It was Thanksgiving Day. We would all be gathered around the living room in my grandparent’s old farmhouse. Someone would pick up the newspaper and an advertisement would spark a familiar conversation. “You know the price of coffee at Hardee’s is now $0.37.”
“No it’s not Miriam, it’s $0.39.”
“Arlene, I was there yesterday and I had a cup of decaf and it was $0.37.”
The gentle bickering that would follow over a couple of pennies could last the better part of an hour. And this wasn’t the first time that my grandmothers had shared such a conversation. In fact, it had become somewhat of a holiday tradition. Today it’s something that everyone in my family is able to smile and joke about as we reflect back on the memories of years past.
Looking back on those conversations, it’s hard to know who was right. After all, the rest of us could have cared less about the cost of a cup of coffee, and so there was never a third party calling victory for either side. It’s a shame there wasn’t because we could have saved them the better part of several afternoons if we had any knowledge of the Hardee’s breakfast menu. Both of my grandmothers could be quite stubborn with each other, but it was all in love and good humor. They were both extremely sharp minded individuals, and they enjoyed being right. But neither carried a spiteful bone in their bodies. They were just happy for the conversation.
On Saturday, April 6th I lost my grandmother, Miriam Gebhart, who will be forever known to me as “Grammy” to a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s, two days after the 15 year anniversary of my “Nini’s” passing. In the later years of her life, Grammy’s previously sharp mind deteriorated fairly swiftly. During the early stages of the disease’s progression, life became undoubtedly difficult and frustrating for her. And I’m sure that she felt very lost. She was unable to recall things as she once had, and she began losing her independence, something that she had embraced every day that I had known her as a part of my life. And it was difficult on my family. I felt the pain deep in my heart particularly on days when Grammy began to lose recognition of us. It was devastating for my Mom, and it broke me to see her go through it. I will never forget the pain of those visits.
As time went by, Grammy became viewed by most as simply a shell of her former self. But not all was lost. There were moments of clarity and recognition. Perhaps the utterance of a familiar word or the smile on her face that allowed us to know that there was still a very real, very genuine light on inside. As we stood witness to the progression of her tragic disease, those moments grounded us and gave us peace. And Grammy knew that. Giving was her gift.
She was far too stubborn to succumb to her illness. Her mind may have been compromised by it, but her body remained incredibly strong and resilient. So she would hold on for as long as she possibly could physically. Because in each new day, Grammy saw an abundance of opportunities to reach out to others. Even in moments of confusion, even when people might have assumed that she had become completely dissociated with everything around her, Grammy was still very much alive inside. And she proved this with her undying commitment to loving those around her. Grammy held on, because she knew that she brought others joy and happiness. And that was what she lived for, that is how I remember her.
Grammy did not have a negative thing to say about anyone or anything. She was an absolutely wonderful person. And she made every effort to go out of her way to make others happy. She was completely selfless. Looking back on memories of her from when I was a child, now as an adult I am left speechless and in complete envy of her. Because I know how difficult it is to not let life’s burdens interrupt your peace. The devil is always trying to lead us astray with temptations, and it can be a real battle to remain grounded. But for Grammy, this appeared completely effortless. She was a person of tremendous strength. And she was a woman that God looked down upon with great favor, I believe for a very specific reason…
Romans 13:8 reads “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Grammy understood this principle, and she put it into practice every day of her life. She loved others unconditionally. Even when she was tested, she never offered anything other than more of her very best. Alzheimer’s could take away her mind, but it could not take her heart and her ability to love everyone around her. So she held on, and she made our lives richer in the process. What a selfless act. It would have been easy to quit, but Grammy kept fighting, for us. She knew that we needed her, and so she stayed as long as she could, overcoming several physical setbacks and the natural limitations of her body at 94 years old. She stayed to love us one last time.
That’s a beautiful thing. I can’t think of a more generous gift, and I will be forever indebted to her for her commitment to me and my family. And beyond that, I will remain thankful to her for the wonderful example that she set for us with regards to how to love others. Grammy is the blueprint for the apostle Paul’s offering in Romans Chapter 13. I only hope that someday I turn out to be the type of person that she would be proud of – a man who loves selflessly and continues to give to others until the moment of his very last breath.
Grammy may have passed on from this life, but she did not lose her battle, not by any stretch of the imagination. She WON, in overwhelming fashion. She lived a life of love, a life of Christ. And today, I know that she is resting peacefully with our Lord in Heaven. It would truly take death to slow her propensity for giving. And my faith tells me that this is why Jesus called her. Because it was time for Grammy to be free to receive the most coveted gift of all…eternal life. It was time for her to be made whole again. It was time for her to fly.
On this day as we say goodbye one last time, I think it’s important that we remember that Grammy’s spirit is very alive and well. Her love resides in each of us. And if she had the ability to make any single request of us here today, I think that it would be pretty simple…”love one another”. It’s the very best way to lead a long, fulfilling life.
So Grammy, until we meet on the other side, I pray that you will continue to watch down on us from above and guide us to becoming more selfless, loving individuals. Because I know in my heart that this is what was most important to you. I love you and will never forget you. You will always live on as a part of me. Please tell Nini, Pap, and Grandpa “hello” for me. And forget about Hardee’s, the coffee is free in Heaven.