Grief. It’s hard. There are so many stages of grief that it’s hard to keep track of where you are in the process…you just know that you are wrapped tightly in the greatest emotion you’ve ever faced. Pain. It’s real. Very, very real.
I remember the first time my tender heart ever experienced the indescribable feeling of grief. I was 16 years old on a warm day in March when my life long friend went home to be with Jesus. I still remember perfectly the way she smelled and the look of her hands. Her hands were fragile from the work of life and I used to trace the veins on top with my fingers. My hands are slowly turning into hers and I will gladly treasure them as they do. She was my “sweet little Granny” and I affectionately called her that with a soft pat on the top of her head. I stayed with that woman for weeks on end every summer for as long as I can remember and we spent our days fully living the most marvelous life. We spent hours fishing for bream and I always sat on the tank in the middle of the boat. My sweet little Granny always wore long sleeves in the heat of summer and a trucker style orange hat so that she wouldn’t burn. She continually baited my hook and exhibited the uttermost patience when my line got stuck in a tree, again. She made me pancakes and eggs cooked over-medium every morning of my visits and we sometimes danced in the kitchen to old records while she cooked. Patsy Cline quickly became one of my favorite singers because my Granny talked about her like she had known Patsy her whole life. Our afternoons together were spent eating frozen peach yogurt, working cross word puzzles, watching Days of Our Lives, checking out books from the local library, visiting her friends at the church, and vacuuming the carpet so it had fresh lines that you didn’t dare walk across with your shoes on. I spent as many holidays and weekends there as I could too and learned so many of life’s lessons with her by my side. I learned that you never touch a skillet when someone tells you it’s hot….because it’s hot! I learned that cheese and crackers eaten on the couch, where we weren’t allowed to have food, would cure even the worst of tummy aches. I learned that love is worth fighting for and that people will fail, but you love them anyway. I learned to read my Bible because she read hers and I learned that you should always go to church, even on the days you don’t feel like it. I learned that when you get old you forget which books you’ve read, so you should mark your initials on the corner of the first page so you don’t read the same book twice. I learned that mayonnaise will take out water rings on wooden tables….yah, really! I learned how to tell good stories because I always loved to hear hers, especially the one about how she got the scar on the inside of her leg. I learned that if you don’t have the money to buy someone a really nice gift, you should spend time making them something because they will appreciate the time and effort you put into it. I learned that you should brush your teeth for 3 minutes before bed and apply face cream to keep the wrinkles at bay. I learned that if you’re on vacation and forget to pack underwear your Granny will come to the rescue, even if they’re not very stylish. I learned to lock my car doors immediately and to never leave the screen door open. I learned that loving someone means sacrificing everything for them, even the last piece of chocolate cake with buttermilk icing. I learned that sitting on the floor beside a burgundy rocking chair thumbing through the dictionary can be one of life’s most treasured memories. I learned that love is real, life is hard, people are strong, and that my Granny was always proud of me and never afraid to say it. I learned that most of life’s lessons are not taught by the things we say but by the way we behave because people are always watching…I know I sure was. My Granny was a firecracker of a woman who stood under 5 feet tall and had a tender voice that you should never underestimate. She was a safe place for me to escape the world and just be Dani…no expectation, just lots of love and acceptance. She was the greatest gift of my childhood.
I remember perfectly the day she died and could recount every moment of that day if given the time. She had just gone through open heart surgery, recovered mildly, and suffered another heart attack which caused her tender heart to fail. The night before her surgery she told me in the most innocent and humble voice “I just want to be home by Easter”…and she was. She was home with Jesus. But I was still here, without her. I had lost the most generous person I ever knew. My heart broke and I cried tears too many in size and number to count. I felt the most real pain imaginable and knew she had always tried to protect my heart from hurt. I was sad. Broken. Lost. Afraid. Alone. And I didn’t know what to do.
The days without her grew into weeks and months and then the years began to scroll by all too quickly. I reminisce about her often and visit her grave each time I’m home to ensure that it is clean and pretty flowers are on display, that’s the way she would’ve wanted it. I remember her best when I make eggs for breakfast, dance silly in the kitchen, sing an old familiar tune, pick up yogurt at the grocery store, fish in the light of the afternoon, and when I show kindness, love, graciousness, generosity, and hospitality….because that is who she was to me.
My days since then have not been absent of grief and we have said goodbye to many of our closest loved ones. In ten years of marriage, I have stood by my husband’s side as he lost his dad, his aunt, his brother, and his grandmother. Today he stands by my side as I have lost my Uncle. My Granny’s only son. My mom’s only brother. The best looking, camouflage wearing, bowlegged walking, dimple sporting, long haired, hunting man in the South. He was a one of a kind person and I’ll never forget his smile. He, much like my Granny, was a tender hearted person with a tough exterior that you knew you didn’t want to mess with. He was a man of few words unless he had something to say…I like people like that. He was a fighter and he gave cancer a run for its money. But today, he’s healed. Today, he’s beat cancer. Today, he’s with my sweet little Granny. They are home together in the presence of a loving and kind Savior.
I’m grateful today for the scripture that says “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8). I know today that my Granny is not alone; my Uncle is not alone; my mom, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my siblings, and myself….we are not alone. The Lord has gone before us and we have nothing to fear. Death is hard, like rod iron against the concrete hard. Grief is intense and is something you never get over but you learn to get through. But… love is strong and will endure it ALL. God’s love for us sent us a Savior, who beat death and defeated hell so that I wouldn’t have to be alone on earth or in eternity. I know that nothing “neither life nor death…can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). So when you can’t choke back the tears any more and all of the mascara has run down your face, just remember that Jesus is the only hope we have and to Him we must cling tightly. In the sorrowful, confusing, and lonely days that lie ahead He is where we must focus our eyes and find our strength. He is the answer to our grief, our fear, our sorrow, and our pain. God is love and love is strong and will endure it ALL.