Goodbye Grandma

In memory of Edna Chance 8/30/1917 – 2/13/2017
A remembrance delivered at Asbury United Methodist Church, Livermore, CA on Feb. 24, 2017

Thank you for coming today. As Grandma said every time we were together: “Isn’t this pleasant?”

She had a lot of inspirational little catch phrases we all remember:

  • Life is just so daily
  • Sweetie, anyone can handle anything for just a little while
  • This too shall pass, and of course
  • This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it

But today isn’t a day to rejoice. The LORD made this day for us to grieve. To feel sad. To hurt… but for just a little while.

I have the rest of my life to take comfort in my memories of her. Today, I want to mourn what I’ll never know again in this body, and what I’ll miss until it’s gone.

Sunset over the back field of her house. The sound of a train through her bedroom window, late on a Friday night. Waking up to an eternal Saturday morning in 1978 with French toast, Apple Jacks, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

And Grandma.

Like all the dead, Grandma is now a place in time I can remember but never visit again.

That hurts. And it should hurt. It’s good for us to hurt like this. We shouldn’t push it away. Hurt is a gift from God, if we know what to do with it. In every way, Grandma taught us that.

My 31st birthday was 10 days after 9/11. I had been laid off. I was despairing after the attacks and from the wave of ugliness that seemed to wash over the American spirit after. I was spiritually homeless after finishing seminary and leaving the United Methodist Church. She could see how much I struggled with it all and gave me a very special gift, a gift my very Southern Methodist Grandpa received from his very New York Italian flight crew in WWII during a special audience with the Pope in Rome, in gratitude for the Allied Forces who’d helped liberate Italy and the Vatican from the fascists: a silver and mosaic crucifix blessed by the Pope that had hung on their family room wall.

She gave it to me to remind me of Grandpa, and that hope springs eternal. Without so many words, in the suffering Jesus on the cross, she reminded me they’d lived through it all before: the Dust Bowl and unemployment in the Depression, loneliness and despair, years of war that changed our national character for the worse.

Her gift shed light on something else, something we ignore in the world, and in her: that sweetness is only born in suffering. That we can’t get the one without the other. That a cross without the suffering Christ is an empty promise. It helped me keep going, find my next job, and even do what disenchanted Methodist seminarians often do: I became Catholic. And I met my wife, Rosie. And we had two of her many great-grandchildren. And life goes on, struggle and all.

And I share that because she knows we need more than her sweetness. She knows we need her struggle too. It’s so easy to think they don’t belong together. Grandma baked the best brownies you’ve ever tasted. But don’t forget she also beheaded a snake once in that same kitchen with a hoe. The divot is still there in the linoleum. She wants us to know if we skip the hurt, the grief today, then God can’t do his mighty work in us tomorrow.

Our job as Christians is to be perfected in God’s love, to be made ready for eternity in his presence. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2Cor 1:5) If we are smart, we take the grief of this life as God’s good gift to bake away whatever keeps us apart from him. That’s what Grandma’s been up to these last couple of years. She’s been baking. Thanks to Mom, and Tom, and Nestor, Grandma was able to receive her final gift of suffering as comfortably as possible.   

The great mystic Saint Teresa of Avila, riding to one of her convents, once fell off her donkey into the mud and injured her leg. “Lord,” she said, “you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?”

And in prayer, Jesus responded, “That is how I treat my friends.”

“And that is why you have so few of them,” she replied.

Everyone who spent even five minutes with Grandma agreed: she was a friend of God. So I look back on her life, especially the pain of it and the way she let God bake it into joy and caring, and I say thank you, God, for loving her so much.

Thank you for the little girl abandoned by her father, who chose total devotion to her grandchildren. Thank you for the hard work in the shipyards, and the fear of carrying Mom to term alone without her husband during the war, It gave her 40 years of independence and devotion to Grandpa. Thank you for her needing a soft place to land after fleeing the dead farm in Colorado with her single mother, for through it she touched the lives of everyone in this congregation and city. Thank you for her long life, especially these last painful years together: the falls, the fractures, the struggle to breathe, to eat, or even to think. Thank you for showing us Grandma was your friend, and using her to draw us all closer to you.

The saints are those who are made perfect in God’s love by embracing the pain of this life as their own share in his crucifixion. I will never be more confident that I have known someone who did that than I am of Grandma today, that we have indeed been blessed to live with Saint Edna of Livermore. So if you hurt today, if these are your dark times, then like her, take the grief you feel as your gift of suffering. Hold it inside you, let it bake in the heat of God’s love, and turn it to some good use for someone who doesn’t deserve it. Then, like her, you will know what it is to say, “This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  

Memorial gifts may be made to:

Valley Care Charitable Foundation

In memory of: Edna Chance
Special instructions: Valley Care Auxillary
1111 E. Stanley Blvd.
Livermore, CA 94550

United Methodist Women c/o Asbury Methodist Church

4743 East Ave.

Livermore, CA 94550

LHS Alumni Association (LHSAA)
P.O. Box 1216
Livermore, CA 94551

Read more about Edna:

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