It was her stock threat when she was mad at me: “I’ll just go home to Memphis!”
Over the 15 years we lived together, I heard it more times than I could count. I could almost predict when it would pop up in an argument. “Here it comes...in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...”
But we both knew it was an empty threat. She might actually have decided to go home to Memphis and leave me--but I knew she would never leave as long as the Emperor and the Empress (my son and daughter) were around.
(My Uncle John and Aunt Jo Ann confirmed this for me at the funeral home last night. They said “Every time we talked to her, she told us all about the Emperor and the Empress. We had to ASK about you..." ;-)
Two weeks before she died, we had a fight. She hated it that I insisted on calling in a home healthcare agency to watch over her when I went out of town. She was almost hissing she was so mad. “I’m FINE! I don’t need anyone to stay here with me! All those people do is SIT!”
Which, of course, is what we were paying them to do.
And then she pulled the usual line: “If you are going to call those people again, I’m going back to Memphis.” And she looked at me and added “SOMEBODY [meaning me, of course] has decided that I’m going to die, and I am NOT going to die!”
At that point, I laughed and said “I hope you don't. But let me know how that works out for you...”
It’s impossible to avoid the occasional argument when you live together as long as we did, but by bedtime, we had made up--as we always did. As I kissed her good night, she said “You know I’m not going back to Memphis.” And I laughed again and said “I know.”
And yet...here we are. She has come home to Memphis for good now. She was born here, began her life with my grandfather here, and raised her children and grandchildren here. And now she will sleep here, until Christ comes again in glory and we all experience “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
The time between now and then will not be easy for those of us left behind.
I have often wondered what I would say in my grandmother’s eulogy. I’m a writer, and words tend to flow pretty naturally for me--but not now. The enormity of this loss is too large, and my grandmother’s absence seems to be blocking all my attempts at eloquence.
So I will just speak the simple truth--which is that my grandmother is truly the best person I’ve ever known.
In all that she did, Ammom was kind, thoughtful, and loving. She always put others first--sometimes at great cost to herself.
She showed me how to love--deeply and even wastefully.
She demonstrated that “love” is a verb. For my grandmother, loving was DOING. It was clean laundry and a homemade coconut cake. It was caring for my grandfather for so many years--and then caring for my children--and treating both sets of responsibility as a privilege, rather than a chore.
In all her loving, she was no stranger to sorrow. She knew the price of love is always loss...and she did it anyway. She never held back her love or her gift of service in defense against the pain to come--because, even though she knew what love costs, she also knew what it was worth.
In that, she was a model for us all.
Ammom often said “I have faith like a child.” I know that she took seriously Jesus’ words that we should love God and one another, along with his injunction to us to care for the least among us. She had a servant’s heart and she loved with all that heart, and with all her soul and all her mind.
And now, as Christ promised, she has her reward. She rests with God and all the other saints we love and miss--and she has come back to Memphis at last. Not in anger or chagrin--but in peace and in hope.
Welcome home, Ammom...welcome home.