Come and see Grammy! She scared me at first, but then I think Grammy wants me to come sit by her.
This was a request from a nearly four-year-old grandson. In a church I served as an interim pastor, I visited a man whose wife had died. Temporarily helping the congregation for several months, I didn’t know him well and had never met his wife. Well, I had “met” her in a hospital’s intensive care unit. In her mid-seventies, she had a series of unexpected health emergencies that far too quickly led to her death. I had also done her funeral.
Preparing for the service, I learned about her from friends and family. A devoted wife. A loving mother. The go-to Grammy for favorite desserts and spur-of-the-moment babysitting needs. She had raised her kids, gotten a teaching credential, taught for two decades, and badgered her husband until he took her to Paris after both had retired. They had a thousand more plans.
None of those plans included her death.
I went to see her husband.
He thanked me for doing the “celebration of life” and the graveside service. He tried to pay me and I refused. He was a long-time church member and I have always believed that part of my “job” included the weddings and funerals for members. He mentioned having good support from his kids and weekly lunches with old Army buddies. Mostly, during our visit in his living room, he answered questions with short responses. When it seemed time to leave, we prayed, and he thanked me again for “helping do her funeral right.”
At the front door, with a late spring breeze whispering through the roses framing his front porch, he gripped my arm. Stopped my exit.
“Something weird happened.”
He cleared his throat, gazed past me, and then at me. “Yesterday, I was taking care of the youngest grandkid for a little while. He’s a smart little bugger. His parents had to run an errand or something. So, he’s here, and I fed him a bowl of cereal, and we played some silly card game, and then he got to watching cartoons. I left him for a moment to put the milk away or whatever, and he suddenly shows up by me in the kitchen.”
“And he says, ‘Come and see Grammy. She scared me at first, but then I think Grammy wants me to come sit by her.’”
He stares at me. I nod. It’s his story.
“And he takes my hand and leads me back to the couch in front of the TV and points.”
Another pause. His hand is still on my arm. His grip is tight.
“I don’t see nothing.” Now he pulls his hand away, tightly crossing his arms over his chest. “Then he says, ‘Oops, she’s gone. But she was there! Grammy was smiling at me!’”
He sighed. “What do you make of that, Pastor?”
+ + +
We talked at his open door for quite a few more minutes. I told him the only two things I barely know about what his grandchild may or may not have seen.
The first is obvious. Young children can have vivid imaginations. The world of “make believe” easily overlaps into real events. Kids have imaginary friends. Kids hear adults regularly use metaphors and analogies (It’s like I have a frog in my throat or It’s raining cats and dogs) and the child may search for the literal frog or literal pet.
The second is mystery. Are kids able to see, hear, and smell things we old, evidence-based, overly-cynical adults have forgotten how to experience? And if so . . .
All religions, even with our modern just-the-facts perspectives, fall short of explaining how God—or Allah, the Divine Wind, the Almighty, the Higher Authority—works. For some, perhaps many, religion is nonsense. Still, even for the confident atheist, practical humanist, or lapsed believer, there are events we hear about or witness that stop us in our tracks.
Was Grammy there? A figment of an active imagination? A manifestation of . . . Mystery?
In grief support groups I’ve led, one person might share about a dream. The deceased loved one had come to be “with” them! The next person bemoans his or her own dreamless, endless nights. Why wouldn’t their loved one visit? Just once, please.
Group participants comfortably (or awkwardly) have shared about rainbows and doves and butterflies as signs from their beloved.
And some have never seen a damn or blessed thing.
The signs and wonders can be reassuring. Or unsettling. I am confident they have nothing to do with people going “crazy.” Based on my limited experiences, I have heard stories from those who are not religious, and from those who represent many different religions, and they have each referenced “something” that happened to them that was equally inexplicable and comforting. And, as mentioned, I have been around kind, loving, faithful, thoughtful people that never once had a “strange” experience after a family member or dear friend’s death. Some of those longed for a sign. Some didn’t seem to care if they had one or not.
You can easily find resources or speakers who claim to prove there are signs and wonders.
You can just as easily find resources or speakers that claim to debunk any “miracle.”
I lingered at the door with the old man whose wife had died. I could tell he enjoyed having his grandson guide him out to the couch to “see” Grammy. I could tell it also made him sad.
More than anything, as we stood there with each other, I wanted to give him a chance to talk.
I couldn’t explain, but I could listen.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)by