It was June of 2014. I remember when my mom told me that my grandmother, Emily Tierney, would have Dolly Parton played at her funeral. I shook my head a bit, confused, but chuckled. “Ohhhhhh Grandma” I thought. Hosparus had been taking care of my grandma, who in a short couple months had gone from holding her granddaughter Lilah in her lap and singing Bushel and a Peck to laying in a hospital bed taking her last shallow breaths. She wasn’t talking anymore. She wasn’t eating. She was 91. We were all awaiting the inevitable. For all of you who have waited for a loved one to die, you know how painful it is in those last days, seeing them in a futile condition and tracing through so many memories from the past. Yet, this is the point at which caring for them becomes so important, even if uncomfortable. Honor thy father and mother. My grandma was defenseless and unable to communicate except through groaning. I remember watching my mom working so precisely to make her mom comfortable. The pillows supporting her back just right, the blankets covering her ankles, her hair being combed and her skin being cleaned and lotioned. How you love someone in the last days of their life matters. Humble service done in love. Jesus showed us this example when washing the disciple’s feet. It’s not a bad idea to view your life as a foot-washer to others. My mom the foot-washer.
My mom’s brother had died in November three years earlier. Both suffered the cruel fate of cancer. Both endured pain. In my uncle Jack’s case, the cancer ate away at him for years. He was a fighter. And he had a huuuuge laugh. He got all it from his mom. They were both full of life. My grandma was a firecracker and made an impression on just about everyone who met her. She was near deaf for many years but she smiled and laughed through it all and loved to talk and share life together. Interestingly enough, both her and Jack had a surge in their faith toward the end of life. I remember talking to Jack about Christ a few years before his death and he shared so openly and with great excitement about what he was learning. And with my grandma, well… I just wasn’t sure what her faith was made of. She would regularly explain to me, “Scott… we just didn’t read the bible growing up.” She had grown up in the Catholic church but later in life showed some very confused notions of who Jesus was and why he came. In the last years, she got her daily or weekly dose of theology from Joyce Meyer and other TV preachers. That was severely frustrating to me. I let her know it. We could talk like that. My grandma was not one to shy away from conversation and in those last couple years our conversations about the Scriptures proved to be some of the best memories of my life to this day. We talked about sin and judgment, forgiveness and redemption, faith in Christ, Genesis through Revelation. Sometimes it seemed like two steps forward, three steps back. But change is often slow and it is difficult to see the heart. In the last year, however, I began to hear a change in my grandma. It was no longer “I’m a good person and God just wants me to be happy…he knows my heart.” It was “God knows my heart and I’m guilty, but I trust in Jesus fully for forgiveness.” We talked about anger and forgiveness and how we do the things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things we should do. I know a small handful of family and friends that had been talking to my grandma as well. My uncle, my mom and a couple neighbors, and I’m sure others of whom I’m unaware. To hear my mom talk about praying through the Psalms together with my grandma during those last months… it makes me emotional even writing it down. Their relationship had been so seemingly irreparably fractured since the death of Jack, and most certainly even earlier than that. I saw the deep pain in my mom. The body language, the tight lips, the tears gathering at the corners of the eye whenever we would talk about her relationship with grandma. The type of pain that almost shuts a person out because it’s too painful to be around them. But somehow, by God’s strength, my mom loved my grandma through that and my grandma’s heart was made open to that love and she loved in return. They truly reconciled, and began embracing and praying for each other. They were loving each other as mother and daughter should. They were reaping the joy of that which so many of us long for… reconciliation. Forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7 (Matthew 18). A soft tongue breaks a bone (Proverbs 25). Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6). I thank God for that and it challenges me in my own relationships.
And back to Dolly. Dolly Parton…really mom? Grandma wants a Dolly Parton song at her funeral? Ohhhhhhhhh K. And then Dolly sang, I Will Always Love You. I’m going to link it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS-F4rfU4ns. I sat in the front row of that funeral home listening to Dolly sing, staring at my grandma’s silver casket. And I began to cry. I suppose I hadn’t ever carefully listened to that song, and the lyrics are beautiful. It was my grandma’s swan song, the embodiment of her life and the legacy that she wanted to leave behind. The service and this song, it was all carefully planned. These words… “And I hope life treats you kind, and I just hope that you’ll have all you ever dreamed of. And I wish you joy and happiness. But above all of this I wish you love. And I will always love you.” They got me. I will never listen to that song again without cherishing my grandma. The last video I have of her is singing Bushel and a Peck to Lilah. It was only a minute and 8 seconds long. I regret not filming longer. My grandma, in her cheery expressive voice says “Oh you beautiful baby (laughing). You still got that book? Can you sing?,,, Yes…you’re gonna be the kind of baby that’s gonna like everything. You’re going be like your mommy and daddy. Yes you are. You’re gonna love everybody. Because I love you a bushel and peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck.” And that’s my grandma. Her legacy is one of laughing heartily, loving deeply and trusting in Christ. I love you grandma. See you soon.