Musings from a Mourning Grandson

You’re never too old, and it’s never too late.

The pastor began his sermon with these words. It was a Wednesday morning and the pews were packed. I spent most of the service trying (and failing) to hold back tears. It was one thing to mourn the loss of my grandma. But to witness the tears and pain of my mother, cousins, and other family members left me defenseless. I wept. My grandma was gone and I missed her terribly. I still do.

And yet, despite the raw pain that inevitably comes when remembering a deceased loved one, the service was… beautiful. At least that’s how I’ve been describing it. That may sound like an odd way to describe a memorial service, but not for me. And I think there are two reasons for that.

People got to see Grandma. Now what I don’t mean is that people got to see Grandma’s body. We did have a nice photo up front with an arrangement of flowers, but there was no viewing of the body. Here’s what I do mean. Anyone who knew my grandparents knew that Grandpa had a large, endearing, and likeable personality. Everyone in town knew Grandpa (and he seemed to know them too!). But not many knew Grandma. She was stubbornly self-effacing. She shunned the spotlight and consistently turned all conversation away from herself and toward others. However, since she was not present at her memorial service, we had an opportunity to make her the object of sustained, unfettered attention – something she historically forbade. Several family members got to share memories, reflections, and words of deep appreciation and love – all about HER. I so wanted others to see the selfless, hospitable, loving woman whom I had known. And I think they did. People got to see Grandma, and it was beautiful.

But there is another reason why the service was beautiful.

People got to see Jesus. If two months ago I had been asked to guess what my grandma’s memorial service would be like, “all about Jesus” probably wouldn’t have been my immediate response. Though a believer, my grandma never talked much about her faith. And despite her proclivity for privacy, it wasn’t a huge secret that for most of her life she had carried deep, unresolved emotional wounds (don’t we all to some degree?). Many of us earnestly prayed for peace and healing; but as her time drew near, her physical and emotional pain increased, as did her fear of dying. But then something happened.

Several weeks before Grandma died, during one of my mom’s visits, Grandma said, “Karen, I know you talk to God. When you do, do you feel different afterwards?” Then Grandma added, “Everything’s different.” She then said she wanted to meet with her pastor (Mark), my mom, and her other two daughters. Within a couple days, they were all there. The following excerpt is taken (with permission) from my mom’s speech at the memorial service and describes what happened next:

With a very weak voice, she began to cry and said that she wanted Pastor Mark and us daughters to know that Jesus came to her when she was really sick. She said that she had been crying out for Pug (our Dad) – but then realized he couldn’t help her. Jesus came to her. She said that she was crying out to Him and He took her hand and told her everything was going to be ok. She said, “His hand is big. He knows everything about me – everything!” And she said, “I’m not afraid anymore. And I’m not afraid to die, I’m really not. I have peace!” As a Christian, she surrendered everything to Christ. Pastor Mark affirmed her and explained that she had an encounter with Jesus Christ. That He came to her to give her peace and comfort. That He spoke deep into her heart and she would never forget it—because it was true and real.

If you knew my grandma, you’d know that this is not the kind of story she would (or could) make up. It amazed me when I first heard it. And it amazes me still. Through the telling of this story during Grandma’s memorial service, people saw Jesus. And it was beautiful.

Michael Carlson

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