Tuesday, May 05, 2015

1 Corinthians 15:9 "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."

This weekend will be three months since my sweet grandmother passed away.  As the first person really close to me who has passed away, I must say that I was not ready for the emotions that would come.  A sense of tremendous loss combined with a gratitude that her spirit was free - no longer shackled by her physical limitations and weaknesses - definitely stretched my spirit beyond what I was prepared for. But I don't know if we are ever really ready, are we?  I mean, what's enough time?  If we lived for 150 years, would we be prepared at the end of that period of time?  What about 200 years?  In reality, there is never enough time.  No matter if we live for 5 minutes or 85 years, this life is just temporary, a probationary period, where we are sent to learn and to be tested, to be shaped into celestial beings and given the unspeakable blessings of being placed into families, to encourage and lift each other to the destination we all deeply long for - eternal life.

Through some very special tender mercies I was actually able to see her just hours before she unexpectedly passed away.  After attending a law seminar in St. Pete Beach, Florida I made the choice to forego the warmth and sunny shores of Florida and make my way back to Knoxville, Tennessee because by some strange coincidence my mother was set to speak in our ward, my dad, stepmom, and brother were set to speak in their ward, and my dear friend who I introduced to the Mormon church and who was a recent convert was bearing her testimony in her ward conference before she moved back to Germany.  I left Orlando late Saturday afternoon, only stopping briefly to say hi to Rachel Mills and the amazing Mills' kids in Ormond Beach.  I drove through the night, getting into Knoxville around 6am Sunday morning.

Even though I was exhausted from driving all night, I made it to two out of the three meetings, thinking I could take a nap after church.  However, I had the feeling that, instead of taking a nap, I should go visit my grandma in her assisted living center.  My mother was there, as well as my aunt, uncle and their two daughters.  My grandfather was there as well, of course.  He would be told later that he is the only spouse to visit their institutionalized spouse every single day, and he had done it for over two years.

We had a wonderful visit.  My grandmother seemed to spend much of her time peering out the window. I snuck a picture of her but didn't know what she had on her mind.  I was shocked when I noticed her arm shaking almost uncontrollably when she tried to take a drink out of a small cup.  I was worried that she would begin losing more control of her body than she already had, and become even more physically confined than her wheelchair currently kept her.

As I stood to leave to attend a missionary discussion with a friend of mine, I choked back tears as I felt prompted to go back and give her an extra hug and kiss.  She made a kissing sound with her lips in mid air, as usual, and said six sweet words that I will never forget - "I sure do love you, Bret".  Although I had been visiting her fairly regularly the previous year and a half, I had never been this emotional leaving before.  Something told me her time in this physical sphere was coming to a close.

At the missionary discussion, I felt anxious, as though something wasn't right.  So I left.  But I just went home.  There I felt unsettled as well, although I was spending quality time with my mother watching the Grammys.  She would tell me later that she had felt like she should go back to the assisted living center to visit my grandmother again, but we had both planned on going back to visit the next day and had no reason to think that that would be her last day in her mortal body.

The next morning my mother informed me that my grandmother had passed away in her sleep that night. I unexpectedly and immediately felt a sense of peace, rather than despair.  We met my grandfather at the assisted living center and actually walked right past him in the lobby, he being too overcome with shock to even look for us.  We went back to her room, then went and got him, and all together in her room, with her still there, we wept.  We called the relief society president, members of the ward, and the funeral home.  I had to go into the office to do some work but spent much of the day crying at the temporary loss of my grandmother, and had an especially emotional moment with my father who still loved my grandma as a mother-in-law even though he had been divorced from my mother for the past almost 30 years.

We set our schedule for the rest of the week - picking out the graveside and casket, putting together pictures for the viewing, deciding on the program for the funeral, and I went to bed, in my grandmother's old bedroom, exhausted.  Then, all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, I woke up from my sleep and experienced a very strong, peaceful, loving, warm spiritual presence.  Sleeping on my stomach, I felt this feeling all over my back.  I smiled and went back to sleep.  The next morning my mother, also staying at this home, told me that she had woken up in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep, and wondered if my grandmother's spirit had been in the home, but didn't feel her spirit in her room.  I told her that I had felt her spirit, and that she was alive and perfectly happy and wanted to let us know that she was.

I'm grateful for the plan of salvation and especially for eternal families.  I'm grateful for the knowledge that my grandmother is still just alive today as she was three months ago, but unshackled by physical burdens and limitations.  I know that through the grace of Christ's atonement I will see her again someday soon.