Perhaps you see love as this mushy gushy affection depicted by the modern rom coms of today. But love is more than this. Love requires sacrifice. It's doing the inconvenient things. Taking care of my grandma in her illness, I gained a new perspective on what love is. In my experience, love is holding the puke bag; it's blending soup to make it go down easier, it's sitting chair-side to provide comfort, even if you can't make their pain go away. Love is gently and patiently helping with medication reminders, and running to the store to get a specific flavor of soup. In more extreme cases, it's picking up a loved one off the floor and calling the hospice nurse. Love is willing the good of the other for the others sake.
An Unexpected Year
My grandpa died in February 2023. Following his death, my grandma was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unexpectedly during this time, my two sisters, mom, and I became her caregivers. In the months that followed, my sisters and I each drove my grandma to the ER at different times. We were there for her in all the stages of her cancer. We saw her grow weaker and thinner. She called us her 3 guardian angels, although we just saw it as caring for our grandma. It was a period of us 3 sisters learning to care for our dying grandmother. Even if she couldn't eat much, or didn't feel well, she loved having us around. In her battle with cancer, my grandma had good days and bad days. On the good days she would say "I feel great today" and on her bad days she would say "I feel like I am going to vomit". We took it day by day; offering her what she needed and doing the best we could to take away her suffering. With my grandma's recent passing, I now reflect on how this unexpected year with her was really a year of love. And caring for a woman who's legacy goes beyond her years.
A Devote Catholic
My grandma was a devote Catholic and everyone she met knew it. She had a great love for God and our Blessed Mother. She loved praying the rosary and was known to pray all 4 sets. She frequently said "we need to pray for our country and the world" Despite the tragedies and suffering she faced in her life, she continued to express her love for God. Not that it was easy, but that her faith in Him was great. Though a registered nurse, she and my grandpa opened a Catholic bookstore in town. She felt called to give people the resources to learn more about God and the saints. I was privileged to work there for a few years, during which time I encountered people in all different stage of their faith journey; some of which who knew very little about God.
My grandma did not keep the love she had for God to herself. Both her and my grandpa started a perpetual Eucharistic adoration chapel in town, and organized countless Eucharistic retreats, along with talks about Blessed Mother. My grandma wanted to give our community the opportunity to experience Jesus through the Eucharist. Her favorite picture was titled Madonna and Child (see below). I remember her gazing at the image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus as she explained "just like the infant Jesus, we too can rest against Our Lady's chest and sleep peacefully. The safest place for us is in the loving arms of the Mother of God." My grandma's devotion to Our Lady grew from the tragic childhood of her mother, Sarah. "At a young age, Sarah was placed in an orphanage run by nuns. During her time there, one of the nuns took her to a Catholic Church and pointed to a statue of Our Lady saying "she is your mother now." It was a story my grandma never forgot and often shared with me.
A Champion For Life
My grandma was a huge supporter of life in all stages; from conception to natural death. In her younger days, she was known to pray outside of abortion clinics, and serve as an advocate for all human life. Being the wife of a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) doctor, she understood and supported her husband in his work, saving the tiniest of human lives. I remember her tell me when my grandpa received calls from the hospital at 3 AM, she understood he had to go in, because lives were at stake. They were a power couple in defending human life. Looking at old scrapbooks, my grandma saved every single newspaper article that featured my grandpa, and his work as a NICU doctor. This included when he testified in a court case defending life in Washington DC. At their bookstore, they sold a bunch of pro-life literature and resources, including a brochure on the development of a baby in the womb in the earliest stages.
A Full Blooded Irish
My grandma was a natural conversationalist. While she did kiss the Blarney Stone, many would say she was born with the gift of gab. She could talk with anyone about pretty much any topic. There was no such thing as a short conversation. On several occasions, she invited complete strangers into her home to offer refreshments, and talk about God. With her extroverted nature and love of company, it's no surprise that God arranged for her to live with 3 of her granddaughters in the final year of her life. As a full blooded Irish raised in Brooklyn, New York, she was a fighter. Strong willed and loved to argue. Those who knew my grandma are familiar with the great passion she had for her faith and politics. I remember when she wasn't feeling well, I asked her if she wanted to watch a movie. She responded with "no, I want to watch the news. I need to know what's going on in our country". As a result, we'd hear the news playing into the wee hours of the morning. If you went into her room while she was watching the news, you had to be prepared. You were instantly informed by her of what was going in the world. And unless you had a darn good excuse, there was no leaving that conversation. I speak from experience. There were a few times when I convinced her to turn off the news and watch some old movies, while I sat chair-side with her. She loved classics like The Quiet Man, and It's A Wonderful Life.
A Lifelong Learner
My grandma loved learning things. Whether it was random facts about the benefits of eating tomatoes (which she loved) or info about the civil war, she wanted to know about it. And she wanted you to know about it too. That's how she was, always sharing knowledge with others. My grandma was firm believer that when there was a will, there was a way. And she definitely had a strong will. When she believed in something, very seldom did she take no for an answer. When she had done all she could, she relied wholeheartedly on God to direct the outcome.
Is This An Interview Or Conversation With Grandma?
My grandma asked the hard questions. She wanted to know what was going on in your life. Sometimes in speaking with her, you felt like you were being interviewed by the inquisition. I realized later that her questions were out of love, even though at the time it felt like nagging. She didn't just want you to have a good life, she wanted you to live it to the fullest. My grandma wanted to see you become the best version of yourself. Her actions were guided by love and great generosity. She loved her family and her grandchildren dearly. The phone was no stranger to her and she would often dial up a family member to hear how they were doing. It was rarely a short conversation.
With it being Christmas time, I am reminded of joy in the midst of suffering. Jesus was born into this broken world to give us hope and be our light in the darkness. I once heard a priest say "in death there is life". As I celebrate the life of my grandma, I grieve the loss of her, but am also relieved her suffering is over. Her earthly pilgrimage has ended, but an eternity with God in just beginning (something she often contemplated). While this Christmas is tinged with sorrow, there is also hope and joy that can only be found in the infant Jesus.