It was a year ago today that my Grandpa passed away. I haven’t seen him whole and real since last August, so though it was only a year ago that he was here and then not, it feels like longer. He wasn’t himself for all those months that he was sick. And what I miss is his Self. His laughing, smiling, slow-driving, made-up-language-speaking Self.
My dad drives Grandpa’s truck now, which is strange and practical and disorienting. Since I don’t live at home anymore, every time I come home on break, I see the truck in the driveway, the truck that picked me up from band camp and brought me to middle-of-day doctor’s appointments. For a second, I think I’ll see him behind the wheel. It’s funny; my sister says sometimes she sees Dad driving it and he looks vaguely like Grandpa, hunched up behind the wheel. My dad has been doing Grandpa-y things lately. I like it.
We had my Grandpa’s memorial in July this year. I read the piece I wrote last year after he died – it was so much fun to tell that story of him again. I’m glad I got to do it, but to be honest, I wasn’t entirely excited about waiting until July to have his memorial. I remember being upset about the waiting, upset that we weren’t going to end what felt like months of stress and grief and busy-ness at the time when they should end.
(Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I often feel like the shoulds of my life need to be the same as the shoulds in everyone else’s. If something should happen a certain way for me, it should happen that way for everyone else.
I’m usually kind of short-sighted when it comes to my shoulds.)
In the end, it was good to wait to have the memorial, for practical reasons and for symbolic ones. Practically, considering last winter, it was easier for everyone to get up the hill to the cemetery where we buried his ashes when there wasn’t three feet of snow on the ground. Symbolically, it was beautiful, because summer personified my grandpa. He was all sunshine and darkened skin and tattered summer tank tops. He was more lawn mower than snow plow, more light breeze than stinging chill.
And the wait itself was good for us. It gave people time to patch up a bit. For months, life had been hospitals and doctor’s visits and stark white walls and trips to Cleveland and where is the joy I thought this was Christmas? It had taken three months for my grandparents to go from being well to one of them being sick enough for Hospice. There needed to be time before putting a definitive end to all that.
I learned a lot about waiting last year, but I’ve only just begun to really think about it this year, during this Advent. Advent is about waiting – it is about joyful, patient, hope-filled waiting for the King, for the Immanuel. Last year, I didn’t care much for Advent waiting. The defiant optimism of Christmas, while in many ways welcome, comforting, peaceful, was also full of hurt and stress. I don’t know how others in my family felt about it, but for me, it was like putting Neosporin on a fresh cut: It was meant to help. It was meant to heal. But all it did then was sting.
This year, I have been stoked for Christmas. I have loved Advent, loved re-learning how to wait with joy. Last year, I was waiting for death. And while I tried desperately last year to focus my attentions on the hope that Jesus brought, the sheer wonder and brilliance of God-with-us – I couldn’t unstick my mind from the waiting for something I dreaded happening. It was hard for me to really understand what God had begun to try to teach me, ever so gently, so lovingly, as He does. This year, I’m beginning to see it.
There are two ways to wait for anything. We can wait with hope or with dread. And maybe sometimes it’s both, because life is full of bad things – but life is more full of good things, of beautiful and awesome and magnificent things. Jesus came here. He didn’t come as a pig for slaughter; he came to show us a life well-lived. A Full Human Life – that’s what we were waiting for. And that Human Life led to death, but not forever-death. There is no greater love than the love that lowers it’s head to the guillotine, that jumps in front of the gun, that crawls up on the altar itself, that gives up his life for his friends. That life was one spent loving the poor and the forgotten, raising up the oppressed, lifting the beggars and adulterers and lepers up from the dusty path and calling them blessed, wanted, chosen, remembered, precious. When we wait in Advent, we are waiting again for that Full Human Life, that life that saved us by dying and returning, that life that promised us that we would wait with dread no longer.
Wait with dread no longer.
Even for the bad things. Even when we are waiting for death, what we are really awaiting is new life, Full Human Life. We are awaiting a day when the people we love, and someday we ourselves, can step out of these shadows and figure out what it’s really like to live in the Light.
So, yes, today I am sad. Today, I miss my Grandpa a lot. But what I want, what I desperately want, is to remember how to wait with hope. To be sunshine and darkened skin and tattered summer tank tops in the midst of winter. To give myself and others time to heal. To anticipate the beautiful, the King, the Immanuel.
May my Advents be ones of hope.