Bleached sandstone blocks felt cool against my skin as I leaned against them. I glanced up at my husband.
“I can’t do this.”
“Yes you can. I’ll be with you.”
I shook my head. He didn’t understand. No one understood. I shifted my gaze from his face to that of the dark-suited young man approaching our group.
“Yes. She’s ready.”
Again I shook my head, but my husband gently took my hands in both of his and rubbed them briskly.
“You have to do this. Okay?”
I nodded reluctantly. Hand beneath my elbow, he gently guided me toward the seats reserved for us near the front. Taking a seat, I took a deep breath and looked around. The church was filled with flowers, their fragrance lightly scenting the air; sun streamed through multi-paned windows set high in the walls, forming patterns across the wooden floor roughened after over a century of use; while off to the side an unknown person played the organ softly. A feeling of peace filled the small building.
We shifted in our seats to make room for other family members as they joined us, wanly acknowledging the greetings of those we hadn’t seen in years. Rummaging in my handbag for the tissues I knew I would soon need, I failed to hear the pastor’s opening words. Suddenly a feeling of panic overcame me and I grabbed my husband’s hand. He squeezed it encouragingly and I concentrated on breathing.
In. … Out. … In. … Out. … Not too fast. … Slow down. … In. … Out. … Don’t panic. … Breathe. …
“… she told me years ago that she wanted me to preach the gospel at her funeral service. If I couldn’t do that, she didn’t want me to say anything …”
I dragged my attention back to the pastor as I caught his meaning. A smile tugged at my lips. It was just like her. My husband lifted his arm and placed it across the back of the pew, his loving concern evident in every gesture.
“One of her favourite verses was the one in John fourteen verse three that says: ‘ I go to prepare a place for you.’ Jesus Himself tells us that He is preparing a place of many mansions for all those that love Him. We know it’s true because He has told us so.”
I dabbed at tears that threaten to spill and hoped for a hymn soon. I heard sniffing immediately behind and my heart ached. My children had taken this so hard. It had been a shock for us all. I wondered if we would ever fully recover.
“Finally I would like to read a poem that was found amongst her things.”
… I am interested in Heaven because
I have held a clear title to a bit of property there for over fifty years.
I did not buy it.
It was given to me, without money or price,
But the donor purchased it for me –
At a tremendous sacrifice.
I am not holding it for speculation,
Since the title is not transferable.
It is not a vacant lot, for you see,
For all those odd fifty years,
I have been sending materials out of which
The greatest Architect and Builder of the Universe
Has been building a home for me.
The pastor finished and I watched as the pallbearers rose to do this one last service for the woman who had been like a second mother to me. I looked toward where my mother sat alongside my husband and my heart twisted. Today was her fiftieth birthday. This wasn’t the way we’d planned on remembering it. This wasn’t part of our plans. It didn’t seem fair.
And then I remembered more words from my grandmother’s poem:
… my dwelling stands, now nearing completion,
And almost ready for me to enter in….
There is a valley of deep shadows,
Between that place where I live,
And that to which I shall journey
In a very short time now. …
But I am not afraid …
He will be with me as I walk through
The valley of shadows.
And I shall not lose my way
Because He is with me …
As the organ started playing, I gathered my children around me and thought of the mansions that He was preparing for those that love Him and was comforted.
Author’s note: A tribute to the memory of my grandmother who was born February 28th 1926 and died violently February 14th 1995. The family assume that the poem found amongst her personal belongings, written in her hand, and dated May 14th 1992 was her own work. It was read at her funeral.
Ah, Jules, a very touching tale. How precious your memories of your grandmother must be. How hard it is when a loved one is not longer there. Particularly ove this part of her poem: 'For all those odd fifty years/I have been sending materials... Bless you for opening the wound and sharing this part of your life.