Drying my tears, I stood up. My name had been called. I had been instructed not to cry. It would make everyone else too emotional. It was an unrealistic request under the circumstances, mind you. Why were we afraid to cry, again? Why was it inappropriate? Isn’t that healthy right now? I suppose tears would have only prolonged a moment that everyone wanted to honor and end at the same time. Maybe the thought was the sadness would pass quicker if we simply paid it little attention.
I walked forward. I had been introduced. I was Catherine’s granddaughter, here to read a story I wrote for her before she passed away. Attending her memorial service was a room full of people, most of whom I did not know. Their blue and white hair cast a sobriety to the room of how life is full of stories and short on time. Towards the front sat my entire family, tissues in hand. One look at them and the whole day seemed unreal. Weren’t we all just playing pinochle around Nana’s kitchen table last week? Wasn’t that just the other day that she sang us lullabies to sleep? I’m sure it wasn’t long ago that she tucked us in bed, waved a hand, and said, “See you in the funny papers”? I’m sure her fudge is still in the fridge, and she still has something to tell us about all that’s happening in her “stories”.
Time and illness had worn her down the last time I had seen her. She sat smiling in the wheelchair, always pleased to welcome visitors. This time it was my mother, cousin, and myself she was blessed with. We sat with her as she asked all the questions she normally would about how life was. Then she began to share about her fears of dying; what it would be like, and how much she ached for those who didn’t know the comfort of Jesus. My senses went into overdrive trying to remember everything about that moment, because whether I wanted to believe it or not, I knew this might be the last conversation we’d have on this side of things. Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer, yet? I tried as I could to remind her of the promises of God, to encourage her He was here and there was nothing to be afraid of. I asked her if we could pray for her, and the three of us women laid hands on Nana and prayed -that all the fear and pain would wash away and that Nana would continue to be a light and blessing to all around her. I gave her my book and told her there was a story in it for her, but time and circumstance did not permit me the opportunity to read it to her. (My mom would have that honor later). We rose to leave and I told her, “I’ll see you in the funny papers.” I looked at her as we left the room, and gave her the traditional Rust “oinky-oinky” two-handed wave. We walked down the hall of the nursing wing and by the chapel of the retirement home.
There I stood, a little over a month later, at the front of the chapel, with the book in front of me, opened to her story. I had practiced the night before, after I had collected myself from a waterfall of tears. Interestingly enough, the moment I started practicing, I was overwhelmed with strength – and peace. I hoped the same would happen again. I took a deep breath and started to open my mouth, but emotions met me there. I knew the pastor was about to have a minor coronary – I was losing it, and that was the last thing he wanted anyone to do up front. We were supposed to be cool and collected – demure and efficient. I knew where he was coming from, but I could’ve cared less. Sometimes the heart just needs to leak a little when it aches. I took another deep breath.
“I wrote this story for my grandma,” I began, “It’s a story of how much God loves her.” I knew the story was special, and I knew it wasn’t just for my grandma, and everything in my heart hoped it would do what I felt God might let it do, “I want to share this story today, that you too might know God’s love for you.”
I took another deep breath, “She couldn’t help but dance. Reaching her arms to the left and the right, Fearless twirled with her head thrown back, eyes marveling at the great height of the ceiling.” Strength had found me again. And so had peace and joy. I read the story with every ounce of love and not one tear, much to the pastor’s delight, I’m sure.
I’ve never felt so alive, ironically. One of the joys of my grandma’s story is incased within, is the gospel. Reading her story felt like preaching good news and sharing the deepest part of who I am with people I didn’t know and the people I loved most.
It was the thing I was most afraid to do, to be honest – sharing this story in front of a live audience. They were about to gain entrance to a place in my heart and mind that had been set aside for just me and Him for so long. I suppose you could say when Nana overcame her fear, it opened the door for me to overcome mine.
After the service, our family lined up at the front forming a receiving line. Hand shakes and hugs flowed down the line. I remember looking at each family member, remarking at their strength, tears, and kindness towards Nana’s friends spanning the years.
One gentleman entered the line. He was tallish and lanky. Time had chiseled its marks in his face and weathered away his white hair. He wore a tweed coat, which I will forever remember. His smile beamed as he reached over to give me a hug.
“You are a writer,” he whispered in my ear. He gently unwrapped me from his hug, ”You know that, don’t you?”
I nodded with some assurance.
He repeated himself, hoping I would be fully assured, “You are a writer. Do what you need to do to pay the bills. But you must write. You are a writer.” He smiled once more and he and his tweed coat moved down the line.
I don’t remember his name. But I will forever remember his words. They were a little gift to me that day, in the midst of such sorrow. It was as if the Lord was reminding me to live – to live more bravely than I had dared to before, for writing had always made me feel so alive, but I thought it would be that little hobby I did on the side to amuse myself. And maybe it always will be to a certain extent, but his words felt like a call to come out of hiding a bit – to know that what’s been brewing within is powerful. And hobby or not, it’s who I am, and I must write – for the audience of One or many.
Nana, I’m remembering you today, on your birthday. I thank you for teaching me so much about love and family – about always telling people you’re proud of them and that you love them, and hugging them like it might be your last time. You have done more to change this world than you know (or maybe you already do!) P.S. I’m learning to dance a little. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be as good as you and Paw, but It makes me smile and always think of you.
Miss you still.
The one growing in courage.
“So courageous, Fearless.” Papa held her face in His hands. “So brave. You were created for this- to dance in freedom and joy atop the waves of life.” He took a step back and grabbed her hand. “This is what I see when I think of you, Fearless – a great dancer, who has learned how to take my hand, and simply dance to the tunes I whistle. There is no other like you.”
Fearless smiled bashfully. “Papa, I haven’t always felt so courageous,” she admitted.
“Sometimes, Fearless, courage is subtle. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a simple knowing, a simple trusting that I am who I say I am, and deciding to dance with me when there are no clear answers. I think you are far braver than you know.”
-“The Dance Card” (Nana’s story), The Invitation