed. All of a sudden, my grandmother cried out….”Oh, I’m SO Happy!!!”

It startled me. I jumped and turned around not knowing what just happened. She had been silent, save her breathing for four solid hours. Then, with her eyes still closed she said it again.

“Oh, I’m SO Happy!!!” I went over to her and called her name. “Memaw,” I said, “Can you hear me?”

She didn’t respond. Then she said, “Oh, I’m SO happy!!”

I said, “Memaw, Are you So happy?”

She said, “Yes Ma’am.”

I called my mother and put my grandmother on speaker phone.  My mom left work immediately.

I went and sat by my grandmother’s side and held her hand. Then prayed, Psalm 23 out loud. over and over.

She then called out, “Oh, and I found my Puppy!!”  “I found my puppy!”

I began to cry and laugh at the same time. I had tears in laughter. It was such a striking contrast. My heart was breaking, and it was also rejoicing. Out of all the things she could have said, this brought me the most comfort. I love puppies, and I loved that she was happy.

“Memaw, did you find your puppy?,” I asked.

No response.

My mother came in, and we both just sat with her. My mom said earlier that morning, my grandmother told her, “We’re going to miss you.” Meaning, they would miss each other.  Memaw didn’t say anything else. Ever. Again.

The next day, she left this earth. My mother, my uncle, and myself were there when she took her last breath.

Never before had Heaven felt so near. And, I am happy to be confirmed in my suspicions that there will be puppies there.

***here are the other verses that He gave me.***

Psalm 22:24 “For He has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy, He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.”

Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 25:4-7 “Show me the right path, O Lord, point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.”

You have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; or abandon me. O God of my salvation. Even if my mother and father abandon me,(My grandmother was an orphan) the Lord will hold me close.

v. 10 Lead me along the right path.”

Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

Psalm 30: 11-12 “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks…forever.”

The Final Chapter and The Good Shepherd: My Grandmother part 3.

**If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, then you are aware how my home school curriculum works. By that, I mean that I follow a teacher’s manual that tells me what to read and when.

If you are unaware of what I am referring to, then you can read:

The Divine Chuckle or Setting the Record Straight.**

Two years ago, this week, my grandmother was in her last days on this earth. I did not know it then, but her life did feel very fragile to me. She was responding less and less and no longer eating.  I remember being very overwhelmed with the unknown’s of death. I had a lot of questions. Childlike questions. What would it be like with her gone? What should I do in these last few days? Are these the last few days? How can I tell? Does that even matter, really?

How does one prepare for the loss of someone who has had a huge impact in their life? So, much so that you were convinced they were immortal because you could not fathom their absence.

Whether I was prepared to answer these questions didn’t really matter because we were encouraged to bring in Hospice to aid the family with her care. The end was drawing near, and even her friends were coming in to say their good-bye’s.

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience in a world I neither welcomed nor understood.

I decided to go ahead with our schooling as much as possible. I would spend time with my grandmother every day, but try and stay on track in the unknown. Besides, sometimes when you are lost, it’s best just to stay put. And routine is a blessing.

That fall, we were studying the ancients with My Father’s World Curriculum. They assigned some read aloud’s early on in the school year that did not seem to fit into the larger scope of our learning. Usually, our fiction has to do with the time in history that we are studying.

I would come to find out in the last week of my grandmother’s life, that God is often about the small, personal details as well as the bigger picture.

My girls and I were reading a book together by Patricia St. John called The Tanglewoods’ Secret. I had never heard of this book nor the author, but just opened it up a few weeks prior to my grandmother slipping away, and read our alloted pages. That week, the book took a serious turn with one of the characters.

Terry, a young impoverished boy whom the main characters, Ruth and Philip, had befriended had fallen out of a tree. It seemed through our reading that he would recover, but as we read this week two years ago, Terry began to question whether he was going to get well or not. He was suffering and in a lot of pain.

Here are some excerpts from the chapter I read five days before my grandmother died.

Pg. 144 The Tanglewood  Secrets

“Ruth,” said Terry suddenly as we sat in the twilight, “what’s dying like?”

I shuffled my feet uneasily. “Oh, I don’t know,” I answered, “but I think it’s very nice. At least, I think it’s just like going to a beautiful places where Jesus is, and where everyone is happy. Why? Terry?”

“Because I heard the doctor in the hospital say it. He said, “It’s all up with him, poor little chap!’ That means dying.”

“Ruth, does everyone go there?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered slowly. “I think perhaps you have to ask the Shepherd to find you. I think you have to belong to him. But that is quite easy, Terry. You only have to ask to be found, like the sheep in the picture.”

He frowned. “I was a bad boy,” he admitted.

“Ruth,” he said at last, “where’s the picture—the one you gave us?”

“Oh, you mean, my picture?” “I don’t know, Terry. I suppose your mother’s got it.”

“I’d like to look at it again,” he said. “I told Mum to take it away because it upset me to see that sheep stuck on the rocks and wondering whether maybe the Shepherd couldn’t reach it. But as it’s Jesus, I expect He could reach anywhere, couldn’t he?”

“Oh, yes,” I answered, “Jesus can reach anywhere. Nobody could stray away so far that Jesus couldn’t bring them back.”

“What I’d like would be a picture of that sheep after the Shepherd had picked him up, when he was safe in the Shepherd’s arms and being carried home. “I’d really like that.”

pg. 150

It was a framed picture of a meadow full of clean white sheep all walking one way and nibbling the grass as they went. In front of them walked a Shepherd with a crook, and in his arms lay a little lamb, peacefully asleep.

“Where’s He carrying him to?” Terry asked.

“Home, Terry,” answered Mr. Robinson.  “Safely, through each day until they get home.”

“Where’s Home?” went on Terry.

“It’s the place where the Shepherd lives and where we see Him face to face,” Mr. Robinson replied. “Shall I read you something about home Terry?”

The boy nodded, and Mr. Robinson took his New Testament from his pocket.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

“No more pain! That would be brilliant,” Terry said.


I caught sight of Terry’s face. It was even whiter than usual and all twisted up with pain. I wriggled nearer to the bed and took hold of his hand.

With a sob he said, “I wish I could go to that place where there ain’t no more pain.”

Philip and I were very upset, for we had never seen Terry like this before.

Philip had never prayed aloud before, but kneeled by the bed.

“Dear God, please take away Terry’s pain. Please make him well soon. Amen”

We looked at Terry and his eyes were fixed on his picture which hung just above his bed.

There were many footsteps around the house that evening, but no one heard the feet of the Good Shepherd when He drew near and picked Terry up in His arms.

Before the sun had risen again, while the stars were still high in the sky, Terry left his twisted, suffering body, and all his pain, behind him forever.

The Shepherd had carried him home.”

When I finished reading that assigned chapter, I had tears streaming down my face. I did not pick that book to read at that time. I did not know it was about a young boy who would die the same week as my grandmother.

It was a gift from God, beginning to prepare me as the Good Shepherd was drawing nearer to my grandmother. To my ‘Memaw.”

My Grandmother: part 2

“It’s not the cleaning I’m after….it’s the sweeping” Part 1

This is the journal entry from the evening I referred to in the previous post about my grandmother. I’m not sure what I want to call the series, but I think it is good to remember when your heart is longing to do so. Even if it’s a little painful.

Sept. 4 2008(two years ago today)

I went to see Memaw to say good night. My mother said she was not doing well today.

I am so glad that i did. She is in such a state.  As I walked down the hall in the nursing home, I wondered how many times I had made that trek in the last two years. Not nearly as much as my mother or uncle. She’s rarely without company.

Tonight that hall way went from being despised by me with its horrible smells of aging that are undeniable, to being one i desperately clung to for support and encouragement when I saw that my grandmother’s door was closed.

Why was the door shut?! It’s rarely shut. I was a little panicked at that because she has been going down hill since last month, but I was relieved when I knocked and saw the nurses head peek out.

She was weighing memaw.  When I asked the results she said it in such a way that felt defeated. 109 lbs. She is still losing weight.

As I stood outside, waiting, I could see into the room across the hall. The woman that was in the NH due to a stroke. It made me squirrelly; she was so young.

I thought of all of the people who have died since my grandmother has been a resident.

It hit me, that once so full of spunk, she has now become “one of those people.” She has become one of those people where you walk pass her room and feel such a sense of despair. of hopelessness. of discomfort with the painful reminder that we all will have an end that we cannot control.

It makes you want to look away. To pretend it’s not the way it really is. Now people pass her room with the same look that I would give others when I scooted by pushing her around in the wheel chair.

But all of those stories. All of those people. It can’t be hopeless, it can’t be meaningless.  They all had lives and have stories that matter.

And for memaw, the end means freedom. Freedom from a body that doesn’t work anymore. I keep trying to tell myself that she is preparing for a home-coming. But then, why do I feel so afraid?

These are  not things we can make sense of, we can only receive what the Lord has to show us in it.  My hands are open to receive from you, Lord. Help me to stay connected til the end. Help me not to be afraid. Help me not to run away, from her going away.

I sat on her bed and held her bony hand in mine. Mine that looked once again like a child’s hand in her own. How many times have I needed her hands? To take care of me. To help me with my math. To make us dinner. To drive me to practices. To buy me things that only a grandmother can be manipulated into doing so. To think that soon I will no longer have access to them.

I sat and looked at her face. Her head was cocked back and she was asleep. I could see her face at rest, I mean in the final rest. This was totally different from anytime before. And I started to cry.

What is it like to be a month away from your 91 st birthday,  and know that you may not make it to that? To see and sense, that you are on a threshold of some sort.  I swear, she has always seemed immortal to me. Or maybe it’s just what I needed to believe.

She woke up for a moment and told me that she was tired. It pained me to do so, but I told her it was alright to be tired. She’s worked her entire life, never allowing herself to rest. Some people just need our permission. I gave her mine. And she smiled.

I told her that I loved her. And she said, “I love you too. I love you all.”

And then she fell back asleep. It was dark.

I said a quiet prayer. “Thank you Jesus, for all of those years. For honoring my little girl request that she see me grow up. That she meet my children. For giving me so many more years than I hoped for.”

**we had two weeks left with her. she taught me a great deal in those final moments.**

Go in Peace.

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”  Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings.

Three years ago today on a Wednesday afternoon, I sat with my grandmother and her two children as she drew her last breath and left this earth. I did not know that she was going to pass away on that day. I just knew that it was going to be soon. It was two weeks before her 91st birthday.

She had been rapidly declining over the previous weeks, and my mother called to say that the medical staff had begun to administer morphine to keep my “Memaw” pain-free. The end was drawing closer, so I went to say goodbye.

I sat by her bedside. She was unresponsive except for her loud methodical breaths that echoed throughout the room. I got very angry sitting there and contemplated leaving. Instead, I just laid my head down on her bed and cried. I let all that was inside of me pour out on to her covers.

After a while my uncle and I began to talk when all of a sudden, we heard her breathing skip a beat. He and I looked at each other. I turned back to Memaw and it happened again. Then all of a sudden, she took one last deep breath and then it stopped altogether. Forever.

She was gone.

All my life, I had feared and dreaded the moment when she would no longer exist. She helped raise me, and we were very close. I was not sure if I could get through the next several days.

This was compounded because most of my friends were set to leave for our churches women’s retreat in two days. Some of them were in leadership and could not miss the trip, so they would be unable to walk with me through the weekend.

I would have my husband and children by my side but not some of my best peeps. I can still hear my friend Jen saying, “Carrie, if the funeral can be on Sunday, I promise you….we will be there. We will get back for you.”

Knowing my predicament, my family gave me a beautiful gift, one of the best I have ever received from them. Since Memaw was to be buried in South Carolina on Saturday, they scheduled her memorial service for late Sunday afternoon where I would be speaking in her memory along with my brother and twin sister.

Friday morning, I sat on my front porch feeling very sad and alone. My friends were set to leave to go on my favorite weekend of the year. My phone rang and I looked to see Sydney Gaylord’s name popping up on my phone.

I answered it literally with laughter and tears, because I love how God works. We chatted for a bit and she asked me questions just like she was always so good at doing. I told her I was so sad to be left at home for the weekend. She too promised me that she would be there for the memorial service.

I was deeply touched by her call and I no longer felt so alone. Sydney was 5 1/2 months pregnant with their third child and not particularly known for showing up to places on time or when she said she was going to. So for me just to have that memory was enough.

Sunday night came and as I walked into the church with my family, I saw all the faces of the friends and people whom I loved. What an amazing gift. They were all there, some only back in town for a few hours. I rose and walked to the podium. I faced the crowd and looked up into the balcony. There was Sydney and her husband, Todd. I could not believe it.

In the weeks that followed, I found it hard to adjust to life and to grieving. I did not think as clearly nor move as quickly and would cry spontaneously in public. This is very difficult in a culture that prides itself on production and efficiency. I was struggling and one day soon after the funeral, Sydney called and asked to watch my children for an afternoon so I could have some quiet time to write.

She knew that it was hard for me to accept help, so she insisted, almost pleading that it would actually help her to have my girls over to play with her younger children. It takes a special person to spin something like that to make you feel as though you are doing them a favor by accepting their offer of childcare.

When I picked up my girls, Sydney and I  sat down and talked for a bit. I remember because she made me laugh so hard going on and on about my grandmother’s name. It was Cossetta, but everyone called her “Cozy.”

Sydney kept saying, “Can you imagine a cooler nickname!?” “I’d love to be called that.”

And then came the words I’ll never forget and have thought of several times over the past two weeks.

“Carrie,” she said, “I loved what you wrote about your grandmother for the memorial service. I wish I could have met her. I wish I could have known your “Memaw.”

Yesterday, chilly and alone, I sat by Sydney’s graveside. We chatted for a bit, and  I ended our little talk by asking her to say ‘hi’ to my Memaw. I feel certain that they have finally met one another and with further contemplation, was struck by their similarities of sheer courage and determination. I imagined the stories they swapped and shared.

Like this one….

My grandmother was in a potential life shattering car accident when I was in college. She broke several ribs and her femur when she slammed into the steering wheel.

She had to be cut out of the car that day and I’ll never forget her battered face and body when they rolled her into surgery. The road to recovery was long and very painful, but she walked it. Literally.

I remember being in the hospital room when the Doctor came in to advise the family to have her leg amputated. We declined and 5 months later, she walked unassisted into her Sunday School’s Christmas party. Sound familiar?

The day after my grandmother passed away, I went for a long run thinking about all of our years together. It was difficult loosing her, but mostly were the fears I had of the unknown of where she was.

I was trying to work things out in my mind when I stopped jogging and started to walk. It was so lovely out and you could feel the assurance of autumn in the air. The sky was so clear and blue so I just sat down and rested in the grass. That was when I heard these words speaking to my spirit.

They were “Carrie, It is much harder to be left behind than to have gone where I am now. Don’t worry about me.  I am complete now. I am whole. I am so happy. There is no “missing” here because there is no loneliness or separation.”

I knew that I did not understand all I was “hearing.” I got up and walked home feeling better and more at peace than I had in a long time because I had finally let her go.

Let her go in peace.

It is not so easy with Sydney. She was so young, vibrant and had so many full years left a head of her before the cancer came. All it takes for the tears to fall is to think of Todd, the kids, her family and her close friends.

But, as I sat there yesterday at the cemetery, I had never been more convinced that she was no longer here. The grass had begun to grow on top of her grave and soon the marker of her name and years will be settled in its place to alert those passing by that this is where her body is laid to rest. But just her body and nothing else.

Her laughter and zeal for life did not cease with her breathing, it only changed locations. And now, our friend who was SO bound and frustrated by time on this earth is no longer late for anything. What brought such chaos, hardship, and discord for her earthly life is no longer a thought or a worry where she is now.

For once in her life, she can truly Go In Peace.

“But the worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
– Frederick Buechner, The Final Beast

The Plot

Last Saturday, the girls and I packed up for a day trip to Campobello, SC in order to attend a family reunion. I remember going to this same plot of Morrow Family farm land as a child to celebrate many Easter Sundays. It’s quiet, open, and since it is nestled in the foothills, the mountains are ever before you.

I was happy to oblige and attend this gathering; they are good, cheerful people who love their fried chicken, creamy casseroles, and sweet tea. But, I had another incentive to travel that day.  3 miles from the farm is where we laid my grandmother to rest 2 1/2 years ago, and I had not been back since that beautiful fall Saturday in 2008.

I left the reunion by late afternoon and headed to the cemetery on our way out-of-town. Some parts of the drive seemed familiar and with other parts, I felt sure I had lost my way.

Being so distracted by making the proper turns, I was caught off guard by my tears as I drove up the hill that led into the heart of Evergreen.  I let them flow freely though. I miss her, and she was worth my tears of remembrance.

It is always interesting to see how children respond to their parents grief. I am not sure much else can make them feel more vulnerable and unsure. But, my kids knew that my “Memaw” was more like a parent to me and understood my heart being pierced by the loss and separation that death produces.

I gave my girls permission to stay in the van, but being team players, they wanted to help me find the family plot. I knew the general direction, but it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I was thankful the weather was so lovely as I quietly stepped over names and dates I never knew. This place is a book of stories, I thought to myself.

Young men who died in war. Veterans who came home to see many more decades. Husbands whose wives were still living out their days. Children who died too young. Babies.

Being so lost in thought, I came up on it before I was prepared.

It is difficult to put words to being stunned by something you set out to see. But, when I saw her name etched in the plot beside her husband who died 6 weeks after I was born, I broke down.

My girls pointed and sweetly said, “Mom, we’re going to go sit on that bench over there.” I nodded so thankful for them at that moment.

Grief is so strange. It can be like an unruly toddler. You never know when it will come to you. You may call on tears for years and they just won’t obey. And then at other times, they are so present that they follow you around like a shadow.

I sat down at my grandmother’s grave and tried to take it all in. I looked at her dates laid out like the first and last chapter in the book of her life. I was overwhelmed with so many stories.

Things I had not thought about in years. It was difficult to accept her as old so there was much of the early years that got shelved in my memory towards the end.

Staring at her name, I was thankful for her imperfect love of me. Her home was a haven, and I wept with all that was in me for the part she played in the story of my life.

I took in the beauty of the mountains that surrounded me and thought of the lines to my friend Matt Auten’s song, NewFoundLand. He was kind enough to come and sing it when we had her burial service. I thought it fitting since it is a song about our first five minutes in Heaven.

Singing Silence, Laughing loneliness,

Sweet joy spilling on the mountain,

Spring is springing and I am smiling.

Grace lies before me like a New Found Land.

Casting off the remnants of these dead man’s garments

now I stand to breathe morning we were meant for

Further up and in with the rising wind

I look into the eyes of Him we died to live for

Come look into the eyes of Him we died to live for…

I got up and called my girls over. They were timid, but had no reason to fear. I smiled at them at gave and them a hug. As we walked, we chatted about how difficult it can be to spend time in a cemetery. My oldest stopped at the foot of a baby’s grave who had only lived a day.

“It’s so sad, Mom,” she agonized.

“I know, honey. It’s not meant to be this way. We say that death is a natural part of life, and it is in its inevitability. But we were not designed to feel such loss. It’s why grief is real because there is a severing in the soul when someone we are connected to dies.

I looked at them both and said, “But for us, those of us in Christ, this place is not the end. It’s more of a beginning. The beginning of Our Great Story where all things are made new and whole and clean.”

I was not trying to be trite. It is not a band-aid or wishful thinking.

Being in Christ is a life-preserver and the plot of my life.

“Glory to Jesus, Ancient and Strong

Giver of love and the theme of my Song.

Glory to Jesus, Ancient and Strong

Come to your people and carry us home.”

Andrew Peterson; Behold the Lamb of God.

It’s Not the Cleaning I’m After…It’s the Sweeping

My ‘Memaw'(grandmother) would say that when I asked her why she would take the time to sweep an entire driveway and two sidewalks for it only to get  dirty again. I never understood what she meant, until now. Now, that I am an adult with lots of responsibilities and tasks to accomplish everyday, I can fully appreciate a quiet moment. I see the value in a chore that will allow your mind to wander, and be at peace.

The other night, we had a cookout for our community group at the house. Since our labrador retriever lives on the front porch, it can get nasty. I took our broom, and went to sweep the entry way and the door mat where she likes to sleep. Once I finished the porch, I swept the steps and sidewalk. Immediately,  I heard it. That even, swishing sound of straw against brick and concrete. It was like music, and my ‘Memaw’ felt very close.

I pictured her ‘sweeping’ on a beautiful fall day when I was 10 years old and waiting on the steps for her to finish.  She said that she would play basketball with me when the job was done. She was a great basketball player and athlete.  She was an old school shooter, using both hands to bring the ball up from her chest. But, she hardly missed,  a shot or a game of mine. Whether it was soccer, baseball, or basketball.

This time of year is hard. It was in early August two years ago, that my uncle arranged for her to come to my mother’s house from the nursing home for both of my daughter’s  birthday party. While we were waiting, he said that he thought it was  the last trip for her. Her last trip home. She was beginning to fade. He was right, though I was angry at him for recognizing also.

Four weeks later, my husband and I stopped by the home so that I could tell her ‘goodnight.’ It was dark as I walked into her room. She was sleeping, and changed so much in a month.  It took me longer to get her attention. She opened her eyes for a minute, and said, “Hey.”

I held her hand, and she told me that she was tired. I asked her if she meant, sleepy. “No,” she said. “I am so tired.” I said that it was alright to be tired, but internally, it was not alright. For her to be tired or old. But, giving her my permission was my last gift to the woman who gave me so much. I told her I loved her, and walked out of the room. I began to cry, and fell into my husband’s arms like a child. Like the child that I was to her.

How could I have known in that moment, that  less than two weeks later, she would be gone. I’m so thankful that I was with her often in  that last month. Even when she took her last breath and drifted away from this earth.

But, more on that later. I have some sweeping to do.