My grandma, while she was in the midst of caring for my failing grandfather, would come home from the nursing home and sit in her rocking chair and reflect on the struggles of the day. And every time I called her, she would tell me stories of the trials and tribulations of getting old — and the pain of watching someone you love grow weaker every day.
Gramps was a farmer. He was one of those big, strong guys who worked hard at everything he did. He was also compassionate and giving beyond what was expected.
But after struggling with Parkinson’s for some time, Gramps started to fall. One day, he was standing at the top of the stairs and the next thing he knew, he was laying on the floor at the bottom of the steps. Grandma rushed down to help him. Gramps picked himself up off the floor and headed over to the furnace.Grandma asked what he was doing.
Gramps said, “As long as I’m down here, I might as well check the furnace filter.”
Grandma told this story — and several others — with a chuckle. And at the end of each story, she would say, “You just have to laugh — because there aren’t enough tears.”
It was a trying time and very difficult for all of us. But, mostly, for Grandma. But she was an emotional pillar, taking what came and determined to make the best of it.
I’m not an emotional person. I’m kind of like Grandma. I’m much more apt to find something to laugh about than I am to cry.
But today, I heard the song “Silent Night” for the first time this Christmas season.
And I cried a little bit.
Because I was reminded of all the Christmas Eve celebrations with Grandma and Gramps. Of the special Christmas Eve meal of Swedish meatballs and lutefisk. And, of course, the most wonderful treat of all, lefse. (I want to give a shout out to all my wonderful readers in Norway — my gramps was 100% Norwegian and proud!)
I was reminded of all the candlelight services on Christmas Eve. You know — the one where everybody gets a candle and they sing Silent Night by candlelight. I was reminded of the pastor’s warnings to not wear hair spray to church that night and instructions to always tip the unlit candle when passing the flame along to the next person.
I was reminded of the time when midway through “Silent Night,” the organ stopped working and the church just kept on singing. It was as if the congregation was saying, “Even when we have nothing to go on, we WILL continue to sing to our God.” Not long after, the church received a new organ — and a new pastor to go with it. The new pastor was great. The candlelight service that year was unforgettable. To illustrate his sermon, the pastor threw a ball of string into the congregation and said that whoever it landed closest to had to hold on to the string and throw the ball to someone else. I don’t remember exactly what he was illustrating, but I will never, ever forget that service! I think he was trying to illustrate that the love of God touches everybody at the same time, and the more we throw the ball (give of the love that we have received), the more entangled we become in Him. Because, yes, the congregation was tied in knots by the time the service was over.
Then I reflected on walking the three blocks from church on those silent, frosty nights. How safe it was! Sometimes I walked alone. A girl alone, enjoying the crisp winter air and the sound of snow crunching beneath my feet.
I reflected on the lunch Grandma always served the family after church, complete with homemade goodies, coffee, cider and my favorite — lime punch.
I was reminded of making the long trek to Grandma’s to bury my cousin just days before Christmas one year, and the grief and pain we all felt as we laid him to rest.
And, I reflected on the year that there was a huge blizzard that lasted several days, making it impossible for me to spend Christmas with my family. The blizzard forced me to spend the 4-day vacation I had arranged completely alone.
I thought on all these things and I cried.
I cried because it’s different now. My cousin is no longer with us. Gramps is having lutefisk with Jesus this year, and most recently, my aunt has also passed on. As with most places these days, the streets of that little town aren’t quite as safe as they once were. That unforgettable pastor is long gone. Church attendance has dwindled to just a handful.
But more than that, I cried out of gratitude for having such a wonderful family and so many sweet memories. Memories of church and family and yes, even dishes and cleaning and all sorts of chores that come along with a houseful of 20 hungry, happy people. Memories of celebration after celebration. Birthdays. Christmases. And yes, even memories of celebrating the lives of those I love so much.