I always knew the day would come. When I decided to move my family overseas to fight human trafficking in Kolkata, I understood that the cycle of life back home with my family and friends would continue as if I had never left. It is one of the hard realities I face every day of my life – one Jesus talked about often. It’s the paradox of dying to live. Of leaving to find. Of giving up to receive. I knew would miss births, weddings, job promotions, all of life’s hardships and celebrations, being with my best friends, kids growing up…and even…deaths. It is and will continue to be a real cost of the life I have chosen.
This past week, at the age of 92, my grandma passed away – out of this world and into the arms of Jesus.
My grandma was a very special woman and we had a special bond. When I really sensed Jesus started to tug at her heart strings later on in her life, we would often sit and talk at length about things of faith. Our conversations always revolved around the complexities of this world and of faith – and how they intertwine into the mysteries of God – into the unknown. Those conversations were real and raw conversations – ones I will never forget and hold tightly in my memory. I could tell my grandma knew Jesus deeply – and yet still wanted to know Him more. I loved that about her.
My grandma fit the Matriarch bill to a tee. When she walked into a room, her presence would be felt immediately, even without saying a word. She carried herself with immense dignity, respect, and quiet strength – while equally making you feel at ease – warm, accepted, and loved. It was one of her greatest gifts. This was never highlighted more than in her relations and interactions with her husband – my grandpa (who passed away a few years ago). My grandpa was a wonderful man. He was caring, sincere, and devoted like no man I have ever known. But he also had his moments… He was very driven, opinionated, and at times had an eccentric personality. In those moments, my grandma would somehow be able to soften some of his harder edges while equally being the most loving, supportive wife imaginable. I often wondered how she did it. Now I wonder how my wife does it! I carry a profound sense of gratitude for the things my grandparents taught me about life, love, and respect. In these ways, and many more, they will be missed.
In my grandma’s latter years, I was only able to visit her about once a year because we lived so far apart. Because of this, I approached every time with her as it if would be the last time I ever saw her – and she would do the same. This, of course, was sometimes stressful and filled with intensity – but we wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have it any other way. Our bond and relationship was simply way too special and strong to let last moments pass way in the name of speaking in platitudes and keeping self-preservation – and besides, I always wanted her to know my deep love and I know she felt the same way. Life is just too special and important to leave any ounce of love on the table.
We would hold each other tight, I would delicately stroke her precious face, and we look deeply into each others eyes. We would freely and without reservation speak truths of love and life into each other’s heart. We would speak of the greater things to come, of the love of Jesus, of the importance of family and love, and of a continued legacy and heritage. Tears would flow. And at times, wailing and deep anguish – knowing good-bye was inevitable. But I have found that this is what love looks like. This is what life looks like. It is never neat and clean. It is messy and emotional and…human.
I like to process through writing now. It helps me in many ways – including in my grieving process. But, in the wake of my grandma’s death I couldn’t find the right words to express where my heart was at and the deep complexities I feel even though I know she is in a better place. I guess it is because I no longer think life is simple, black & white, and clean cut anymore. I am finally old enough and mature enough to embrace (albeit reluctantly) the ambiguity. The truth is, I am surrounded by the complexities of this hard life everyday – whether it be in the forms of dying street children or women behind locked doors. I have finally understood that true life, real life, is lived smack dab in the middle of the gray – and there is only one hope, one answer that will work.
At my grandpa’s funeral, I was able to share the message of Jesus. It was one of the highlights of my life – an outsider, the adopted kid, so loved and accepted and supported by his family that he gets the immense privilege of sharing about the most important person who has ever walked the face of this earth at his grandpa’s funeral. It just might have been the most symbolic ten minutes of my life. Before I said a word about Jesus, I shared this thought by author and theologian, C.S. Lewis, that shaped everything I would go on to say:
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”
In the wake of my grandma’s death, I am once again at base level with God – and once again this quote rings powerful and true. Theological studies stripped away. Comfy and safe life stripped away. Every barrier and stronghold I have put up for my own self-preservation and protection blown away… and I am raw before my Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. After all, in the end, that is why we call it “faith”. And in the shadowy, uncomfortable corners of doubt, confusion, and despair – I am given a whisper of hope. It is just a whisper – but still feels stronger and more real than anything I can see or feel. Its bigger than the pain, hurt, and death. It’s the promise that all things are being made new – not only for a generation of my family that is now only a memory, but for the death and suffering I see around me every day. And I hear God remind my in the recesses of my doubting and dark heart, that He has not forsaken this world, my grandparents, or even the women of Sonagachi. But that He is here. Alive. And that in one day. In the twinkling of an eye…….
I Love you, grandma.