Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God…
~ Leviticus 19:32
The special Christmas gift was from my sister, Lisa, and her husband. It was a recording of my grandmother made several months before she started having frequent bouts of dementia. Grandma passed away 18 months prior to Christmas, so my sister felt it’d been a safe amount of time to pass on the beautiful gift she’d made for her immediate family, aunts and cousins.
Tears filled each of our eyes as we looked at the familiar old photo of Grandma and Grandpa gracing the cover of the CD. No one said a word at first–afraid we’d give in completely to the emotion bursting in our hearts. As we experienced our second Christmas without Grandma, we were blessed enough to still meet together in her living room, just as we’d done for the last five decades. My aunt, Pat, inherited Grandma’s home, and welcomed us just as her mother had done all the years before.
How fitting that, after the CD’s had been passed out, Pat retrieved Grandma’s memory book off the shelf over the sofa. After trying unsuccessfully to read through her tears, she closed the book and said, “Grandma’s one wish was for us to continue coming here and celebrating each holiday as a family, especially Christmas.” She paused, “And I believe we’ve fulfilled her wish, so far.” Everyone nodded in agreement, grateful for the gift of family and the security in knowing the future of, hopefully, many Christmases to come.
Two weeks after receiving the disc I decided it was time to hear my Grandma’s voice again. Listening to her lilting
British accent mixed with a little Southern drawl and her ever-present sense of humor made me feel as if she’d never left-and yet-made me miss her all over again.
Why didn’t I take more time listening to Grandma’s stories? Even those who knew very little of her understood she’d
had an adventurous life. A war bride from England marrying a soldier from the mountains of North Carolina and coming to America, living in poverty beyond any she’d seen before while raising four children and working full-time. That’s what you call a lady of strength and character. Through it all, she never lost her wonderful sense of humor.
I guess I’d grown up taking her life story for granted, thinking she’d always be there if I ever needed her to recall a wistful tale or a harrowing occurrence. I didn’t realize I had the plot of a real-life movie sitting right in front of me. Now, it’s too late to ask her any questions, or hear her unique way of calling my name.
Thank goodness Lisa and Aunt Pat recognized how extraordinary her story was and recorded as much as possible. They went through mountains of old photos asking Grandma to identify unfamiliar faces and documenting many of her stories. What. A. Gift.
It’s a shame we often must lose someone we love before we recognize the value of their story. We get so caught up in our to-do lists and feel there’s no time to stop and pay attention to history. But we learn from history. We discover our roots and see how God worked a beautiful tapestry out of the story of their life- a story which, we sometimes forget, includes us. And, many times, we see the miracle of why we are even here in the first place. The twinkle in a soldier’s eye set toward a young English girl is part of my story, of how I came to be. When I think in those terms I’m amazed how God works out all of the details to create each of our stories.
Toward the end of her life when our family would get together for special occasions, Grandma would walk into a room, surveying the vast amount of people and say, “Can you believe all of this came to be because of me and Joe?” She seemed both proud and astounded seeing the fruit of her and Grandpa’s marriage.
This coming Tuesday, June 10, would be Grandma’s 88th birthday. I still miss her greatly, but I’m thankful for the time I had with her and for the things she taught me about life—one of them being you can overcome adversity. Goodness knows she had her share.
I’ve learned since her passing to take the time to slow down and listen more. People, especially older people, are important and deserve to be heard. We can learn so much from their experiences if we’ll stop and pay attention. Just this week we’ve unexpectedly lost three older people in our community. I wonder how many stories have been taken with them, never to be shared.
It may not be too late for you to unearth the treasure of a loved one’s story.
Is there someone in your life you need to listen to? Don’t wait any longer. You never know how much time you have left.