Sacred Grace

Hazel mentioned it first, in her own way, when she said, I will miss this later—the gathering and waiting...We were sitting with Marmee, my grandmother fighting for each breath just feet away. I thought, I wonder if people would think that’s a strange thing to say. After all, we are waiting for Marmee to take her last breath. And when the waiting is over and she goes Home to Jesus, we will go back to our lives and continue without her. Hazel must have had a similar thought because she tried to explain herself, but I knew exactly what she meant—she cherished that sacred time of holding space for Marmee, all together, taking turns, gathering and praying and singing hymns and reading Scripture. And I did, too. The weeks leading to Marmee’s death were some of the most beautiful in my life, and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by how God’s Grace met us around every corner.

When Marmee first fell ill, she was taken to the hospital just two blocks from us; the children and I were able to visit right away, heading over to bring Marmee some happiness. I think we did cheer Marmee up, but as we made it our daily routine to walk to the hospital in the afternoons, we discovered quickly that the opportunity to sit with her, whether she was awake or asleep, talkative or restful, was a blessing to us. When she was awake, we got to hear her voice, memorize the richness of her timbre, listen to her stories. We could ask what she needed; my babies especially enjoyed the chance to help, whether they were bringing her water or an extra pillow or closing her window blinds. We prayed over her and quietly played and read and did puzzles at her side. We were holding space.

Each day when we left, I would lift my babies up onto the hospital bed so they could cuddle with Marmee and hug her and kiss her; through their affection, these preschoolers communicated to Marmee that they were holding space for her in their own little way. Then they would remind her of their love and promise to see her the next day. I might have been tempted to worry about them—was it okay for them to be spending so much time at the hospital? But I didn’t need to worry—God provided so sweetly! The children just happened to have VBS during this time, so they spent their mornings having fun and being physically active before needing to be still at Marmee’s side. And the hospital has a little playground! Bless the soul of whomever thought of that. One day we found two 719 Rocks! rocks! What a perfect place to have hidden them for my littles to find and delight in!

Sadly, the doctors said that Marmee wasn’t responding to treatment. We met with the palliative care team and had a gentle conversation about what would be best for Marmee at that point—Marmee simply wanted to go home. Pam, her POA and dear friend, worked hard to make that happen, and the same hospice organization that cared for Kara in her last days stepped in to help us make Marmee comfortable.

And even though I knew we were in these days of saying goodbye to my grandmother—the person who knew me best and longest in this world, who was the biggest constant in my life—God showered us with his Grace. Grace upon Grace! By now, my babies were in the habit of packing their little backpacks every day with activities they knew would keep their attention. They knew the routine and how to be quiet and where they could play a little louder. They looked forward to seeing Marmee’s friends—and later, family—who joined us to hold space. When I apologized one day for being so sad lately, my little boy comforted me: It’s okay, Mama; sometimes the best thing is just to be sad. He told my uncle that God would heal Marmee—We just have to wait to see if He heals her here or in Heaven. As Marmee got closer to seeing Jesus, how they loved her changed; they would rest their tiny hands on her shoulder and tell her they were there with her, that she was not alone, reassuring her of their love. Sometimes they sang to her. Before we left each day, they always gave her smooches.

And I marveled at the 95 years Marmee spent in this world, the love she lavished on others, the difference she made on so many, the forgiveness she unsparingly showered onto So Many People, her generosity that knew no bounds. The footprint she made on this world was one of redemption, restoration, and deep love. I am a product of her love, and I want to follow in her legacy.

One night, when it was morning in Germany, my sister Caitlin texted that she was desperate to come out. She sent me a screenshot of a possible ticket, and I asked if she wanted to wait and see what happened, and she replied: THAT’S NOT A POSSIBLE ITINERARY—I JUST BOUGHT THAT TICKET. She has her own story of Graces that met her in preparing to leave her husband and four children in Germany with fewer than 24 hours to prepare, but on my side, we told Marmee that Caitlin was coming, and for the first time in days, she smiled. She smiled!

The next day, my oldest nephew Joshua came to town for a preplanned camping trip with my husband and son. The camping trip has been postponed, but what Grace Joshua was! His calming presence, his willingness to watch my babies, his sheer strength in days to come as we moved heavy boxes and sorted Marmee’s things, his servant’s heart asking how he could help and jumping in whenever he saw a need, including loving my baby boy during Marmee’s funeral. The day Josh got here, he was able to spend time with Marmee, holding space and loving her in his own Joshua ways. He had that precious one-on-one time with her, and then allowed Caitlin and me to have it, too, by watching the babies at home.

That day, we kept telling Marmee Caitlin was on her way, and she would smile. My uncle, who had been singing to her all week (oh, how she loved to hear her baby boy sing!) brought a hymnal and sang song after song, Hazel joining in knowing every word of every verse. I sat, watching Marmee fade from this world.

Finally, it was time to pick up Caitlin. I told Marmee I would be back as soon as I could with my baby sister, left the children with Joshua, picked Caitlin up from the airport, and then went straight back to Marmee’s side. Friends, I am convinced Marmee was waiting for Caitlin. That hour and a half between when Caitlin and I knelt by her side and when she took her last breath were some of the most sacred moments of my life. I love thinking back to that time; somehow it felt both like hours and hours of time but also a quick few minutes, and I will cherish it the rest of my days. Caitlin and I were able to pray with Marmee, thank her for her love and impact on our lives as well as her compassion and generosity and endless sacrifices. We reassured her of God’s hand on her life and death, and Caitlin encouraged her in this last trial of crossing the Jordan. We read Psalm after Psalm and were responsively reading Psalm 136 together as Marmee went Home to Jesus. What joy, what peace, what redemption.

The days afterward were full as our sister Erin and brother Ben and other family came into town. It’s a jumble to remember, planning the service, cleaning out Marmee’s apartment at assisted living, running errands, saying our final goodbyes at the funeral. But what overshadows all of that to me as I reflect on those crazy days are the gifts of Grace. The laughter and fun of having our little 2-bedroom bungalove full of family, and the ridiculous line for the one bathroom. The help from the hospice and assisted living staff who cared for Marmee so tenderly. Our pastor friend and his wife, who had grown to love Marmee through their visits, ministering to our family. Games and wine at night time, my babies being loved and doted on, meals and flowers being delivered day after day by my local community, flowers sent from friends across the country! Drinking so much coffee, made at home and bought at the drive-thru at Dutch Bros. Texts offering childcare and help, friends coming over to pray and listen to our hearts, Aaron taking Joshua and Von camping in the backyard just for fun, sorting through pictures while crying and laughing. Seeing my children love on family and friends, retreating to Aaron’s arms at bedtime to cry and sigh.

All these gifts reflect the heart of our Heavenly Father so beautifully to me. During this time, I felt deeply loved by the Lord—seen and heard and cared for. I encountered Grace everywhere I turned, and I want to shout it from the mountaintops! So thank you for letting me share my heart, for listening to my story, for understanding why Mundane Faithfulness was quiet for a few weeks. Walking Marmee Home was a precious gift I will treasure in my heart forever. And I can’t wait to go Home and see her again.