She sits on the floor of her grandmother’s apartment building, looking out at the grayish sky, the wilting orange flower blossoms and the shadows all around her. Four vases full of yellow, red, pink, purple and orange flowers crowd the small living room; remnants of mother’s day and of two weeks of sleeping and sitting and sometimes talking. Grandma is dying and everyone knows it, yet she is a determined little woman and thus, no one talks about it.
Death is one of those foreseen, expected things, like the second before your child’s elbow moves the tall glass of water over the edge of the counter and you hear and feel the loud crash. You can’t do anything about it; you could wish to move faster and catch the glass, but you can’t.
Death is hard for the girl sitting on the apartment floor. It is hard because she wants to see – she wants to taste or glimpse what the end of this life and the beginning of the next one feels like. She want to know if it is darkness for a second, or if it hurts, or if you feel sad up until the end. Far too often, she feels the bite of despondency or timidity or fear or anxiety when she looks at herself or the world or the unknown. She looks at those dark waters before the promised land and she wonders how in the world she could wade across them.
It’s a strange time to be thinking of death, when all of the world around her is opening up its buds and giving life. The small ducklings can be seen around corners of trees and lakesides; their watchful mothers close by. The grass has finally lost its sallow brown coat and it is green with life. Yet here in this apartment, with the wilting flowers, and Grandmother in the next room, sleeping, sleeping, always sleeping, spring and life feel very far away.
She read Psalm 23 this week – He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul. All of that sounds beautiful and calming and peaceful. If death and entering into eternity were all of that, the fangs of death wouldn’t run so deep. But it’s just like the devil to bite and devour until the very end, as if tauntingly reminding this broken world that he is still king. Yes, he reigns for now. But not always. Not forever.
She doesn’t know if Grandma will have those quiet waters until the end, but she prays for it. Actually, convicted, she prays right now, because she realizes how little she has been praying and how much more she ought to be praying. Wet tears slip down her face and land on her computer, and she is glad that no one is near. There is a wooden face of Jesus hanging on the wall; his face turned towards her, his eyes closed and peace written over his face. She prays that Grandma would have peace like that until the very end.
Do we need to swallow all of this talk up in “Trust in God” language? We should and ought to trust Him. He is very good, the author of goodness itself. He sees little Grandma, in her faded gown, sleeping in her soft pink bed, just as He saw her in Cuba, saw her through her husband’s death and saw her sons grow up and marry and have their own children.
Yes, we should trust God and hope in Him. And when we don’t know what that means, we should go to the cross and stand with his disciples, as they watched in horrified sorrow as their friend and teacher died. We should walk over to Mary and watch her face, dripping with tears as she broke in sorrow at the sight of her son. We should then go to the tomb where He was buried and see it empty, because there is no Jesus there. All of this because He knew little old ladies like Grandma would grow up, grow old, grow sick and die. And He made a way at the beginning of time, before Eve took that first fruit and touched it to her lips. He knew little granddaughters would sit on an apartment floors, crying quietly, as He knew the whole world would be under the scourge of the devil. There has always been sorrow and there will be much more sorrow. Hearts have been broken, and they will break again. There is no denying or hiding from this reality. But though sorrow lands at the foot of Grandmother’s bed or at the graveside of a young child or around the shoulders of a brokenhearted widow, it need not stay there.
He made our bodies and our spirits and He made us to grieve and to feel and to hope and to rejoice. We feel the weight of the world, and we feel the depth of our own limits. We feel, knowing that sometimes there are no words to meet us. We know that our hearts will not be at rest until we are home. And even though the shadow of death surrounds us, and the waters are foreboding and we cannot see past it all, Jesus promises to lead us. He has gone through this life and death before us and He will be our guide even to death.
She sits and listens to the noises around her; the sound of people coming and going, coughing and talking too loudly. The shadows in the room are growing longer and the flowers seem to droop even more. The Happy Mother’s Day balloon twists slightly in the air and picture of Grandma and Grandpa still sits side-by-side on the wall.
Grandma, how loved you are.