August 14, 2004

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.

-- Psalm 23

REAGANTOWN, Pa. – It turned out to be the last visit after all.

Two months ago, on a week’s vacation from work, I stopped in western Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother. On Wednesday, her family laid her to rest in that same small cemetery where a year ago we buried my grandfather. The suddenness of her death was a shock to everyone, and while I am thankful she was spared the agony that so often accompanies the end of life, the pain the news caused me is hard to bear.

However, the operative word in that last clause is me. For that, I would care to venture, is the trouble with death – it is hardest on those left behind, those who suffer the loss and who pick up the pieces when all is said and done. As my grandmother lived a virtuous life, one marked at every turn by her faith in God, I can’t see why she would have ever feared it. Such are the ways of the world: you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

In the eighty years she lived, I know my grandmother touched the hearts of many people. It was evident from all the people who attended her funeral, folks from her church and her friends from over the years. It was evident in the list of all the jobs which she had done at that church over a lifetime. It was evident from the stories people shared during the wake and the eulogy which my great-aunt Judy delivered at the funeral. Truly my grandmother served God in the ways she could, and under the circumstances which life had ordained.

Grandma was also, I might add, a crack shot with a rifle.

Heh. I have to give Aunt Judy credit for including this in her eulogy.

I can assure you that, long before your correspondent was a gleam in his father’s eye, outside my mother’s family’s home one day appeared a nasty black snake. As I understand it, such snakes are poisonous, so this was quite a concern. (I later learned they're not poisonous, but they're really, really big and not something one would want in the kids' play area). Anyway, according to various retellings of this story over the years, Grandma’s first reaction was to make sure Mom and Aunt Carol were indoors and safely away from the treacherous reptile. Then she armed herself with a .22 caliber rifle. When the snake made the tactical error of trying to scout out the landscape, Grandma shot its head clean off from the porch from some insane distance.

But as Aunt Judy pointed out, Grandma was a country girl at heart all her life, and this hit home to me as she listed all the things which Grandma did over the years – things like canning vegetables and making clothes and managing a home. As a sedentary citified type myself, some of these things seem downright amazing – not only because this modern age has removed any chance of my doing these things, but because much of what she did involved amazing sacrifice. Grandma was quite a bright woman – both my grandparents were – and she worked hard enough at her studies to become valedictorian of her high school class. Yet despite clearly having the aptitude to go to college, she instead worked to help my great-uncle Earl – her younger brother and also a high-school valedictorian – get his degree.

That to me speaks volumes about what kind of woman my grandmother was: a hard worker and someone who helped others before herself. But one thing I especially remember was just what a caring person she was. Even after I left home, she was always interested in how I was doing and what was new in my life – it was just unconditional support. My parents were always great about this too, don’t get me wrong; but it was always neat how Grandma would want to read some of the things I had written and so on.

But that was the type of person she was, a fundamentally good person.

After I left Pennsylvania on that trip two months ago, I had lunch with a friend of mine and we got into one of those great long discussions, about the illness from which my grandmother was suffering. Midway through the conversation, my friend made the quite astute observation that no matter what one suffers when one’s body gives out, one’s soul remains intact throughout the ordeal. It was a comforting thought as I drove back home to New Hampshire from Pennsylvania after Grandma’s funeral – knowing that even though Grandma had not been well for a long time, the fundamentally good person I knew was still there. She now exists in a place beyond time and space and matter, but I have no doubt that in that Heaven, she is experiencing great joy; joy which her wearied and worldly grandson could not hope to comprehend.

Aug. 7 – Aug. 14

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 14, 2004 02:09 PM | TrackBack
Comments

That's beautiful, Ben. Your grandmother would have been very proud indeed.

Posted by: Cullen at August 16, 2004 10:40 AM

Ben,

My condolences. I know how it feels and I want you to know that, as always, you have my support.

As for the soul, of course it survives, intact. As the mind gives way, often losing itself in delusions and forgetfulness, the soul is there, always, lingering underneath, no longer able to express itself through its imperfect vessel. But when one breathes one's last breath, the soul is released, entirely whole and in perfect harmony with the Universe. Your grandmother is happy now.

Matt

Posted by: Matthew S. Schwartz at August 19, 2004 01:31 AM