She was three and it was our first chapter book to read aloud. One chapter every night, the story of a little girl living on the prairie leapt off the page and into the imagination of my bright-eyed little girl.
As a young mom, I was thrilled at the nightly ritual that was emerging in our world and I relished the fact that Little House on the Prairie was one of many books about Laura that Annie and I could snuggle into each night before prayers.
Annie didn’t know about Laura Ingalls Wilder's other books.
The night we split open the paperback at the last chapter, I mentioned rather casually that we were about to finish the book. It was at that moment that we had a problem.
Annie’s lips pursed, the bottom one drooped fat and quivering. Tears followed as she threw her head down on the mattress sobbing, “I don’t want to read the book. I don’t want the story to end. I want Laura to be my friend. Don’t read it! Don’t read it!”
I tried to explain that the book held only a small part of Laura’s story, that we could join Laura on the “banks of Plum Creek” and the “shores of Silver Lake” in other books. Laura's story wouldn't end for quite some time. Three-year olds are not prone to rational thinking in the midst of fits. She was fully intent on her understanding that the last chapter of Little House on the Prairie was ending---something she could not face. She was undone.
Finally, she worked through her anguish, but not without a good scolding from her Daddy who thought the tot had blown the whole thing out of proportion and was tired of the squalling. He had not been there night after night watching his little one climb into Laura’s world, so his patience was short. At least his reprimand caused her to crawl into my arms and I rocked her gently while she snubbed. Eventually, she quieted and I was able to convince her that it was okay to go ahead and finish the book.
Yesterday, I went with my little girl all grown up, now a mother herself, so I could be with her as she "said good-bye" to her great-grandmother. My grandmother is now at the last chapter of her story. All we can do is love her and wait.
Although I knew facing this last chapter would be hard for her—for me, my big little girl didn’t throw a fit as the reality set in. Annie mustered courage as she placed her six-month-old baby girl carefully on the bed beside her Memaw. A massive stroke has taken away the voice we know so well, our sweet grandmother held the baby’s hand, gazed speechless at her beauty.
Annie held her two-year up over the bed rail. The little one, blond hair clipped back in a sky blue bow, sang in her sweet pixie voice, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” to her great-great grandmother. Four generations, we entered the last chapter as tears pooled at the rims of our eyes, our hearts ripped through at the innocence and the agony of the moment.
My breath lunged out of me as I walked out of the room. I assume I had been holding it and hadn’t realized. Outside the nursing home, a cold blast had dropped south in a fierce wind on Sunday afternoon, slapped me in the face. I shivered as I walked toward the car. No doubt, I was the one who wanted to be squalling. With the babies waiting in the car, that didn't need to happen. I reached deep for hope and I found it in the stories waiting to be revealed.
Sooner than I want, my grandmother will enter the new story. The temporal fading, she will enter the promise and the mystery that is just beyond knowing. New chapters are her promise and mine. She will live drinking from the river of life and standing before the crystal sea.
We grieve--- and we will grieve, but not “as others do who have no hope.”
This week as we ponder the passion of Christ, of his entering earth’s story to become our sacrifice, I grieve that it had to be so. I grieve that the last enemy to be defeated will be death. But I look to Sunday, to the glorious resurrection and I know that redemption is near. Jesus bore sin upon the cross, paid for the sin of the world. That cruel instrument of death brought eternal life. Jesus, the Son of God, Son of Man died our death so that we might live his life.
"By faith I believed and by grace I have received." These words form the last sentence on the last page of a primer on forever-living.
The last chapter becomes the beginning of the greater story.
I ask for your prayers for sweet mercy for my grandmother, for great comfort from the Holy Spirit, and that she be held close in the arms of Love as she lives this last hard chapter in a story well lived.
If you dropped by today, I will consider it privilege if you would lift a breath prayer, leave a comment if you want, but would you mind not sharing this on social media like Facebook or Twitter? I am disturbed by how death is handled especially on Facebook. It's just a thing with me. (You may or may not understand what I am talking about.) I appreciate your understanding.
Maybe this story wasn't meant for the www at all? It is a dilemma and the lines blur because there is power in story and together in community we endure until we who are in Christ enter into his fullness. Life and how to cope with its realities blur at times. The truth is: physical death is our destiny. Those who are hidden in Christ Jesus would otherwise be destitute save for the cross and the Savior who sacrificed his life there our their behalf. For those who have rejected the cross--that is a whole other story. God have mercy.
I wrote this not to exploit my grandmother's dying in order to write a blog post but to bring clarity to my heart to stand firm in is what is true; to grab hold of hope as I struggle; to accept what is happening in her story--- and in the story of Jesus that sits right on top of a broken heart as we inch closer to Good Friday this Easter week.