Monday, June 25, 2012

Margaret Pratt

The evening of June 20th, perhaps late enough to be called the early morning of June 21st, after the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, Margaret Pratt passed from this life and returned home to the side of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She was 80 years old, and had been suffering a great deal following a protracted battle with cancer. Three years ago, the doctors told her she had 6 months to live, but she continued to survive, and to thrive, up until the day she couldn't anymore. She passed peacefully, having been surrounded by her family for weeks on end. 

Margaret Pratt was my grandmother, and I was blessed enough to be able to spend the last few weeks of her life by her side. In that time, I learned more about faith, what it really means and what it really looks like, than I had ever known.

I have known people of great faith throughout my life. I have known rabbis and priests, nuns and ministers, Christians and Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and pagans, all with their own take on what it means to be faithful. With my grandmother, I realized the difference between someone professing their faith, telling you about their faith, and someone showing you their faith. She always held on to everything I wrote and encouraged me to write more, so, I'm going to write about that. About her. I don't know if I can aptly put it into words, but I'm going to try.

Before she died, I went to a number of sermons, and as is usually the case found that the Lord had put me where I needed to be. The things I heard all seemed to illustrate a fundamental point about the life of my grandmother. I'd like to share a few stories from that life, how they tie into the services I attended, and how, at the end of her life, she showed me what true faith really means.

Margaret Pratt was born Margaret Casey in the Bronx, on October 15th, 1931. She was one of eight children born to Martin and Dorothy Casey, a pretty standard Irish Catholic family for the times. Those times also happened to be the Great Depression. So when she was 5 years old, her parents decided that they couldn't care for their children any longer, and the best chance they had of not starving to death was if they gave them up to the orphanage. 
It only took her oldest brother, who was probably about 10 at that time, a couple of days to decide the orphanage wasn't really his bag. He ran away in the night, followed the Hudson river back home, made it to his grandfather's house and filled him in. Once Grandpa Casey found out his grandkids were in an orphanage, he was about as fond of the idea as they were. He hitched up his horse and wagon, rode down there, and brought all of them back home.

The family still had to be split up for awhile, and Margaret went to live in Brooklyn with some relatives. Eventually though, they all found their way back to the family farm in Schuylerville. She loved living and working on that farm. Even if her siblings didn't like the work or were just too lazy for it, nothing could stop my grandmother from getting out there and working the field.

I don't know if I can put enough emphasis on that fact. My grandmother loved working. She loved working in the dirt and soil, getting her hands dirty, being out in the sun and making things grow. Every time I came to visit her, she had something fresh from the garden - radishes, corn, onions, cucumbers, green beans, always something - that she had grown herself, ready to eat. When she didn't have work to do in her own garden, sometimes she would drive over to my father's house and weed his garden. She loved work, she respected it and embraced it, and that ties in to one of the sermons I talked about. More on that later.

Margaret was 15 years old (though she lied and said she was 18) when she met a handsome older fellow who looked like, if he were in a suit, he might have stepped out of an episode of Mad Men. Vladimir Karapetov Pratt had, at that point, already fought his way across Europe in World War II, and when he came home to New York he had his eyes set on Margaret. As he was a dashing man-about-town, he quickly swept her off her feet, but their parents had other ideas.

Vlad was a Methodist, and when word of their romance started going around, Martin Casey found Vlad's father, Clayton, at a local bar and made it quite clear that his daughter wasn't marrying some "Protestant bastard." The response from Clayton was that his son would never marry a "Catholic whore."

And then a fist fight broke out.

When it was over, Margaret and Vlad were told they were not to see each other again.

For a long time, they didn't. They'd attend the same dances and catch sight of each other, but not speak. Friends would update them occasionally on what the other was doing, but by and large for months, maybe as long as a year, they remained apart.

Until one night when the phone rang at Margaret's house. Vlad was on the other end.

"Be ready to go out tonight. I'm going to come pick you up at 7, and no one is ever going to keep us apart again."

And for the next 60 years, no one ever did.

Vladimir K. Pratt and Margaret Casey married, and stayed married until . . . well, actually, I guess now they're together forever. And no one will ever keep them apart again.

And yes, my two great-grandfathers once got into a bar fight with each other. I wonder what the wedding was like.

(Consequently, I've been told that after it was all settled, my great-grandpa Casey came to love his new son-in-law and they became lifelong friends, so that worked out.)

My grandparents settled down in Victory Mills, a town named for, owned, and operated by the enormous mill which employed all of its inhabitants. Both came from large families, and wanted to have children, but it seemed that was not to be. The doctors told Margaret she might be too frail to ever conceive a child. But she was determined to be a mother, and she prayed with all she had that the Lord would make it so.

I read a book recently with a section entitled "Be Careful What You Pray For," but regardless, her prayer was answered, and my father was born.

If there was anything she loved more than working in the garden or my grandfather, it was children - specifically, her child. This is the first place where I can really illustrate the faith my grandmother exhibited throughout her entire life.

1 Corinthians 13 says the following:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 

But the greatest of these is love.

I was taken aback once when a friend of mine told me that in watching me, she was reminded of this passage. It seemed a rather amazing compliment to give someone. I can safely say, with no hesitation or reservation, that this verse sums up the love my grandmother had for my father. Certainly she was a beacon of love for all of her family, her numerous nieces and nephews, and her grandchildren, but it all began with her son, my father, Vladimir James Pratt.

Their story is a long one, and for another time, but it can be summed up best by comparing it to that verse from 1 Corinthians. My grandmother had high expectations for my father, ones which he could not always meet, some he did not try to. She never wanted him to join the army and go away, but he did. She never wanted to see him divorce and remarry, not once, or twice, but four times, but he did. She wanted him to be a better Catholic, but he became more spiritual than religious. She remained a liberal Democrat throughout her entire life, he grew into a staunch conservative. She wanted him to take better care of himself and his appearance, but he never cared what others thought about his looks.

But she was never disappointed in him.

I don't know if that lesson ever really sank in before very recently, when 1 Corinthians 13 was pointed out to me. She was never disappointed he was her son. She never said an unkind word about my father to me, only the occasional prayer that he care more about his own health. When my dad was at the lowest point in his life, my grandmother's door was open to him, and she took him in. No matter what differences between them, no matter how different the path he took in life was from what she envisioned, what was most important was that she loved him. She loved him unconditionally, the way you imagine a fairy tale to describe the love a mother has for her child. It was not a fable, though. It was faith.

She left it in the hands of the Lord. She never held on to any of the things he did wrong. She always held on to trust in him to do right for himself. She protected him when he needed it, persevered when times were difficult, and always, always supported him, whatever decision he made, and simply hoped good would come from it. She gave my dad her love and her support, expecting nothing in return, and trusted that Jesus would guide him where she could not. He was her son, her only child - there was nothing he could do that would make her do anything but love him

Today, while he still cares little about his outward appearance (which did bother my grandma to no end), to say my dad has turned his life around is an understatement in the highest degree. While his own effort certainly is to thank for that, I don't think it unfair to say he owes a debt a gratitude to the prayers of his mother, as well.

Certainly I was blessed enough in life to have a mother who exemplifies the kind of love a parent should have for their children. My mother is amazing, but if there is anyone to compare to her, it's my grandmother. I will also say this. Whenever I brought up to my parents the idea that I wanted to one day be President of the United States, my mother would roll her eyes in a long-suffering way and change the subject. My dad would chuckle a bit, and then start telling me everything that's wrong with liberals.

My grandmother, and my grandmother alone, told me to go for it, because she knew I could, and encouraged me to be the best there ever was. As good as or better than her favorite President, Franklin Roosevelt.

And I will, grandma. I promise.

And I will love my children the way you did yours.

Living with my mother as I did, often on different sides of the country, I never saw my grandmother much growing up. We'd talk on the phone occasionally, and she would inevitably say something about Jesus and the Bible, but being young as I was I never paid it much heed. Religion was certainly always a part of my life, and especially growing up in an interfaith household (my step-father was Catholic, my mother Jewish) I was assured and felt comfortable in the fact that one way or another, God was with me. But ours was a Christmas/Easter/Hanukkah household. I certainly knew OF the Jewish High Holy Days, and observed them every so often, but attending regular mass or going to temple wasn't much of a priority back then. I certainly didn't have a lot of ground at the time to relate to my grandmother, who never missed a day of church in 80 years and knew the Bible backwards and forwards.

I believed in God and loved Him. I even believed in Jesus because I held up the story of His birth, crucifixion, and resurrection and decided that could co-exist peacefully with what I believed about Judaism. I did not, however, really understand the difference between belief and faith. Honestly, as a teenager, I didn't care much, either. I was prone to believe sentiment about faith being for the stupid or weak. I knew God was out there, but didn't need Him to tell me who to be. No, I had my own ideas, and would live my life my way. Grandma was crazy, going on about Jesus all the time, needing Him like she did.

Time eventually proves we were all idiots as teenagers, and I'm no different. Faith did not make my grandma who she was, it made her greater than who she was. She did not count on Jesus to make her a whole, single person. She was already whole, and He stood with her and made her more. She surrendered to Him, and He became her ally for life.

I'm sorry now that I didn't understand that lesson. There was a lot I didn't understand until my grandma showed me.

The week before I finished my first year at law school, I came back upstate for a weekend to drop a few things off at home. My grandmother was mostly bedridden at that time, still living in her own house, being watched over by friends and family. I came to visit her and found her asleep, but she woke up when I entered her room. I hadn't told her I was coming - she was no longer really able to take phone calls - and she was surprised and excited to see me. She insisted that I have some macaroni salad, no matter how many times I told her I wasn't hungry or would have some later. ("David, there's some macaroni salad, you go get some to eat." "Oh, okay grandma, I'll get some later, I'm not really hungry right now." "Okay. Go get some, it's downstairs in the fridge." "You got it, I'll get it soon." (My cousin Tommy comes up the stairs) "Tommy, go get David some macaroni salad."). 

I really don't like macaroni salad, by the way.

But then Tommy left to run some errands, and it was just grandma and me. So even though she only had the strength to get out of bed for a few minutes a day, she chose to spend those minutes with me. She got out of bed, led me downstairs, and told me to come outside so we could sit in the sun. We got out a set of lawn chairs and we sat and talked. It was a beautiful day outside.

We spoke about the future, about my goals for the next year and beyond, and what I wanted to do in the law. We spoke about family, and the children I will one day be blessed with. The topic soon turned to faith, and the importance of making sure it gets passed down. I told my grandmother that, insofar as faith is concerned, whether they're Jewish or not, I wanted my kids to be just like her.

She liked that. A lot. And I meant it.

Soon, however, it was time for her to go back inside and rest. We talked briefly by the stairs to her bedroom, where she confessed she had always been jealous of my Grandma Fran for getting to spend so much time with me growing up. She was happy, though, that we got to see each other now. We said goodbye, and she went back to bed. That was the last time I saw my grandmother in her own home.

When I finished my finals a week later and returned, the amount of care she required meant she had to be moved to the Hospice house where she would spend the last month of her life.

My older brother and I were going through our grandmother's house, looking for precious artifacts of memory. The treasure trove of family photos she had was beyond belief. Pictures of her family dating back to the 1800s. Every picture of my father ever taken, every report he ever brought home from school, every postcard he ever sent, every letter from my brother while he was away in the army, everything I ever wrote or drew - my grandma saved all of it.

My brother focused on the photos, and a few other pieces which symbolized a great number of memories of the time he spent with our grandma. I took only two things - a book on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Pratt family Bible.

Now, the Casey Bible is a great, sprawling tome, but the Pratt Bible is a very simple, New Catholic Version of the sacred text. The spine of the cover is coming apart, but the binding is still strong. The edges of each page are golden, and they still gleam after six decades since the Bible was given to my grandma. The pages themselves are filled with notes about the family, daily prayers on small cards, observances for specific family members, and pages dedicated to each birth, marriage, and death. 

I'd like to talk more about how just having that Bible has affected me, but that's a topic for another time. I've begun to study it though, really study it, which is primarily the reason I've been going to mass and listening to sermons in the first place, but I learned my first lesson from it without reading a word. I had never, before holding this Bible, seen the discrepancy in size between the Old Testament and the New. I'd always imagined them to be equal in size, but the truth is that the New Testament is barely a third of the overall text of the Bible.

Over two-thirds of what I always espoused to believe, probably closer to four-fifths, really, my grandmother believed in as well. Furthermore, as I would soon learn, the core of both religions is not similar, not identical - it is the same. Judaism and Christianity both beat from the same heart, and I feel small and foolish for not realizing that my grandmother was telling me that - showing me that - sooner than I did. It took one of our final conversations for that veil to be lifted.

I learned three more lessons from my grandmother while she was lying in that bed. This was the first, and how I learned it.

I was sitting in the Hospice house, Mary's Haven, with my Aunt Rose, grandma's sister, and Ann, my grandma's best friend since they were both in kindergarten, and my grandmother in bed. The women in the room represented, combined, more than two centuries of living in the Church.

As is often the case with the generation that came before us, the conversation was eventually steered towards when I was going to get around to making a generation to come after us. Religion was just being discussed as my Aunt Rose queried me about my Jewish faith, and so that was brought in to the topic as well. I had been thinking about it a lot, especially about my grandma and her relationship with my father, and I told them what was on my mind. That I wanted to be like her, and like my own mother. No matter what my children grow up to be, I will be there for them every step of the way to love, support, and encourage them. And if they end up believing something I don't, going down a path I didn't want for them, then I will continue to love them unconditionally, and support them in all they do. I want a lot of things for my children - many, many things. The list goes on and on. At the top of it, however, high at the top, is just to make sure they always know that no matter what, they are loved.

The three women in the room nodded appreciatively and agreed as Aunt Rose told me "That's what it's all about, David. Because love - more than anything - Love is the greatest religion of them all."

And that's when I finally got it.

All the times my grandmother would talk to me about religion, even when she started talking about Jesus, she would always acknowledge my Judaism. She never called on me to convert. She never disparaged my beliefs. She would talk about how the things she believed all came from the our holy book (though she was never clear on the name - "It's just like in your, uh . . Korah." "Torah, grandma." "Yes, the Korah." "Torah." "Quran?" "Old Testament, grandma.") and that Jesus Himself and all the apostles were Jewish. The Bible is a book written by Jews, about Jews. She referenced the Ten Commandments even more frequently than she did Jesus. 

Of course it was important to her that I understand as she did the love that Jesus offered. Far more important than that to her, more important than anything, was that I understand that my faith and hers both came from the same source - love. She was never afraid of Judaism (well, to be fair, she wasn't afraid of it once she got used to the idea that there were Jews in the family now, and then went out of her way to learn to appreciate it), she just wanted me to have faith like she did, and accept the love of God like she did, and not be afraid of Christianity. It was never about the Church; my grandmother had frequent disputes with the Church whenever they did anything contrary to what she knew was right, and threatened to leave it several times. It was just about faith. Real, honest faith. 

Faith in what Judaism and Christianity teach above everything else; the Lord loves you. Accept it, return it, and love one another as well. It's not about the rituals, it's not about the words, it's about love. And don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

The second lesson came just a week later. My grandma was close to the end at this point. My older sister had flown in from Florida to be able to see her one last time, and we were there with my brother and our dad.

I sat by my grandmother's side as we talked idly around her. She could no longer really take part in conversation. Her pain medication dulled her mind, and the cancer had taken all her strength.

It had been close to two weeks since she'd eaten anything. 
Her voice was weak and her hearing almost gone. 
She didn't have the strength to move herself out of bed or even lift a glass of water, the only way she could drink was through someone holding a straw close enough to her.
She had to be turned in bed occasionally, and could not move to prop herself up unless she lifted by somebody else.
And then, on the television, which was tuned to the Christian Evangelical network, the Our Father prayer, the prayer given to the apostles by Jesus, came on.

This is the complete Catholic version, the prayer itself and the embolism, followed by the Apostle's Creed, which aired that day.
Our Father, 
who art in heaven, 
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. 

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For the kingdom,
the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever. 

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles;
I leave you peace, my peace I give to you.
Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom
where you live for ever and ever.


I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. 
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. 
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. 
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. 
He descended to the dead. 
On the third day He rose again. 
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. 

And my grandmother, who could not raise her voice
Or move her body
Or at times even focus her mind
My grandmother raised her arm and crossed herself when the prayer began, and then held out her hand and got her rosary beads from my older brother. She held on to them, counting each Hail Mary that followed. Never taking her eyes off of the screen. Never missing a word as she mouthed each prayer.

I attended a sermon recently where the topic was strength, or rather, the lack of it. Weakness, in our society, is often looked down upon. We aren't supposed to need others. We should be able to do things for ourselves. Asking for help, asking for instruction, asking for guidance - these are signs of weakness. The strong do for themselves, and the strong are the ones in charge.

No, the priest corrected, that's not right at all. It is those who are weak and look for strength in the Lord who receive real strength, from the source of all strength. Those who know they are never alone, who always have someone by their side, helping, instructing, guiding; those who acknowledge their limitations but let Him into their lives - they are the truly strong.

My grandmother had never been weaker, physically, in her life than at that moment. But she needed the strength to do what she had to, and she received it.

I was in awe of that strength.

The Our Father, or the Lord's Prayer, is one of the most frequently repeated prayers. I know a lot of people who can recite it from memory. It's a point of pride among some people to know the prayer by rote.

My grandmother did not memorize it. She internalized it. She represented it. She lived its message and humble requests every day. She never said it because it was a thing she was expected to do. She had faith in every word of every line and knew it to be the word of God.

Another service I went to focused specifically on just one line from the Our Father - "Give us this day our daily bread." This was a lovely sermon, focusing on how important and meaningful that one simple line is. First, the prayer is not "Give me this day my daily bread," it is give us this day our daily bread. The emphasis on those words, plural rather than singular, tells us that we're all in this together. We don't horde the blessings of the Lord. We don't expect Him to just bless us, just provide for us, just take care of us. We are all His children. If He gives to one of us more generously than another, then that one should use what he has to provide for others so they don't go without. When you do this, the pastor giving the sermon advised, what you give away comes back to you in ways you never expected.

Don't be stingy with the Lord's generosity, don't expect Him to only be giving you your daily bread when you're in abundance, and He'll make sure you're taken care of.

This is not to say that the Lord is going to provide a lot for a few and expect them to take care of the many. No, the pastor pointed out, the Lord appreciates those who work. Jesus Himself worked as a carpenter. He dignified work, He honored work. My grandmother did the same.

And she never wanted anything excessive. She seldom ever even wanted more than she already had. To those in need she could help, she gave whatever she could spare without expecting anything in return. She received her daily bread, and, finding herself in abundance, did not horde it when there were others she could feed. She worked, she earned, she gave, and at the end of the day, the Lord always provided for her. She never took more than she needed, but she always had enough.

There's another line a lot of people I know don't seem to really take to heart. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

This is a hard one for a lot of people. Forgiveness doesn't come easily for many. For some, time can heal even the most serious offenses. For others, even slight indiscretions are never forgiven.

My grandmother never begrudged anybody anything. At her most fed up, the worst that would happen is that I'd hear her call someone an "idjit." Or, if they were being really stupid, a "dang fool." Things happened that she didn't agree with, people did things she didn't like, but she always forgave and moved on. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" was not just something she said. She recognized that she was not free from sin and asked for the Lord's forgiveness, and knew from this prayer that asking it meant not withholding her own from others.

Without the embolism, the Our Father makes two requests of God. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Simple phrases, and simple requests, but profound in their meaning. Both also have another implication - we need help from the Lord. We request our daily bread from him just as we request his forgiveness for our sins. These are things we cannot do on our own. That's not an easy thing to really take to heart in a world that teaches us to do for ourselves, that reliance on others is weakness.

Seeing my grandmother there, seeing the light come back into her eyes as she became engrossed in the prayer, I saw no weakness in her reliance.

So I had learned that the point of all faith, the basis of all faith, is love. Later I learned that opening yourself up to that love gives you strength you never thought possible. 

Combining these two lessons, and the stories from her life, and finally listening to the things she had been telling me all of my life, I reached the final lesson my grandma had for me. I was about to be gone for the weekend, but before leaving I stopped by Mary's Haven again to see her.

There was barely anything left of her at this point. She was just skin and bones wrapped in blankets. When I came into the room, I kissed her and held her hand, and then sat down beside her bed. We were alone, all her other visitors having been expelled to let her rest.

"I love you, grandma," I told her. "There's something I really have to say to you."

"What do you need to say?" she asked me.

"I wanted to thank you, for showing me what true faith really is."

Her hand suddenly tightened over mine. The strength of her grip was surprising. It was not the grip of an 80-year old woman on her deathbed. 

"What is it, David? What's true faith?" The excitement in her voice, the urgency, was more than I'd seen her display in weeks.

"True faith is trust. It's trust that the Lord and Jesus love you, and have a plan for you. That you just live your life to the best of your ability, and they'll take care of the rest."

I'd like to describe the look of happiness, of joy, that came to my grandmother's face. I don't know if I can, though. I just know I'll remember it for a long, long time. There was one more sermon I listened to that can perhaps do a better job of giving the impression of it. This one I heard over the radio, from a priest whose voice was just made for the medium. It was really the best way to hear this one about Psalm 23:2.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul;
         He guides me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I fear no evil, for You are with me;
         Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
         You have anointed my head with oil;
         My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
         And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
The priest reading the psalm pointed to the literal translation of the first line - "he makes me lie down in tender grass." He wondered how the psalm could project such an idea of comfort and tranquility - "tender" grass - when so often things seemed so rough. Rough things happen in life, and it seems like the comfort, the peacefulness promised by this passage are impossible to attain. Nothing is ever really "tender."

But then he related a story about a member of his staff who went to watch a goldsmith at work. The goldsmith loaded the raw ore into his vat and turned up the heat. As the ore melted, impurities rose to the top, which the goldsmith scraped off. He then turned the heat up higher, and even more impurities rose from the melting ore, and again the goldsmith scraped off the slag and turned the fire up even hotter than before. Finally, the goldsmith looked into the vat of liquid gold, leaned back, a contented look on his face, and said "it's done."

"How do you know?" the member of the priest's staff asked him.

His answer was "I know it's done when I can see my face reflected in the surface of the gold."

And that, the priest explained, is why so often things are rough. We face hardship, we go through the fire, to rid ourselves of our impurities until we reach the state we were meant to be in - where we, through ourselves, reflect the Lord. When we can do that, when we wear off our own rough edges, we will see that we are made to lie down in green pastures, in tender grass.

That was what I saw when I looked at my grandmother that day. I saw the reflection of the Lord.

And she said to me, with that unbridled joy and love on her face, "That's it, David. That's true faith. I love you. And Jesus loves you. He does."

I gave her a hug, told her I loved her, and left to catch my train. That was the last time I ever spoke with my grandmother. Within the next few days she lost the ability to speak altogether, and fell into a coma-like state.

A few days later, I had a dream. I was going to Mary's Haven to visit my grandmother, but when I got to her room, she was sitting up in bed. Her face was vibrant and full of energy, and her hair was no longer white, but a soft brown, and growing darker and thicker by the moment. Outside in the hallway, I could hear people talking, and it seemed like they were talking about her.

"I can't stick around here," she said as soon as I entered, tossing her blankets aside and getting out of bed. "Can't you hear? I've got people to talk to, I've got places to go!" And with that she marched out of the room and into the hall, leaving me there, and was gone.

Shortly after that, I got the call from my father that she had passed.

My older brother repeated a saying to me during the time we were there with our grandma. You can judge how well a person lived by who's there when they die. I think that's a statement we should all consider - who we want to have with us at the end. As for my grandmother, the staff at Mary's Haven told us that in all the time they've been there, taking care of people close to death, no one had ever had as many visitors for as long a time, and ones that came back so frequently, as my grandmother. Relatives came from all over the state, from Florida and Alaska, from my grandmother's family, my grandfather's family, cousins and nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters - no one connected to Margaret wanted to let her go without paying their respects, without getting a chance to say goodbye.

As I write this, I have just come from her wake. All those same people who made long trips out to see her before she died made another trip out to see her again today. It was beyond standing room only. The line went out the door, the procession was constant.

My grandmother knew that every day, in every part of her life, the Lord was with her, and He loved her. She shared that love freely, and just as He promised, it came back to her. And her cup runneth over.

I can't possibly tell all the stories of my grandmother's life. She was the only one of my grandparents to graduate from High School. She frequently surprised people - including me - by quoting Byron or Tennyson or Shakespeare. She had the entire monologue from Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet memorized, and could quote any part of it or all of it at any time. She loved the theatre, and loved seeing anything I or anyone she knew was involved in. She was a women's rights activist at a time and in a place where no one else knew what that meant. She was a strong, vibrant, kind woman, overflowing with love. She was quiet, humble, intelligent, funny, devout, and knew what it meant to truly have faith.

The world was richer for having had her, and richer still it will be should the lessons she left behind be remembered and passed down.

And now she has been called home, reunited at last with my grandfather, at the side of Jesus Christ, until He comes again and she lives eternally.

Goodbye, grandma Margaret. I love you. 

Rest well.

I would like to say one final thing before the end of this. My grandmother died of cancer, a terrible illness which has touched the lives of practically everybody in some way. It has claimed the lives of both my grandmothers and my grandfather. Friends of the family have had to go through terrible ordeals because of it, and my own mother recently had a scare which, thankfully, turned out to be just that - a scare.

As I mentioned, my grandmother was a phenomenally energetic woman. She was always working out in the yard, planting or harvesting, mowing the grass on her riding mower - the day I came to visit her at her house, when she could only manage to stay out of bed for a few minutes, she still took the time to grab a watering can and sprinkle down some of her flowers. A couple years back, after she'd already been diagnosed as terminal, she took a trip to Alaska to spend time boating around and fishing with my cousins. She was sharp-witted, never out of things to say, and always ready to whip out either a joke or a proverb as the situation demanded. She could lecture on politics and philosophy as easily as she could talk about local gossip.

Cancer wasted her away to nothing. She was a skeleton in a bed. The pain took away her ability to eat, and the medication she took for the pain gradually stole her focus and her mind. She died with a great deal of dignity, but it was still tragic what that disease did to her body before the end.

My grandmother smoked for decades. She gave it up a long time ago, and she ate healthy food and maintained an active lifestyle, but it caught up to her eventually. Sometimes you can't avoid it - sometimes cancer just happens. There are a number of people, though, people I care about, I see needlessly increasing their risk to develop this terrible illness. People with a great deal of strength and great intelligence whom I see smoking, or overeating, or doing other things to elevate their risk.

I'd like to not see anyone else suffer the way my grandmother did. There are numerous sources of information available online about ways to lower your risk, and I'd encourage everyone to take at least a minute or two to look them over. It can only help, and I'd like all my friends and family to stay with me as long as possible.

Thank you. Good night, and God bless.


Miasma said...

I am grateful you wrote this and shared your insights on love with the world.

I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved Grandmother. May she live forever in the light.

I had a dream last night that I saw you, and then joined a funeral procession for both of the grandparents I lost in the past 3 years. Anyway, the dream led me to this blog post and exactly what I needed to hear. Your comment 'the Lord had put me where I needed to be' describes daily life, as lived reaching out for God.

During my Grandpa's funeral my mother spoke for her father-in-law, saying he exemplified the meaning of life, which is to give and receive love.

You've written a beautiful post, and an honoring tribute to your grandmother.


Miasma said...

I am grateful you wrote this and shared your insights on love with the world.

I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved Grandmother. May she live forever in the light.

I had a dream last night that I saw you, and then joined a funeral procession for both of the grandparents I lost in the past 3 years. Anyway, the dream led me to this blog post and exactly what I needed to hear. Your comment 'the Lord had put me where I needed to be' describes daily life, as lived reaching out for God.

During my Grandpa's funeral my mother spoke for her father-in-law, saying he exemplified the meaning of life, which is to give and receive love.

You've written a beautiful post, and an honoring tribute to your grandmother.