This may not make much sense, I’m sorry. My grandmother died this week. It wasn’t a shock, but it hasn’t been easy, and I can’t seem to marshal my thoughts very well.
eirene – Greek (noun): “peace”
Neck-deep in epistles, Paul’s letters, Galatians 5:22-23 from an online Bible — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Add a parallel Greek text, click and scroll down: o de karpos tou pneumatos estin agape, chara, eirene—wait a minute.
eirene. Irene. That’s what her name means. My grandma, Irene. Peace.
I was pretty small when I thought that, logically, I should like visiting Mom’s family better, because I have a cousin my age on that side, but on Dad’s side they were all younger than me. And when we went, we stayed with Grandma and Grandpa, not cousins. Why was I so excited to see grown-ups? Maybe it was because they had toys.
“Grandma was in the hospital again. We talked to Grandpa. He says she’s not doing too well.”
A message from Grandma saying she’s sorry she can’t make it out for my college graduation, on account of a second round of chemo. Seriously? Apologizing for chemo? I know what chemo does to people. I should be the one going out to see her.
Mom and Dad are going out early, before the wedding. She might not make it so long.
West Coast choir tour, all the way to Oregon: we’ll hit Dallas but not Salem. It’s about an hour’s drive between them. But Grandma and Grandpa make it there – and take me home to stay the night. A late night and an early morning bringing me back to Dallas are apparently worth it.
I’m little and it’s late. Grandma and Grandpa have just got back from a trip to China, to see where Grandma was born. Daughter of missionaries, before World War II and Mao and all that mess. The stories go over my head, but they have souvenirs for us. Of course they do. Grandma’s the one who buys me a pretty dress every Easter. Sometimes it’s the only dress I have that a cousin didn’t wear first.
Mom calls Monday night. Grandma’s very bad. Aunt Rae and Uncle Bill are staying with her and Grandpa. Mom’s crying.
Skip-bo. It’s the family game. I don’t like playing games and start opting out. But it was never about playing. It’s the kind of game where you can chat while you play. Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa play guys against girls. They tell stories and jokes. Grandpa fusses about bending the cards when they’re shuffled. Grandma teases him, a twinkle in her eye.
Tuesday night, right before choir, another phone call. Mom says she’ll call back after choir. I insist. She hesitates and gives in. Grandma died this afternoon.
My brother gets married the same summer I graduate high school. Everybody’s coming to the wedding in July. Grandma comes to the graduation in May. The audience is noisy and rude. Grandma suggests that the administration should hire bouncers. She gives me My Utmost for His Highest. I still haven’t read the whole thing.
As we drive around Omaha, she points things out. The Blackstone Building was a ritzy hotel once. She learned to drive a stick-shift at 19th and Dodge. Crossroads Mall was on the edge of town. And there’s her and Grandpa’s old house. And the rock Dad ran into on his trike.
Grandma and Grandpa visit his relatives in Manitoba. So they’re going to swing by Omaha on the way back, they tell us. It’s three days’ drive from their place to either town. It’s another twelve hours between Grandpa’s family and ours. Funny definition of “swing by”.
My friend and I sit in the foyer of the church where we practice. I cry. The choir sings a hodie. The words go straight to my heart. I tell my friend stories as the music resounds. I leave the church to a glorious roar: “Emmanuel! Emmanuel! God! With! Us!”
Every year for Christmas, Grandma made three batches of peppernuts. Half a batch went to each of her children, with a whole one for her and Grandpa. My first year living in an apartment, I get the recipe, and search high and low for the secret ingredient: ground star anise. Grandma sends me my very own stash. She’s been importing it from Canada for years.
The newspaper has a Christmas cookie contest. I write an ode to peppernuts and send it with Grandma’s recipe. Nothing happens. Then, next December, an email: “We loved your recipe and would like to print it. Can we print your letter too?” I send a clipping to Grandma. She’s absolutely delighted.
I go over to Mom and Dad’s. We talk. We look at pictures. Dad’s fielding calls. He and his brother are telling the family.
Dad’s a baritone. Mom’s an alto. My high school choir director says I’m a soprano. I’m skeptical. A first soprano, no less, she insists. Years later, when I’m in the Grace Chorale, I learn that Grandma sang the same part. In the same Chorale.
I leave my job at the bookstore. I miss it badly. Missouri has a library science degree. Could be fun. Mom lights up, tells me I should talk to Grandma. Oh right: she had a master’s in that.
Great-Grandma’s funeral. I’m nine. We’re at her house, Grandma and her siblings dividing up their mother’s things. Someone finds an old portrait. “Annie, come here! Take off your glasses.” Dark hair, pale skin, same eyes and nose and mouth. Could be a picture of me.
Grandma and I stand side by side in a photograph. I’m eighteen. She’s sixty-nine. We look like the same person, fifty-one years apart.
Plane tickets. Funeral date and time. A hymn to sing. Can I take Mom and Dad to the airport at 5AM? How long do I get for bereavement? Can I afford the flight?
When Grandma visits, she helps Mom in the kitchen. Actually helps. Asks what needs to be done and how Mom wants it done.
If you try to do something she can do herself, you get an “Oh no, you don’t!” and a laugh. “None of that!” and she scolds you goodnaturedly for trying. You can hear the little boy in Dad’s voice when he says, “Mom!”
Mom knows it’s her the moment she picks up the phone. She calls her “Mom” too.
Phone calls from friends, and emails. Facebook updates: who’s going to be where and when. My whole church is praying. The whole family is going. But not yet. I’m at work and I can’t think.
She’s the youngest of my grandparents. Nobody thought she would be first. Especially not Grandpa. Married fifty-nine years, wedded in the basement chapel of that little Bible college. They’d lived all over the Great Plains, teaching at tiny little schools in tiny little towns. Retired, they would travel, sometimes not knowing where they’d be staying next.
Missions work in Ecuador and the Ukraine. Members of the Gideons. Active and alive when others fade from the world. Maybe just slowing down a bit. When Grandma lost her soprano voice, she switched to alto and kept going. Same idea.
I’ve got to write. I don’t know how.
“Child of missionaries” is no guarantee. Neither is “Bible college graduate.” A life in Christ is a gift from God. The power of the Holy Spirit cannot be striven for, it’s a presence to receive. You’ve got to open your hands. Last Sunday, my pastor asked us to define a little word, “let”. Synonyms? “Allow. Grant. Permit.” A computer programmer said, “Assign.”
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17, ESV
She was stubborn and she was strong, but no one has the strength to live for God. She lived for God: it was by His strength. Not perfectly, not in life, no one does that either. Now, however, she knows perfection. Now she knows communion. Now she knows love. Now she knows peace.
I’m mourning, but I’m mourning for us, not her. She’s past all that. She is in the place we dream of and we sing of, the glorious presence of God. She is in the strong arms of our Father. And she’s free.
When we let God be our Lord we lose three things. First we lose the fear of death and judgment. Then we lose, bit by bit, the corruption in our souls. At last, at death, we lose all ties to sin, and all the struggling and fighting and suffering that goes with it. The war’s over. It’s won.
Einai se eirene. She is at peace.