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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tender Life Lessons

A couple weeks ago my parents joined us for the wee ones' Saturday soccer games. Between the two games we had just enough time to give our patronage to Small Town Pizza Joint. The conversation turned to Great Grandma H, who turned 93 last November. Dear Dad offered the information that she is not doing so well, has really lost quality of life the past year, and has begun to comment that she is "ready to go 'home'." It's been a year and a half since Dear Husband and I and the kiddos have gone to visit her eight hours away at her assisted living facility, but Dear Daughter remembers the visit well. I talked some with Dear Dad about what I might be able to mail her to lift her spirits, and then the conversation was lost as we moved on from pizza for lunch to the final soccer game.

Later that day, I was working out in the garden, pulling the weeds and preparing it for the new spring planting. Dear Daughter came out to join me with her shovel, proud that she had figured out how to "chop a box" around the weeds, thus being able to pull them up, roots and all. As we worked in the warm spring sunshine, Dear Daughter's wheels were turning, as they so often do. "Mommy, that's really sad about Great Grandma-that she is sad and wants to go home. But I can understand why she feels that way. I mean, she has been at the nursing home for a really long time, and I can understand why she wants to go back to her old home." Clearly this had been eating at her since she overheard the conversation over pizza a few hours earlier.

I was moved by her interpretation and felt a bit sadder myself as I realized that I needed to explain further to my sweet daughter. "Well, Honey, Great Grandma didn't mean that she is ready to go to her old home...." ( I try to find sensitive, but more accurate wording) "...Great Grandma meant that she is feeling ready to go 'home' to be with Jesus." A long pause followed. Dear Daughter stopped digging and leaned on her shovel as the realization sunk in.

"But why, Mommy?"

"Well, Sweetie, she is just getting really tired and worn out now that she is 93 years old. She can't see very well anymore, and she can't hear very well anymore, and her back hurts her all the time because of her Osteoporosis, and she can't move very well, and she doesn't always remember stuff very well anymore, and...well...imagine how it would feel to just sit in your chair all day and not be able to hear, see, or move or think real clearly anymore. She's had a long, good life, and her husband, Great Grandpa, has been with Jesus for ten years already, and she's just ready to go there, too. You know, in Heaven she won't be so tired and sore and she'll be able to hear and see and move perfectly. So you can imagine, can't you, why she might be looking forward to just going to be with Jesus where everything is perfect?"

Long pause.

"Yeah, I guess I can understand that. But it still feels sad that she is feeling that way."

It was one of those hard facts of life that I rather hated for my tender child to be learning, but from which I knew I could not shelter her. This is my last living grandparent, and her last living great grandparent.

We silently, solemnly went back to our weeding.

"You know, since you are learning to write letters properly in school, you could write Great Grandma a letter any time you would like. And she would love to have a picture to go with it. And I plan to pick up some chocolates next time I go to the store. She loves chocolates. And we can mail all those things with some pictures of you and Zach's soccer games to her. I know she would like that!"

Dear Daughter lifted her face to look in mine. The cloudiness began to fade from her eyes as the sparkle returned.

"That's a good idea! I think I will go write her a letter right now!"

And away she went indoors to work for the next hour on a letter about her little seven-year-old life and a picture of a horse galloping gaily in the springtime. I assembled the package over the next couple days, with the chocolates and photos that I promised along with her letter and picture. I let her write the address across the package in her neatest not-quite-eight-years-old scrawl, and put her return address in the corner. And then she was okay again for a little while.

Later that evening after the lights were turned out at bedtime, we had one of those times that we contemplated the meaning of life as we snuggled closely under the blankets in her narrow twin bed. "I still feel sad about Great Grandma and how she is feeling," her little voice trembled in the darkness. And we talked about it some more, and what it all means, as her tears fell and she sniffled in the dark, and then my tears fell and I sniffled, too.