Today would have been my Grandma’s 106th Birthday. She has now been with her Lord and Saviour for 12 years. Earlier this year as we watched the news that the Queen was dying and her family were hurrying to her bedside, I mentioned that this had brought back memories of a similar dash to Scotland back in late November 2009. Nanna had suffered a serious fall and was in hospital. The prognosis wasn’t good. My mum had placed her mobile close to Grandma so that she could hear me speak to her and I’d asked if I should come to see her. She’d gasped an acknowledgement that I should. I’d jumped on the first train possible, and my sister had joined me at York.
I was reminded again in recent weeks of that hurried journey, especially as we raced south to try and get to see my Father in Law. This time we were too late, getting the news on route that he had already gone. I mention both of these things first of all to acknowledge something important. Death remains a painful, cruel thing. Whether or not our loved one is elderly or relatively young, whether we spend time with them as they go through the process of dying or whether the end itself is sudden and unexpected, grief is real. Death hits us hard.
I’ve been writing these past few weeks about having a culture of life. Christians believe in the hope of eternal life and bodily resurrection. This though shouldn’t cause us to minimalize death or undervalue life now. Life here and now has meaning and value. So when a loved one is ill, it is right that we seek the best medical care for them. It is a good and proper thing to pray earnestly for healing.
Life should be treasured and enjoyed. My grandmother was a model of that. She had travelled all around the world, primarily as a forces wife with my Grandpa stationed in Singapore, Italy, Aden (Yemen) and Germany. She’d also travelled out to see my aunty in Australia. She loved learning about and participating in the culture of the places she visited and where she lived. She enjoyed making countless numbers of friends. Grandma loved to regale us with stories and had a mischievous sense of humour. Her earliest stories were of the practical jokes she used to play and the scrapes she and her sisters got into as children (or I suspect rather that she got her sisters into).
This week I’ve been writing on the subject of Christian Nationalism and the associated evil of racism. Grandma would have had no time for such nonsense. Having moved with grandpa to Bradford in the 1970s, she had often struggled with the sense that her church was made up of a close knit community and knew what it was like to feel as though she was the unwelcome outsider. So, when members of the Afro-Carribean community joined the church and were also treated as outsiders, Nanna had nothing to do with the rejection, she embraced the new people as friends, as sisters in the Lord.
Grandma also had a healthy perspective on life. She valued and enjoyed it but didn’t see the desperate need to cling on for ever. I remember the occasion when in her early 80s, she told a few people that she thought she had another 10 years left. Of course, we all wanted nanna to go on fo ever and had kind of convinced ourselves that she would. So, there was shock and expressions of “don’t say that.” Turns out though that she was pretty spot on in her calculations.
How did Grandma hold to such a healthy perspective? Well it all goes back to those days in Singapore. One day, her and my grandpa had been walking together when they heard singing and recognised the tune. It was the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus.” My grandparents decided to go in to the church and find out what was happening. There they were greeted, welcomed and discovered through the preaching that they too could know Jesus as friend and saviour.
The hymn became her favourite. We believe she was probably tapping out the rhythm of it as she lay in her hospital bed at the point when she was no longer able to speak with us. She was able to enjoy life and to face death because she knew that in Jesus she had a saviour, Lord and friend. Jesus was the one who was able to carry her safely through life, dying and death to the other side.
Today on her birthday, I would like to introduce and commend her friend to you.