It was nearly five months ago that I saw a group of EMTs wheel my grandmother into the back of an ambulance. She hadn’t been able to eat much and her body had become weak and frail. She often complained of stomach pains and said nothing tasted like it used to. We seemed so far from the days when I used to watch her standing in front of her seventies era green oven range preparing meals for the family.
I always loved the Saturday fish dinners and any other day where I could fill my plate with her Southern-style cabbage and collard greens. Those days, she seemed to dance around the kitchen, knowing exactly what steps to take without any instruction. Each movement only accompanied by a soundtrack of Carolina beach music blaring from a radio that sat on a table near the window.
But that day, seeing her—one of the strongest women I’d ever known—lying sunken in her bed without enough energy to reach the kitchen or the front door on her own, was heartbreaking. I knew she needed more help than I could ever give her inside that aging townhouse. With EMT’s guiding her every step, she had to will every muscle in her tiny body to make it down the narrow staircase to the outside where they loaded her onto a stretcher. I stood in the warmth of the summer heat and watched. And as the engines roared and emergency sirens screamed announcing their exit, I hurried back inside and grabbed her purse, prepared to follow in my car.
At the time, I had no idea that would be the last time I would return to that little townhouse to visit her.
She passed away about a week later.
I knew it had been a rough couple years for her, losing three of her four siblings in a span of about three months and a son some time before that. That, on top of losing her husband just days before Thanksgiving in 2014. It’s no doubt she was still grieving—with each day tickling her mind with memories of times shared and moments she wished she could enjoy right then.
She often talked about how she missed her siblings and joked about my grandfather, saying things like, “Man, he drove me crazy, but I sure do wish he was here right now.”
We all felt the sting of his absence every Thanksgiving after my grandfather passed. And this year, my family will feel the sting of missing many others, including my grandmother.
It’s never fun to have a place setting at the table of the grieving over the holidays. It can be hard to cultivate a heart of thankfulness when you’re forced to deal with unexpected loss and the heartache that can often come with it.
He also makes a place for us. At His table, He offers us an abundance of grace and love and comfort. Because of God, the hurt that burns within us doesn’t have to stay there forever. But on the days it remains, He is still there to walk with us. After all, God loved the world so much He sent Jesus to die for our sins. Then, when Jesus walked the earth, he came to know our suffering and was willing sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15). Just as he wept with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35), he continues to weep with us, and he intercedes for us when we cry out in the midst of our mourning. And he makes his grace sufficient for us.
It’s a grace that covers us on the days it feels a little too hard to get out of bed.
It’s a grace that covers us on the days we just don’t have the strength to force another smile.
And it’s a grace that covers us when we want to question God’s plan or shutdown when we hear another well-meaning scripture.
It’s also a grace that covers us when we try to keep ourselves busy to keep from breaking down. Or when we just want to be alone with our memories, fearing a day may come when we’ll forget.
So, as I stand in my own kitchen, blaring the music I love, I can cook for my own family and give thanks for the moments I spent with my sweet grandmother, knowing that God understands there is a time and a season for everything, even grief.