We buried my great-grandmother on Saturday, March 25. She was ninety-six years old.
She lived her life in twenty year phases: twenty years unmarried, twenty years married, twenty years widowed, twenty years married, and then just a few years short of another twenty years widowed. She lived through feast and famine, from her childhood in small Cicero, Illinois outside of Chicago to her last few breaths in hospice care. She lived through the death of two husbands, and she never doubted the faithfulness of her God. She was a woman way ahead of her time, who loved to travel the world, eat ice cream, and read her Bible.
The thought that I exist only because of her is mind-blowing and not a little intimidating. But as we celebrated her life at the memorial service, I choked back tears—not only because I miss my great-grandma, but also because I felt, and still feel, immensely proud to share the same blood as this courageous, grace-filled woman. As a great-grandchild, I only know my great-grandma in a particular way, but hearing the small details of her life made it clear that she was so much more than I knew. And that, of course, is a bittersweet realization, because while I did hear my great-grandma tell stories, she was an endless well of wisdom I didn’t visit often enough.
The Lent season is a difficult journey to experience honestly. The lead-up to Resurrection Sunday sometimes feels forced—we confess that Jesus is raised from the dead, so why do we pretend he wasn’t for forty days? Yet experiencing the death of someone you love, even if she lived ninety-six long and good years, pulls things back into perspective. We are human beings, made of dust, and to dust we will return. As our family stood around great-grandma’s burial site, I couldn’t help but feel the visceral reality of Lent: ultimately, we don’t have control.
My Aunt Jackie, great-grandma’s youngest daughter, repeatedly told friends and family at the visitation that it’s been a rough couple days for the family. And it has. And it won’t stop being rough—we lost a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a sister, a friend.
But then, time and time again, I heard Aunt Jackie say with tears in her eyes and some strange mix of sorrow and joy in her voice: “It’s okay though. Mother is with Jesus.” The person she was talking with would bend down to hug her, and Aunt Jackie would follow with: “I’ll be at church tomorrow! I’ll be there for communion.”
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.