My grandmother, we call her GiGi because she is also a great grandmother of four, is dying. She is not “fighting to get better” or “waiting on a miracle.” Her death is coming, her physical life is now a medical measurement of weeks. She knows this, she is sobered by it. But she isn’t shocked, she isn’t only trying to think positive happy thoughts, nor is she overly anxious about the reality of death. In a culture that doesn’t really know how to think about death, Gigi is more than clear and is embracing what death has to teach her and us. She has not and will not stop being a teacher, a servant, or a lover.
Gigi and I share a special relationship. She is my grandmother and only living grandparent. That alone is an awesome gift I’ve been given for 38 years. To enjoy and share so much of my life with her in it is simply remarkable and I couldn’t be more thankful. She is one of the few people in my life who has first hand experience of my whole story with its many chapters. Some chapters that I don’t even remember. She is also one of the few who has loved me outrageously and showed me grace upon grace throughout every chapter. Gigi has never left me to figure it out alone, she has been one my life’s greatest teachers and greatest allies.
She is not only my beloved grandmother, but she is also a congregant and views me as her pastor. It gets a little messy, but I came to terms with it years ago and now I’m so thankful for all we’ve shared together on this level of relationship as well. I have had the privilege of discussing with her life’s deepest issues and questions.
Today I visited her and we got to spend some time alone. Not really knowing what to expect when I arrived nor having much of an agenda, grace seemed to take over and strike its familiar chord. We enjoyed conversation as natural as if it were five or ten years ago; discussing the joys of children, fried steak, and life. We talked about relationships and we talked about death openly and freely, even smiling and finding joy in its coming liberation.
Gigi has many last words which she gives with much excitement. In some ways, you can’t shut her up, she just wants you to know how much she loves you and how much you mean to her. She loves telling stories and her perspective on them is wonderful. I believe she sees her final days as an opportunity to further reconcile any loose ends to past relationships as well as to seek repentance even now. Gigi is also actively spiritually preparing herself for death. She wants to honor her Lord in her departure from this life. Gigi seems to have a very clear perspective of what is most sacred and meaningful. She knows her family and friends will grieve but she wants even this to be about learning how to do so with faith, hope, and joy. She really wants to serve others even in her dying. She wants to complete the race with faithfulness that will serve as hope for others. She simply wants to reflect the hope that is in her, for it to be real, not simply a coping mechanism for others to dismiss.
I am so proud of her as her pastor. Her expressions of faith in the gospel she so dearly loves are refreshing. Her perspective of the reality she is in, is inspiring. As her grandson, I am so incredibly grateful for her life and humbled by her perspective at this hour.
Others often ask “What can I do?” Honestly, just be present. She would love a personal visit but she understands if that’s not possible or comfortable for you. Send her a note on Facebook or a text. She really is okay. She is not in denial. She isn’t looking for platitudes. She just wants to share life with you while she still has it to share. Every moment is now so valuable, just as every moment should be. There is really little awkwardness about the obvious. In fact she might have a clearer perspective than any of us. And for that reason, being in her presence, simply listening and loving her is a gracious gift that ends up serving you. She would love nothing more.
Gigi is dying. I’m dying too. There really is no despair in that reality. Only peace and hope, and yes even joy. Embracing that is freeing. The gifts of life have never been more precious.