It seemed like a dream as I pressed the receiver to my ear and heard my dad’s voice.
“Grandma is no longer with us. She’s with Grandpa now.”
She passed late Thursday night. Her decline had been swift. Just 11 days earlier I was in Seattle for my grandfather’s memorial service and she had seemed frail but steady.
But when you lost your spouse of 75 years just weeks ago, and you’ve held out for one final trip down memory lane in the company of family and friends, perhaps you just decide once and for all that enough is enough.
At a certain point, the body won’t hold a soul that wants to go where a body simply can’t.
She was one half of the most beautiful couple I have ever known.
I said on their 70th wedding anniversary that it was my right to put them on a pedestal, and I still believe that it is. Their relationship exuded a quality I seldom see – a quality they would never have thought described them, but then, most people who have this deny it out of sheer humility.
That quality is holiness.
Too often, holiness is associated with religiosity, and this, my grandparents were emphatically, not.
Holiness is something so much more sublime. Divine. An intention of the heart.
As I wrote on their 75th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated together in January:
It has been said that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but instead, to make us HOLY.
I’ve been considering this statement for the last several years. And even if a person does not submit to the idea that our universe – and all that lies within it – is here for a divine purpose, namely, so that we can learn how to live like the Creator – a force of Love with a capital “L” that gives so freely He even wants to live through each one of us….Yes, even if someone does not agree with this heartfelt belief of mine, there is value in considering holiness as a purpose for marriage. And here’s why.
The process of becoming holy is the refinement of a person. It is a gradual sloughing off of all that is flawed in order to move toward perfection in goodness and righteousness – like placing rocks in a crucible and burning away impurities to reveal hidden gold or silver.
When I think about the ideal marriage, this is exactly what happens for the 2 individuals involved.
When it works well, marriage does several things to us and for us. It brings us joy. It brings us love. It brings us companionship for life’s adventures.
Most importantly though, it helps us to understand the long-term benefits of practicing a myriad of virtues such as acceptance, compassion, consideration, flexibility, generosity, humility, kindness, and forgiveness….
A good spouse encourages us, and calls us back toward the best version of ourselves. Over the long haul, there is benefit to both people in choosing:
patience over edginess,
service over self-centeredness,
understanding over egoism,
honesty over deceit,
and unity over division.
Was the path my grandparents took an easy one? Almost certainly not. I’m sure they faced tests and struggles that the rest of our family never knew about. But they passed through those fires and came out stronger and purer because of them.
My grandparents taught me by example what the path of holiness looks like. In their quiet way, they kept faith in God and lived as servants to one another. This, more than any other, is their enduring legacy to me.
Yes, they have left me beautiful memories, family I love deeply, and a few precious mementos, but it’s the love and honor they gave each other that I value the most.
Perhaps that’s why I can’t think of one without the other, and why Grandma couldn’t stay with us any longer than she did.
“Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.”
― John Donne