This has been a week of celebration.
On September 11, 2018 my grandmother Sally Shannon Miller, wrapped in the loving arms of our Sissy Sandy, lifted the veil between this life and the next. While we grieve the loss of her physical presence and we grieve to know we could not be there to surround her in love as she prepared for her journey, we have a deep abiding peace knowing we honored her final wish to walk into eternity in her home.
It is hard to know where to begin.
When I think of my Nina, I think about breakfast. Gathered around her kitchen table in the morning hours in bathrobes and pajamas, I was introduced to the most intimate kind of fellowship. The table was set with a hearty mixture of southern delicacies: homemade biscuits, sausage gravy, fried eggs, and the holiest of offerings: her butter laden fried apples. Of the tables I have sat beside throughout the world, none will ever rival the decadence and familiarity of those breakfast feasts. It was a familial communion, and the joy and raw intimacy of that congregation will be hard to ever replicate.
In my youth, it was a home filled with joy. The day beginning with the afore mentioned celebration, where coffee and laughter began the day, was followed by a continued stream of unbridled enthusiasm. In the summer there was the pool. Where my grandparents were equal participants. As a child, my Marine grandfather insisted on teaching me to swim properly. These lessons were often interrupted by diving contest and finding new ways to go down the pool slide.
We would take breaks from the pool for Sally’s famous tang slushes, and we would sit on the porch and find shapes in the clouds. They were not only present, they were fully engaged. They were not stoic with age in the golden years, they were alive and were not too proud to fully immerse themselves in the worlds of their grandchildren through play and imagination.
There was an abundance of affection. At no time was I out of range of a hug, there were no boundaries when it came to snuggling next to each other on the couch. There was an abundance of praise. They made everything I did seem extraordinary.
To simply say they loved me is not an accurate characterization.
As the years passed, the realities of living 800 miles away became more acute. This distance did not diminish love, but limited the opportunities to know the daily realities of each other as people. With the passing of time came new challenges in the wake of the bodies process of aging and disease. Time leaves nothing untouched, but as they taught me about love and family during their life—their death too leaves an indelible mark.
When my grandfather passed away in 2011, I consider it one of the defining moments of my life. As the family gathered around his bed, soft hymns being sung as we said our goodbyes, my grandmother sat beside him holding his hand. Among her last words to him were: I love you. You can go home, wait for me by the river.
Moments later he breathed his last.
I watched Sally’s devastation in the following days. How for 56 years he had been her best earthly companion, for the previous six years she had been his constant caregiver and his fiercest protector, and now their walk together had ended. Half of her soul was missing.
Wednesday I was introduced to a piece of parchment that my grandfather had written for my grandmother. We do not know when the verse was penned, only that we discovered its existence during the end stages of Sally’s life. She carried this paper in her purse, and in the final months of her life would hold it within her hands, its worn corners bringing her comfort.
The lines read:
Across the years I will walk with you,
In deep green forest,
On shores of sand,
And when our time on earth is through,
In heaven too you will have my hand.
Their life was defined by this love. This love that was so certain that even if they spent a lifetime together it would not be enough time, and so too in eternity they knew they would walk hand in hand. The kind of love that as we went through their cards and letters conveyed such a deep appreciation and unbridled affection that we occasionally blushed. They were not just husband and wife. They were the deepest of friends, they were the most passionate of lovers. The marriage they gave their life too defined them. The love they created in their home defined their lives and deeply affected those who were touched by this love.
This is what gives me certainty that this is a week of celebration instead of mourning. Not only did she redeem her promise of salvation through Jesus and his crucifixion, a fact she demanded to be preached at her service so it would be remiss to not mention it here– but I know on Tuesday, as she was ferried between this life and the next, Hugo sat waiting by the river of life. On that day, for the first time in more than a decade they met as equals. Their souls restored and reunited. I can only imagine the joy in that reunion.
I have spent much time in the following days reflecting on the rarity of their match. How they knew, the night they met at that Christmas Dance in 1954 that they were destined to be together. How they were wed the following June, and how they spent 56 years fully enjoying the companionship of one another. Their life together was a powerful testament to faith, family, commitment and the rare gift of genuine love.
There is peace in knowing they lived a life that was fulfilled. There is joy in knowing that the depth and breadth of their life was marked by joy and accomplishment and love.
But there is such sweet sorrow in knowing that for those of us left behind, the physical experience of that love is over. Knowing the memory of that joy and comfort must sustain us, and that we will never again find respite in the old Kentucky home we loved. Instead we are now tasked with developing that love as a testament to their legacy within our own homes. What a lofty goal that will prove to be.
I have added many things to the catalog of my life this week, not the least of which is the importance of never-failing love. But mostly, I have spent the time reflecting on the simple moments we shared together, and how I wish there had been more of them throughout the years.
For the living, there is never enough time. But just like their love story knew that ‘in heaven too, you will have my hand,’ I too have the hope that in eternity there will be a breakfast table of fried apples and sausage gravy.
And we will dine in love once again.