On Monday, December 20th I awoke to the sound of my alarm. I rolled over and grabbed my mobile phone, intending to press the snooze key, but was surprised to find that a text message awaited me. It was dated that day at 3 a.m. and read simply: Grandma's in heaven. Left about 11:50.
That was my first thought. Oh. Grandma had been less than 24 hours short of her 100th birthday. My family had planned a party. There was to be a newspaper article about her. She'd received a certificate from the governor.
Then I thought, Oh, no. There would be no party. Worse still, I'd never see her again. There would be no more notes in the mail in her shaky, aged handwriting telling me about the weather and how old she is. I'd never again come home and kiss her weathered cheek, never help her down stairs, never hear her tell the same stories over and over (they never got old). I'd never see her wink at me when she was sneakng candy, never hear her proclaim her hunger for something sweet, never hear her hack in the bathroom, never hug her, never hear her telling me how she prays for her grandchildren—my heart hurt.
Let me clarify. My heart hurt for me and for my family, for all of us left behind. I shed tears because of a temporary separation during which Grandma will be separated from any physical plane that I can see or touch. I don't talk about my faith much on this blog because I believe in evangelizing through my actions (and I don't enjoy being attacked for believing in things other than Almighty Science). My grandmother's death, however, merits more than a passing mention of how I deal with seeming tragedy as a Christian. My grandmother was nothing if not a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. I wouldn't do her honor by ignoring that.
We didn't "lose" my grandmother. Yes, she was old, but that doesn't diminish the hole left in our family. Of course my family is sad about that. What we're not sad about is that Eddie B. Davis is exactly where she wanted to be. My grandmother has been telling me for years that we never knew if we'd see each other again. She was ready to go, and she knew, just as I know, that once her time on this earth had ended that paradise awaited.
She told me in the summer, "I just pray that I go to sleep and Jesus takes me home." It sounds cute when I repeat it in her accent. To those who consider Christianity a means of brainwashing or a haven for the illogical masses, this just sounds like the charming, somewhat morbid ramblings of a senile old lady. Consider this: by in large, what humans fear the most is death. Horror films aren't about how people are super frightened by a scary thing. Horror films are all about how people die, or are at least in danger of it. Grave danger, even, because I'm punny. My grandmother, a 99-year-old woman from nowhere, Texas, looked death in the eye and welcomed it. She knew that her god was stronger than death, stronger than any pain that she felt, stronger than the gradual degeneration of her cells, stronger than the void she would leave behind when she left, and stronger than any grief we would feel because of it.
That's an amazing kind of conviction, I think.
I became a Christian at the age of six, when I was far to young to understand everything that commitment meant. I remain a Christian because there is nothing seen or unseen in this world that is stronger than my certainty that Grandma had it right. I'm no unlearned idiot (summa cum laude and a lifetime membership to Alpha Chi, heifers!),* and I don't discount science. When I read that Pluto was no longer a planet, I believed it. If someone were to find the missing link between the velociraptor and a bantam rooster, I wouldn't cry fowl.** It doesn't disprove my worldview. However, when someone tells me there is no afterlife and no all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing being that loves me and cares for me, I shake my head. Ah, if you knew what I know.
Death and I aren't strangers. I remember being shocked in college when a friend told me that she had never been to a funeral. I think I've been to as many funerals as I have weddings, and I'm no stranger to wedding cake, either. I don't say this to brag; it's nothing of which to be proud. Semi-frequent funeral attendance nevertheless has given me fair chance to sort out how I feel about death in general. Do I want to claim a religion that includes a hell? Do I want to be a part of something that Darwin claimed is the opiate of the masses; am I using religion as a crutch to deal with the reality of death? I'd be lying to say that my faith never wavered. There have been a few of those funerals during which I thought angrily, Why, God? Couldn't you have done something? Why let young, good people die? I've had some intense study sessions researching what my religion says about the matter, and equally intense reflection during which I figure out if I want to ascribe to it or not.
You're likely in awe of my intelligence and studiousness. I'm pretty amazing, what with my philosophical musings about death. I mean, I took Philosophy 101 in college Pass/Fail (passed it in spite of falling asleep twice during the final, natch), so I pretty much know all there is to know about the subject. Duh. I skimmed excerpts from many books and articles during that class, so again I emphasize my encompassing knowledge of philosophy. It comes with being a genius.
The burden of my genius is realizing that I'm rambling. If you're still reading I expect you've forgiven me on account that this is a personal blog and not an essay on grief and coping. I'll be kind and wrap it up within the next paragraph.
I don't mourn my grandmother because I know as sure as I know I'm breathing that she's jitterbugging right where she belongs. My grandmother left a legacy. Her descendants received a powerful sweet tooth, broad ribcages, and only my siblings escaped the gene for being barely at or slightly below average height. She also left a legacy of faith. We talk about a "legacy of faith" in the Christian community, but the short version is that Eddie B. Davis was a Christian through and through, and convinced us that she would be nothing good with out Christ. Ladies and gentlemen, my grandmother was good.
* This means nothing in the world. Also, my college was small.
**I think I'm making my father proud—him and every old man who's ever told a crappy joke.