I have little to say. The thought of composing a post from scratch seems insurmountable. But I don’t want to give up. I know there are people who read my work looking for encouraging words. Not false hope, for sure, not even a hope that can be seen, but a hope that is rooted in the Good News of Christ:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1.5)
I do a lot of self-reflection here and there is a method in my madness. I have found working in mental health ministry that more people are willing to explore their own emotional struggles if you first share yours. But there is a great danger in this. You can get so caught up in musing on your misery that you bring others down rather than lift them up.
I’m determined not to do that.
So, rather than talk about my own faith and mental health struggles, I’m going to share a story and a poem about my Grandma McPeak, the woman who first led me to Christ and helped keep me sane in the often insane world of my childhood.
The story is true, but for a few details. James in the story is Grandma’s son, my Uncle Geoff. He left behind a rewarding career and community life in New England so he could “love his parents to the end.”
Mildred, a.k.a. Kathy, is Gladys, the home health aide who meant so much to Grandma and the family. Gladys provided such intimate care, she rubbed Grandma’s favorite lotion on her body after she passed.
I wrote the poem, “How Long,” some years back and read it to Grandma. She responded by smiling and saying,
“That’s nice. Can I go to bed now?”
Mama, it’s James. I’m home!
Where have you been?
I’ve been to the doctor, mama. I told you.
What did you see the doctor for?
My foot, Mama.
What’s wrong with your foot?
I have pain in my foot, Mama.
Well, why don’t you go to a doctor, then?
He smiles; rubs his neatly shaved head; and whispers her name as a mantra.
What do you want for supper, Mama?
It’s suppertime already?
Yes, Mama. It’s suppertime.
Well, then, what can I fix you?
Mama, You just sit there at the table. I’ll fix us some noodle soup.
Oh. I don’t want you to go to no trouble. I ain’t that hungry.
Not hungry? Did Mildred fix you something?
Mildred. You know. You call her Kathy.
Kathy’s here? Can I get her something to eat?
No, Mama. Mildred … Kathy left before I got home.
They eat in silence. A familiar silence. A silence born of time together. Time well spent, made precious by what little remains.
What time is it?
It’s time to do the dishes, Mama. Do you want me to do them?
No. I’ll do them.
Okay. I’ll run your water.
He moves to the sink, turns on the faucet, tests the temperature, plugs the drain, then squeezes lemon Joy in.
Mama, I’m going to wheel you over to the sink. You stay seated until I have the wheels locked.
As he moves behind her, she lunges forward, trips, and knocks her head on the counter. He quickly tilts her back into her seat.
Mama? Are you okay?
I said, are you okay?
I’m fine. How are you?
Are you in any pain?
Why, no. I don’t have any pain.
Nights are the hardest. He put her to bed and quickly takes a shower. As soon as he gets out, she calls for him, afraid of what she might find in the dark. Sometimes he has to walk her through the house to show her no one is there.
Okay, Mama, I’m going to turn the light off. I’ll see you in the morning.
Herman, I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong.
Mama, I’m James, your son. Herman is your husband. He’s been gone a long time.
Herman, I keep praying for the Good Lord to come carry me home. And here I am. I ain’t gone yet. What am I doing wrong?
James bows his head. He remembers the hymns she sang while he rubbed her stockinged feet. Bible stories they read with colorful illustrations. Sermons he’d heard tucked into the pew beside her, reaching up for a peppermint when as the preacher called on hell to break loose.
What am I doing wrong, Herman?
You’re not doing anything wrong, Mama. Just pray. Like, “Heavenly Father, I’m ready for you to send your angels to carry me home.”
Amen. She smiles and closes her eyes.
He turns off the switch and leaves the door partially open, allowing a hopeful stream of light to flow from his room to hers.
My grandmother used to say,
“I don’t know why the good Lord doesn’t just take me.”
As with the prophets of old who cried:
How long, O Lord?
How long must we endure
As our enemies rise up against us?
How long, O Lord,
Will they speak words I can not hear
Do things I can not see
Make plans I do not approve?
How long, O Lord?
Before I see my grandchildren
and their children?
How long has it been?
“Grandma, how are you doing today?”
“Oh, about the same.
“I didn’t know getting old would be so hard.
Why won’t the good Lord just take me?”
Now, the Lord has called her home
I remember the words she spoke
The see the sparkle in her eye
The hear the faith on her lips.
Her How long” is no longer
a lonely cry of desperation,
but a joyous song of celebration.
How long! Sweet Jesus,