There is a time for everything. Ecclesiastes is quite clear on that. It’s comforting. Knowing that there are good times and bad. Especially when the bad times hit – knowing there will be good times just around the corner. But somehow the bad times still hit hard. They knock the wind out of our sails. And we are tossed around at sea.
That’s how it felt. Three years ago today. When I woke up to learn she had left us. It was not something I could believe. It was not something I wanted to face.
Immediately my mom packed up the car and headed north. We, my dad, sister, and I, stayed behind. We fielded phone calls. We hosted relatives needing a place to crash before trekking up north. It started to become more and more real. My cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in years, stayed over one night. She came with her family – three kids and husband. While I was helping set up a make-shift bed for my cousin’s youngest, she innocently looked at me and said that they were on their way home (ironically they had just visited my grandma and were half way home) but they had to turn around because “Grandma great died.” I cried when she said those words. Sweetly and child-like.
The drive up to the northern Minnesota town was uneventful. I’m not sure what music I had on my iPod. I don’t know what books I read. I have no memory of that. I know we stopped at the town we always stop in for food. McDonald’s somehow satisfied our appetites.
Pulling into Grandma’s town was tough. The city limits welcomed us. We turned at the McDonald’s. Residential streets came into focus. We were getting closer. But I felt like we were getting farther away. I’d been through this before – the death of a grandparent. Still, nothing prepares you for the emotions and the feelings you feel when you actually step out of the car at what used to be your grandparents’ house.
Just like always. It was there. Tiny and tidy. It was there. Cars and cousins. My dad parked in the front. We walked down the back path. Past the front window where the Christmas tree sat for all those Decembers. The house smelled the same inside. My relatives looked the same – older and sadder – but the same. I cried. Hard. It hurt to hug everyone. But it felt like the safest place in the world – in the arms of my family members. I walked through the familiar house. Past the couch and Grandma’s chair. Past the spot where the family albums always sat. And I made my way to the corner chair – the chair that was moved every year at Christmas time to make way for the tree. I sank down into the plushness of the chair. The view was one I was not expecting, but I knew it was there. From the chair, I had a straight shot of Grandma’s room. I saw her bed. Her bedside table. Her Daily Bread and Bible. Her cane by the entrance to her room. An aunt came to hug me. She asked if I wanted to take a rest on Grandma’s bed. I shook my head no. And cried some more.
Slowly, as more relatives arrived, the tears subsided. Our hugs continued to offer strength and comfort. Yet, at the same time, it was hard to feel comfort knowing that I had no grandparents left on my mom’s side of the family. Aunts and Uncles planned the ceremony. Pictures were scattered across the kitchen table. Music was arranged. Food was set up. Programs were printed. Everything was planned for the funeral.
The night before the funeral, we had a family-only visitation. Tough. More cousins showed up. More hugs. More tears. More memories.
One of my cousin’s little kids viewed the casket with my Grandma’s body resting inside. She cried out “Wake up, Grandma Great.” So precious. So sweet. So innocent. So something I wanted to yell out as well.
Grandma’s familiar church was full of relatives and friends the day of the funeral. I cried a lot. Everyone cried a lot. The sight of Grandma’s siblings – my favorite Great Aunts and Uncles made me sadder than I realized it would. Cousins and Great uncles shared stories of Grandma. Wonderful memories. Celebrating her life, we said goodbye and in our hearts promised to stay close – to our Maker and to one another as family.
This past weekend was a big one. It was our family reunion. Time and effort was poured into planning it. Pictures were snapped left and right. Hugs were exchanged all over the place. Kids, my cousin’s kids, ran wild and free. Times have sure changed. It used to be me and my cousins running around. I used to go first in the food line cause I was the “youngest.” Funny how that works.
As with our time with Grandma, our time together this weekend was too short. We ended with a short Sunday service. Singing songs. Reading Words. Praying prayers. We reflected on our family. We thanked God for our family. We remembered our Grandma and our Grandpa. So close to Grandma’s “home-going anniversary,” she was fresh in our thoughts.
It is not August 11, 2007 any longer. We’ve survived without Grandma. She raised us that way. We’ve stayed close to one another. She wanted it that way. It’s a battle – the whole staying close thing. It’s something we have to want. Something we have to fight for. We’ve only got each other. We’ve only got the time we’re given.
So we’ll make the most of it. We’ll laugh more. Cry more. Call more. Facebook more. Pray more.
Right now is not a time for leaving. She had her time for leaving. Right now is a time for loving one another. We’ll have our time for leaving. And when we do, we’ll have a time of arriving. The arriving is what makes the leaving so worth it.