It was 1990 and I was pregnant with my second child. My father-in-law had passed away on March 16 of that year, and we were still grieving and picking up the pieces of keeping the family business going just a year and a half after we had taken it over.
A member of my husband’s graduating class threw an impromptu “reunion picnic” at her parent’s house next door to my mother-in-law. That worked good for me, because being six months pregnant and having a 20-month old to chase around, I was badly in need of a nap by mid-afternoon, and was able to crash in a spare bedroom next door while my husband caught up with his classmates.
But those weren’t the only reasons I was tired.
The night before I couldn’t sleep.
It wasn’t my normal “night person” wakefulness, but a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I tried, so I stayed awake. I think I was knitting, of all things to do in a house with no air conditioning in July, and kept at it long into the night.
I just couldn’t seem to settle down. But with the picnic coming up the next day, on July 4, I knew I should get some sleep.
So around 3:30am I turned the light out. And I was overcome with the need to cry.
I didn’t know why. I wasn’t sad about anything. My husband and I weren’t in a fight. I briefly wondered if something was wrong with the baby, but from the kicking and punching that was going on, I felt that wasn’t it.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop the tears. For about an hour.
And then I fell into a deep, hard sleep. But way too soon it was interrupted by the phone ringing.
I just have to mention that this was a new thing for us, the phone ringing. When we built our home during our six-month engagement, we found it would be long distance from all our family, friends, and any kind of business we wanted to deal with. So we didn’t have a phone on principle. For about three years.
But then my father-in-law got a new thing – car phones – and my husband’s uncle rigged up a jack for the house, so we could unplug it from the work truck and bring it in at night, in case of an emergency, when we were expecting our first child. By the time he was born we broke down and had a landline installed, but we hardly ever used it. We still drove up the road to one of our parents’ houses to make calls local from them.
Since we hardly ever used the phone, my first thought was something was wrong when it rang about 6:30 that morning.
It was my mom. And she was crying. “Becky, I have some bad news to tell you. Momma died this morning. Aunt Violet just called to tell me.”
Her mom, my Grandma Belvie, was at that time living in a nursing home, where she could be cared for. The last time I had seen her was earlier that year, when we had been down for my other grandma, Mamaw’s, birthday celebration in the spring.
Grandma Belvie had suffered with pneumonia many times over the years, and it contributed to her declining health, but I remember her staying pretty sharp even in her last years.
She was fiercely independent. She could make due with less. She lived on the principle that she wouldn’t spend money on things she didn’t truly need. Like a phone. She never had one during my childhood. It was only in her last years that an uncle had one put in, so family could check on her. But Grandma didn’t like to use it. My mom inherited those penny-pinching ways, and I came by them honestly as well.
Grandma grew the tallest corn, the biggest tomatoes, the prettiest flowers. She cooked and used everything she grew, and her freezer and cupboards were full of the evidence.
I remember when changes happened in her town, and the city was making everyone on her dead-end street go off their wells and use city water. And charging them. So Grandma unscrewed lots of pipes and caught her brown water from the sinks and washing machine to use for flushing the toilet or watering her gardens.
I loved pitching in and scooping a bucketful out of our used bath water in the tub to force flush the toilet. I felt just like the pioneer woman I always saw in my Grandma Belvie.
So that early morning on the 4th of July, I wasn’t really surprised. I had known something was up all night, especially that hour of crying that I couldn’t explain.
But just to confirm, I asked my mom, “Do you know what time Grandma died?”
“They said someone had checked her at 3:30 and she was breathing, but when they came in at 4:30 she had passed. So somewhere in there.”
And I told her how I was crying in that exact time.
I don’t know why God allows us to feel things we don’t understand. In this case at least I got an explanation, but what about all the times when we don’t? When we go through hard things that make no sense, when we can’t imagine the reason for our discontent, when just plain bad things happen to us.
But we don’t have the full picture.
On that deep night of sorrow, I knew I was crying for someone else. I just didn’t know who.
And over 600 miles away my sweet grandma lay alone, like she had been for almost my whole life, yet not.
In my heart I hope that while God was letting me feel sadness and loss that I couldn’t understand, he was letting her feel that she was loved, even though her family wasn’t by her side.
Because for God, the distance between us doesn’t limit his ability to draw us close to each other. Close to himself. Even when we don’t understand it.