I haven’t written for a few days. Life kind of took over.
Sometimes best laid plans have to be put to one side to deal with the important stuff of real life.
Last Thursday was my 37th birthday. It was a fine day, I caught up with a few friends, and received some lovely gifts.
Last Thursday was also the day I said goodbye to my Nan.
My Mum phoned at about 3:30pm, as I was finishing coffee with some friends, to say it looked like the end was close and I might want to make my way over to see Nan sooner rather than later. So I did.
I shared some precious moments with her, before she went home.
Nan was 95 and had been telling us for a while she was ready to go. She was tired and missed her husband, my Grandad, who died 8 years ago. (She told me those last 8 years had felt like 80 without him). She was almost completely blind, her sight had been failing over the last few months, and very thin, the cancer in her lungs causing her too much discomfort and tiring her out too much to retain any energy for eating. She held my hand tightly and we told each other that we loved each other.
Believing in eternity and grieving are not incompatible.
In my family we are living this truth at the moment.
Nan died on Friday evening. She was an amazing woman of faith, convinced about heaven and not afraid. She had the end of life she had wanted: she wasn’t in pain and she wasn’t in the hospital. She was in her own home, surrounded by family, cocooned in love.
And with all these blessings, even in a death as good as this one surely was, there is great sorrow.
Because she is no longer with us. And we miss her. And while our souls are at peace and not afraid, we know this part of life, here on this earth with Nan, is over.
And we grieve in this knowledge.
To grieve is not to deny heaven.
When you truly have loved, it is good to truly grieve.
The grieving is the gift you receive if you loved well.
I believe I am an immortal soul, held in a mortal body.
I believe we all are.
My body will die, but the core of who I am, the essence of me, will live on, somewhere, somehow, for eternity.
I don’t know what this looks like, and I don’t know how it will be. My understanding is limited to all my earthy brain can comprehend. Occasionally I hear a whisper, I see a glimpse, of what it might be like. In those moments when time falls away and for a small fragment of time everything is like it should be, when the only thing that matters is our love for one another. When I go and kiss my son as he sleeps at night, when my eldest discovers something for the first time – a new author or idea, when my lovely ten year old cartwheels across the garden in the sunshine.
And if everything froze for that moment, all would be well.
Moments of perfection, of suspended heaven.
But time is not frozen, it marches on; minutes and hours and days. And it is from within this structure we understand life. Time is the God-given framework we live within.
Our lives are divided up into tangible parcels, each day waiting to be unwrapped and revealed.
And the finite nature of life is one way we define its value.
We know the cost of lost years to a job and or relationship that made us unhappy. And we know we cannot put a price on time spent with loved ones.
Part of the value of life is found in the fact that it is temporal. That we are mortal.
In my heart I believe we are more than flesh and blood, that we are eternal beings, but believing in something you cannot see or fully understand is hard. And as I stretch into this difficulty I feel the friction between two realities: the immortal soul and the earthly experience.
The more I have pondered this, the more I am grateful it is hard to think about eternity. I’m glad I struggle with this belief and find it impossible to live with an awareness of heaven all the time. If these ideas preoccupied me I would miss out on the beauty of living here and now. I would miss the joy to be found in this earthly body, on this planet, at this time. The messy glory and wonder and splendour of it all.
It is because I am fully alive here and now, I can hold the precious time-wrapped memories of being with my Nan; of the trips to stay with her when I was young, of the twin room my sister and I shared (complete with the tin of sweets awaiting our arrival), of her presence and wisdom as I grew up married and had children, and of the precious conversations we have shared in recent years.
My recollections of life with Nan are bittersweet, because she is gone. She imparted ideas and wisdom and love to me that will last forever, but the happy memories are for now tinged with sorrow. I cherish the time we spent together, and somewhere in my soul I know I will see her again, but now is a time to grieve, because she is not here and we miss her.