We stood clustered in a small group listening to the exuberant man with the dynamic voice and the red hair. He talked about wonderful days–being born, getting confirmed, graduating, getting married, having children–wonderful days. Then he–the man with the big voice and the even bigger faith–said this:
“This is the happiest day of your life. This is the day you have been waiting for. This is your best day ever.”
And as he spoke of joy and celebration, I tried and failed to hold back my tears. As he spoke of life, my Grandma slipped away from our feeble attempts to hold onto her a little bit longer.
On this, the happiest day ever, Grandma died.
As I summarized Grandma’s full, rich life in an obituary that wouldn’t use up her entire life insurance policy for the space it took up in the papers, and also that wouldn’t reduce her generous spirit and faithful journey to a bland recitation of dates and achievements, I thought about that “best day of her life.”
I could have (and maybe should have) written this:
“Marie was born and baptized, was taught about her Savior, lived her life as a fallen and forgiven believer who trusted in Christ, and, best of all, she died.”
Best of all, she died.
I, on the other hand, didn’t die.
I’m right here, living. I’m here, sick with who-knows-or-cares-what, with four children sleeping in my room because the next room over is too far away. I’m here nursing and worrying over and trying not to breathe my sick-germs on a two-week-old baby who peed on me three times last night and threw up inside my nightshirt and I didn’t even bother to change. I’m here trying to deal with the needs of people who–quite honestly–seem unnecessarily needy right about now: you think you should eat today?
I’m here trying to heal hurts that won’t heal and sooth a pain that will be torn afresh at every reminder. I’m here helping family decide if 100-plus people should eat mashed potatoes or potato salad, calling strangers to share the news, plunking out potential funeral hymns on the piano, reducing Grandma’s life to dates and achievements for the paper, and–strangely–really missing my grandpa who died last year.
I’m here hurting for my mother and uncles who lost the woman who gave them life, hurting for my brothers who were too far away to hold a hand and hear Pastor talk about Grandma’s best day ever, hurting for my children who are so young and hurt so openly.
I’m here failing as a wife and mother because my thinking is clouded by pain, and that failure makes me want to crawl in that bed with Grandma and go with her–go to see Grandpa, go to see if heaven is paved with streets of gold or lined with Eden-like carpets of grass, go to taste the cookies there, go to see Jesus and not have to fail or hurt any more ever again.
My living doesn’t hold a candle to Grandma’s dying.
I’ve heard death described as a birth. Our Little Judah Eb was resistant to being born. Despite many, many days of nightly labor, he was eight days late. Even then, he was happy to not come out, even though he had “outgrown” his old life. I wonder if he was scared–all the pressure, the squeezing, the estimated 750 million people putting their faces to Mama’s belly and hollering “Come out now!”
But then there he was, his old life was gone and his new one was just begun, and there was Mama’s face, and there were Mama’s arms, and there were Mama’s eyes pooling over with love, and there was–whoa, what’s this?!–milk! It’s pretty good on the other side. What he had resisted became his best day thus far–I mean, milk! Hello!
We resist death–our best day ever–but why?
Let’s look at what Grandma is probably doing right now. She was a relatively new widow who died one day before her 67th wedding anniversary. Living the last year without Grandpa was hard for her. She missed him something awful. She didn’t acknowledge her 66th anniversary, because he had just gone to heaven ahead of her, and she didn’t have the heart. Can you imagine the celebration they had this year?
She’s reunited with her parents, her father who loved his little “Moonie” like a father should, her brother who was killed in action in World War II and whose death shook her hard even 70 years later, her mother and sister. She’s seeing cousins and friends and her mother’s seemingly infinite number of sisters who were always filled with joy and who would get together and laugh and laugh and laugh and then simultaneously sigh out loud as if that laugh was the best thing that ever happened to them–I can almost hear the great-great aunts laughing now. What a reunion! Can you imagine?
The beauty, the sounds, even the feel of the air and the ground must be new and amazing and indescribable. The food, the ethereal light, the graceful slipperiness of the water, the delicate scent of the flowers, and the soft coolness of the breeze–can you imagine?
And then Him. His face. His hands that were pierced for us, for Grandma to enjoy her best day ever–strong hands, yet gentle and forgiving as He reaches for a hug. His lips as he says, “Well done, Marie. Well done.” His eyes–the depth and kindness and knowing of those eyes. Can you even begin to imagine those eyes?
It’s Grandma’s best day ever, and it will last for eternity. Can you imagine? I can’t.
This is only Grandma’s best day ever because of her faith in Christ. There was nothing she did to earn heaven–goodness knows Grandma had her fair share of flaws. Despite how wonderful Grandma was, she wasn’t “good enough” for heaven’s standards and never would be if she lived Adam’s 900+ years. People like Grandma and me–we’re not Christians because we’re better than everyone else; we’re Christians because we’re not good enough and we couldn’t possibly earn a best day ever on our own.
It is all Jesus–He took Grandma’s punishment and gave her salvation; all she did was trust Him and “it was credited to her as righteousness.” I heard someone say, “If you don’t have faith in Jesus, you’d better live it up now, because this is as good as it’s going to get.” As harsh as that sounds, it’s true. No Jesus–no best day ever when you die. Period.
But the rest of the story is that the gift of the best day ever is free. You can have an eternity like Grandma’s. Jesus (God) did all the work for you. Just trust Him. (Learn more by reading John or Romans or ask me.)
Grandma (and Grandpa), I miss you. You both were and are such a crucial part of my life. Someday, on my best and happiest day ever, we’ll be together again–you and me and the laughing aunts and Him with those eyes.
Originally posted here on August 24, 2015. Reposted today in honor of Grandma’s birthday.
PORTRAIT BY MARISSA RENÉE (17 at time of drawing, currently accepting commissions)