If I cannot bear to be like the father who did not soften the rigors of the far country… then I know nothing of Calvary love.Amy Carmichael
I have seen enough of death to know that sometimes things get easier when a person dies. It’s just the truth. But then there are some people, a certain type of man I think, who, even though he suffers long and hangs by a thread, as long as his heart beats, he holds the world in place. He is feared and respected as long as he breathes. My grandfather, emotional and silly as he was, was a man like that, and nothing, nothing got easier when he died. Four years later, we are still suffering from his absence. Just a few moments of him here with us again would part our troubled waters, but this cannot be.
Our favorite dog, in the last few years of his life, would have days when he was mostly normal except he couldn’t lift his head. We called it a head’s down day, and we were all a little sad on one of those.
When my grandfather left this old world, as he often teased he would, he left my grandmother to head’s down days. There are some people who just need someone else, plain and simple. Need is not the same as love, but I think to be happy to both need and be needed by someone makes up a lot of our love in the long run. She needed everything he was. She needed someone to decide what was right and who was right. She needed someone to hang up the phone. She needed someone to roll his eyes and shake his head. She needed someone to wink and say Ree baby, why don’t you come on over here. She would run from him most of the time, but he was also the one she would run to.
I just don’t know anything anymore, she said. And when I do know something, I know it’s not right. I tried to imagine how this might feel, and it was truly the worst feeling in the world. We would have done all we could to spare her from this. Even now, we imagine sometimes we still can. But as she is dying by living into her limits and frailty, so are we. We cannot fix this. The best we can do is stay with her, whether she knows we’re there or not.
The good thing about being raised a Christian is that the Scriptures easily come to mind. The bad thing is that you can suppress them as old news, a flippant answer, as so many cliches. It is hard to know if you should bring them out in suffering or not. And so I think the Lord sometimes must bring us to a point where it’s simply all we have. We reach back and pull them out. We smooth the pages and shine a light. We read now like a traveler reads his map.
So I found a notepad in her house and in big print, dividing the letters equally with the blue dotted line between the two solid ones, just like she used to do for me, I wrote the verse from Philippians 4: The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
She read it many times. The peace of God, she said.
She loses papers easily, but that verse has stayed around her little white recliner for weeks now. She had gone over the words with a pen. She has written beside them:
God is near to the brokenhearted.
It is not my place, nor in my power, thank goodness, to keep her from this truth, but I know I will try again and again, for her and for many others… And I will learn it myself in the trying, for we are not given two heavens, but one, and we are a long way yet from there.