One year ago, on Good Friday, we learned that Maxine, at 91, had developed an acute leukemia. A few months before that she was still driving, still very lucid, so it hit us pretty hard. Doctors gave her weeks to months, and a board member with DOOR told me I needed to go see her.
I decided to take Charlotte, my oldest, as we couldn't afford everyone, but with Rapid Rewards and a little privileged help from my mom, she and I could go. At the time, she was five. I realized the blessing of having a great-grandmother who could still tell stories, could still recognize us. So we went. With my grandmother, a kind of back-and-forth storytelling, we told Charlotte of Barack Obama's inauguration on MLK Day, the day we learned that she was developing in the womb. We learned that Maxine had a neighbor named Ruby who we never knew about before. We learned that my grandmother was not angry about her upcoming death. She knew where she would go.
Her last words to me, as she held my hand sitting in her chair, were this. Matt, I'm tired, is it wrong for me to sometimes wish that God would just take me tonight? I'm ready. I know where I'm going. But I want you to know: keep doing what you're doing. You and Darcie are raising those girls well. Keep going.
And Charlotte, who tells me that we are orangish-pink, not white, said, Grandma Max, I don't want you to die. And Max said, well, dear Charlotte, I understand, I don't want to leave you, but I have had a long, good life. I'm ready to go be with Jesus. And you will grow up and a be a strong and kind young woman and know that if I can, because I'm not really sure how it all works, but if I can be at important things, I'll be there for you.
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. - Philippians 1:23-24 (NIV).
I am so grateful for Maxine. She wanted to go, but she sat up to tell us a few more stories, and did this for all of her grandkids. Grandma Max died on May 13, 2015, exactly one year ago today.
She was human, of course, and had many failings. An only-child, she didn't know how to teach her nine children how to manage conflict very well, and some of our family fights are pretty downright childish. I would disagree with her often, and looking back am frustrated anew at the all-too-common remaining silent about conflict from the past (which is what she did in the funeral march twenty years ago). But, I have to remember that she lived through the Depression. She watched her own father struggle with remaining strong while he was unemployed, and once they started achieving stability, they never wanted to look back on those hard times.
I was recently at an all-black church, listening to the pastor ponder how the Civil Rights leaders of old failed to adequately transmit the stories to their kids, and he was calling on young people to seek those stories out, and urging the elders to share, share, share before they pass on. We need a balance of lament and praise to make us whole.
Because it matters, it really matters, the entire book of Psalms lifts this up. Lament and praise together, not getting lost in depression but also not being lost in delusional celebration, gives us greater depths of understanding and fuel to keep going. Maxine's stories gave me the hopeful courage, a few weeks ago in Marion, when a white woman in her seventies declared herself to be, proudly, color-blind. I said, "what I think you mean, is........" and at the end of it, I believe she understood the more important value of working towards Color Bravery.
I miss you Grandma. Thank you for giving me a complex and hopeful base to build from. Until we meet again, @MatthewJSchmitt +Matthew John Schmitt