In my storage, in a Christmas bin, there’s a solitary blue milk tab. For years I’ve meant to make an ornament out of that small ring of plastic, something special that highlights its meaning for me.
An apron belonging to my maternal grandmother came to me after she passed away. The apron was a practical style she liked, a loose, sleeveless tunic to cover clothing better while cooking. Wearing it shortly after returning from the funeral, my hand grazed the tab in the pocket. I pulled it out and stared at the humble keepsake, eyes overflowing, feeling certain that it was one of the last things Grandmama’s hand had touched.
Each Advent as I prepare to decorate my home, I come across it anew and hold it in my palm for a while, thinking of that wonderful woman I loved so dearly. I had the great privilege of being the grandchild of Margaret Joan, a woman who loved fiercely and who loved me.
When I married Matthew, who was recently baptized and confirmed, in a Catholic Mass 18 years ago, Grandmama traveled from Idaho to Texas (though she hated flying) to be present on my wedding day. Grandmama was raised Catholic; I was not. In fact, I had not yet converted. She wept in the pews during Mass, and I’m grateful she was there.
At my wedding she wore a lovely floor-length, silver dress; it was the dress she would be buried in years later.
Matthew and I had planned on traveling to Idaho with our four children to visit her and my grandfather. For days he reminded me to call and tell her we were coming. I thank God for his persistence; we had a beautiful, bright last conversation. Before we could make that trip to introduce her to our youngest children, including a daughter who looks just like her, she passed away. Instead of going to visit her, I went to her funeral Mass. And I wept beside her casket.
I was reminded of how painfully I still miss her when my friend shared with me recently that her husband’s grandmother was dying. It was a time marked by powerful grief and some guilt about the business of life that prevents us from doing what we mean to do, seeing those we honor and will miss terribly when the opportunities to visit are gone. Though his grandmother had lost her memory, the couple were going to spend hours with her that day, putting all other things aside. For my friend, her husband’s grandmother wasn’t just related by marriage; she was a family member who had provided cherished memories of time together.
As I commiserated with her, shedding tears for her family’s pain, I recalled those whom I miss.
My husband’s maternal grandmother, a sharp, stubborn woman with a mind of her own, invited us to spend Thanksgiving with her the year she passed. We decided not to go, because we had a newborn. Our newborn girl bore the name Rae in honor of her great-grandfather, Grandma’s husband who had passed years before. Looking back I wish we had made the Thanksgiving drive to see Grandma; it was a missed opportunity for a final celebration.
I thought, too, of both of my grandfathers who served during World War II, remembering their stories, their nicknames for me and their unique senses of humor. I was so grateful to have time with them during my teenage years.
I saw the lovely, gentle face of my husband’s paternal grandmother. Her company was special to us during the blossoming of our relationship when we went to her house each Sunday after Mass. Her husband was a very good man, I hear. He passed away when my husband and I were just getting to know each other, and I never got to meet him.
Sadly, I reflected yet again on how both of my maternal grandparents are now gone. Their home was always, always flowing with coffee and creamer, an abundance of food and a flood of conversation and laughter. Friends and family loved to gather at their corner of the world.
Shedding more tears with these resurging memories, I didn’t offer my friend the platitude that it would get easier with time. Instead, I confided that I don’t miss any of them less with the passage of years.
“It’s hard being human,” I said. “Even being a Christian and hoping to see your loved ones again, you still must deal with loss now. Sometimes I get sad thinking about how I can’t go to my grandparents’ house and visit with them there, experiencing that overflowing hospitality. They’re gone now. And I can’t have that time again.”
But then, thanks be to God — before I was done uttering that mournful pronouncement — I received a gentle, comforting reminder from the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of our Father’s provisions and consolation overwhelmed my sorrow, for I envisioned the perfect hospitality of our Father in Heaven.
I saw God’s massive table before me. There in His house our most gracious and merciful Host will provide more abundance, more joy, more comfort, and more loving company among His family than we can ever imagine here on earth. I glimpsed all the dear faces around that table that we yearn to see again and saw our cups overflowing during our reunion.
That beatific assembly will require no budgeting, planning of vacation days, or lengthy travel. The last great journey from death to true life, enduring to the end and finishing the race, will have been made.
No feast with loved ones now – no jubilant celebration, lavish Thanksgiving meal, or cozy Christmas gathering — can rival the bounty and the joy to be found on that glorious, incomparable day, the day when we are all gathered in thanksgiving around our Father’s table.
Copyright 2019 Hillary Ibarra