Sometimes we don’t actually say what we love the most about someone until after they’re gone.
Maybe we just couldn’t seem to find the right words or the right time, maybe it felt too silly in the moment, or maybe we just didn’t realize what we loved most about them until we felt their absence in our life.
But every once in a while you get to love someone is so flipping fantastic that you simply must say the things you feel about them.
*This post was originally published in June of last year, but I’m quietly leaving it here today, in honor of this sweet, hilarious, fascinating woman who went to heaven yesterday. In the wake of her passing, I feel the relevance of this piece with a fresh ache and renewed gratitude for the chance to ‘say the things’ while they could still be heard.*
Two days ago I said “Goodbye” to my grandmother for what feels like the fourth gut wrenching time. While her spirit could never possibly, her body has begun to fail her. She lives in another state and for what feels like far too many times, I have kissed her cheek and left her, wondering if that was “it”.
If I’d see her again.
I always felt like I had more to say.
I always hoped for another chance.
This weekend as our big family huddled together in her little room, talking loud and laughing often as we tend to do, our chuckles quickly turned to tears as we listened to letters read aloud to my Grandma.
Letters from lifelong friends who’ve truly known her.
Letters that were written with such obvious love and care, remembering to say all the most important things while she could still hear them.
We huddled in as my mother read aloud, our hearts silently agreeing with all the beautiful words spoken over her as she listened, beaming. Time felt suspended in a sacred kind of way.
While I know I won’t remember all the lovely things written in those letters, I’ll never forget that moment and the overwhelming love that permeated it.
With a sudden wave of urgency, I knew I had to write my own letter.
Why hadn’t I already thought of this? Written words are sometimes the best and only way I can truly purge my heart. I needed to tell her now, while I still could, all the things I would say about her after she’d gone.
I needed her to know that I’ve born witness to her life in all its tragedy and all its glory.
I needed her to know all the ways that her life had mattered to my life.
So I grabbed my Ipad and ran out to the car where it was roughly 900 degrees but quiet enough to think. I sat there and sweat, cried, and laughed as I typed furiously, and when I was done, I read my letter to her, as best as I could through teary eyes and a trembling voice. She held my hand and listened, and we had a sacred, suspended, little moment of our own.
These are the words I read her.
There have only been a few brief moments in my life that I’m certain I’ve felt the pang of my heart expanding and contracting at the same time:
Watching my youngest, redheaded, freckle-cheeked son march across the stage at his preschool graduation, my heart caught somewhere between bursting with pride and aching over the loss of his toddlerhood.
Or leaning over the bathtub on a random Tuesday night to wash my oldest daughter’s hair, pouring water down her back while we giggled and talked. In that moment my heart caught in my throat as I realized she’d gotten so big that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cared for her in this simple way.
Today was one of those expand/contract moments for me.
As we sat in hard folding chairs scooted close around your bed- each one leaning in, drawing as close as we could to hear your voice clearer, or to touch your hand, or to catch that twinkle in your eye as you spoke, I couldn’t pinpoint whether it was joy or sadness that I felt.
As we listened to letters read aloud, written to you from dear lifelong friends, people who’ve known the realest you, who’ve been lucky enough to walk through life in the warmth of your sunshine, my heart ached.
It ached because when a light has shone as brightly as yours, it feels inherently wrong to think of it dimming.
But here’s the thing with you- you never did dim. You just keep shining brighter and brighter the closer you get to Heaven.
All I see when I look at you is your pure joy, your steadfast faith, and your enduring sense of humor. All I hear when you speak is the love of Jesus pouring out.
You have been an endless encouragement to every single person in this big, loud, crazy, family. You’ve prayed tirelessly for each one of our hearts. You’ve set a standard in our lives. You’ve set tradition in motion and it hasn’t stopped rolling forward and trickling down: Honor God, love each other, delight in Him because He delights in us, and always, always remember to laugh.
I treasure the moments we’ve spent staying up too late, sitting on the couch or the foot of your bed, talking about everything. You were always so tender and kind as you listened. You always spoke truth into my life.
I’m not sure if you’ll really get to see all the ways you’ve been faithful or know all the ways God used you in this family until you get to the other side of Heaven.
But I want you to know that we see.
We bear witness to your light as it shines brighter and brighter until the day He finally takes you home.
We are the lucky ones who get to stand in the warmth of your presence.
While it breaks our hearts to think of going on without you, we also rejoice with you because we just know in our knowers that where you’re headed is better. We know you’ll be whole there, and your joy will be complete.
We see on your face the peace, expectancy, and earnest longing to be with your God. We know that your whole life has been a conversation with Him and soon you’ll just be continuing that conversation with Him face to face.
So as we sit huddled close and as the tears spatter your bed, know that they are tears of joy. Know that you have created a legacy for our family.
A legacy of love, laughter, and the joy of the Lord.
And while we know that you can’t always be with us, we know that He always is.
In the end, I only got one more chance to hug her after that, to see her in person and exchange a wink like we always did when no one else was looking, but I’m deeply grateful for the chance to have said those things to her that day.
I’m thankful she took that chance too, and had a few things of her own to say to me. She told me to have more gumption with my writing. To stop being unsure and to just “Get passionate!” and to “Dive in!”
So naturally I told her not to boss me, and then I solemnly took every word to heart anyway.
Grandmas have power like that.