At a Thanksgiving Service last night, I thought back on this year, with all its ups and downs and asked myself, “What am I most thankful for?” I surprised myself with my response.
2010 was in many ways a successful year for me and my husband. We put up the walls and roof of our new house this year. We paid off thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt, and put ourselves in position to get all our loans paid off in six months. I directed my first musical with high schoolers and followed the Lord in leading my church on the first mission trip this church family has ever taken. The children’s ministries we’ve been working on for the past five years are finally growing, and I’ve continued to meet and befriend many interesting and even influential people in our community. Grant and Meghan moved up here this year to begin their ministry at Kernville Baptist Church and we’ve greatly enjoyed them. Anthony and I are both well-respected in our careers and it seems like everything we’ve tried our hands at this year has turned out well.
We’ve had many successes this year- but for me, it’s been a year of deep heartache. During the spring, my grandfather’s already weak condition suddenly became worse and he was put on Hospice. For six agonizing weeks, I watched him shrink as he became weaker and weaker. I watched his pain and discomfort. I watched as he struggled to maintain his dignity and composure through all the changes. And I watched as he took his last breath.
I also watched my mother and grandmother struggle to make the best choices in the midst of their deep pain. I watched them grapple with guilt, uncertainty, and hysteria. For the first time, I confronted a hard reality: everyone I know and love will someday die. In the next forty years, I will experience the death of both of my grandmothers and both my parents. For the first time, when I think about the future, I realize that Death is going to be a large part of it.
It makes me angry to watch the pillars of strength that I have leaned on crumble and fade. I want to freeze this moment in time and grasp my family and order them- “Stop getting old! Stop getting sick! You can’t leave me. I still need you.” It feels like trying to hold onto water.
Two students from my high school committed suicide this November. It ripped open the scabs from my grandfather’s death, just when time had been dulling the pain. Both students killed themselves over grief of one kind or another, and it made me realize that basically, all humans have three choices when it comes to dealing with grief.
We can choose, as they chose, to quit this life. We can choose a living death- where we let the bitterness overcome our joy, and close our hearts to keep ourselves from what we perceive to be more pain than we can bear. Or, finally, and this requires the most courage- we can embrace our grief, pray that our hearts will remain open, refuse to take the coward’s way out, and grow stronger and wiser for it.
So this year, I am thankful for my grandfather and his death. I am thankful for the pain, and for the lessons it’s taught me. He did not complain while he was dying. He tried not to lash out at the people who loved him, though he was often uncomfortable. Above all, he acted as a Christian gentleman should act. When his caregivers and nurses found out that he died- they cried with us, and I am grateful for that because it showed me that even at the end, he inspired love in the people that met him. I was privileged to watch the way that a truly great man dies.
Before this year, I had wondered if I would be strong enough to deal with Death when it finally came my way. Now I know that I will be. I will choose to walk bravely and love openly- and it will hurt a great deal. But there will be joy, too. And someday, when I am old and shrinking before my death, I pray that I will still have a core of strength, and above all, Love, just like my grandfather.