“What was it like back then, Grandma?” the young man asked.
His grandmother raised her cup and sipped her coffee in reflection. Should she tell him? Or were some things better unsaid?
“Grandma?” he prodded gently.
She closed her eyes, remembering. So many things she could say, so many unresolved issues.
When she again looked at him, she saw his grandfather. His eyes penetrated the wall she had erected so many years ago around these memories. Yes, he was too much like his grandfather.
“Your grandfather and I had many things in common. We loved each other so much. When he left, we were just beginning our life together,” she murmured.
“I wish I could have known him,” her grandson said. “They say he was a hero.” Her weak smile was his only answer.
“But what was it like?” he repeated. “I want to understand.”
She sighed. “I wasn’t over there, of course. I saw the television news reports like most other Americans.” Grimacing, she added, “The nightly body count. How many of the enemy were killed or maimed compared to how many of ours. A score tallied daily to try to convince us we were winning.”
“You sound bitter.”
“Grief can do that, Danny. Your grandpa was one of those cold statistics, and I had just learned I was pregnant with your daddy. I didn’t know what to think.”
Yes, the knife still twisted in that old wound in her heart, still caused searing pain. Oh, Dennis, why did you volunteer to go to Nam? God, why did you let him? She could have no peace in her heart until God answered those and her other questions.
Her grandson reflected over his lukewarm coffee. “They say you went a little crazy.”
She nodded, waited for him to ask the probing questions she knew were still to come, the ones she wasn’t sure she could answer.
“You stopped going to church. Did you stop believing?”
She remained silent. What could she say? God had abandoned her when He let her husband die.
“They say you protested the war after my grandfather died.”
She grimaced again and shut her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered.
There it was, the question she most feared. She let silence fill the minutes until it became almost unbearable.
“Couldn’t you have honored his memory instead?”
Hot, angry tears spilled down her cheeks. She heard her grandson push his chair back, scraping the linoleum. Opening her eyes, she winced to see him grasp his crutches and rise. She tried not to stare at his one empty pants leg. Towering above her, he still seemed more a giant than her grandson.
“Where are you going?”
“To the cemetery to visit Grandpa’s grave and pray,” he muttered, moving toward the door.
“Wait, I’ll drive you there,” she said. He paused for her to get her purse and keys.
Arriving at the cemetery minutes later, she hesitated behind the steering wheel. Could she put her pain aside long enough to accompany her grandson to the gravesite? Danny was already on the crutches and moving toward the neat rows of markers.
She glanced at him, then away. Why did war have to inflict such suffering? The war that stole Danny’s mobility was in the Persian Gulf; the war that stole her husband had been in Viet Nam. Two generations had been touched. So needless.
“Coming?” Danny called back.
“Yes,” she answered. She had stayed away so long, she wasn’t sure she would remember where he was laid to rest. But Danny knew. He was already at the grave by the time she left the car.
“Grandma,” he said. “I want to pray with you. Old conflicts don’t die until their ghosts are laid to rest. These ghosts that have stolen your faith must be laid to rest.”
She protested but he stilled her with one look.
“Do it to honor Grandpa, and to receive God’s peace inside.”
She swallowed a lump that constricted her throat. “I don’t know how to begin.”
“Scream, yell, cry if you need to. Just talk to Him. Should I wait in the car?”
She shook her head no and embraced her grandson. Her tears began anew as she turned her face to heaven and released the sorrows of forty years. As she knelt before the cold headstone, she pleaded, “Please forgive me, Jesus, for my anger and bitterness. I need You.”
Only then did peace find a resting place in her heart.
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