Sounding joy: Moments of abundant joy
My grandmother Maxine passed away in November at the age of 95 after a long struggle with dementia. She left behind my 98-year-old grandfather Bob, bringing to a close their marriage of more than 70 years. For both of them, the past decade has been marked by losses that began small and grew enormous. My grandma’s were mental and physical. Her failing mind stole her memory of conversations, then her recognition of her family; her driving ability, then her mobility altogether; her excellent cooking, and later, her capacity to even feed herself.
My grandpa’s losses took a different course. He lost his conversation partner, his freedom to move about the world as her needs increased, and finally their home together when my grandma moved into a nursing home last winter. Over the years, I wondered at different times how my grandpa, whose brain fits all the metaphorical clichés – sharp as a tack, mind like a steel trap, memory like an elephant – could find joy in a life so limited, so marked by loss.
But the joy was undeniable. When I visited them in their home in Kansas City, joy radiated from Grandpa in the patient way he cared for Grandma’s basic needs and reminded her who she belonged to. He always found something to smile about. Although he must have felt the burden of her disease, he never complained. Later on, when she moved into a nursing home, Grandpa visited her every day. Often, she slept and didn’t respond, but every once in a while, Grandpa could see in her eyes the woman he knew, and that made the hardship worth it. Somehow these scarce and fleeting moments created an abundance of joy.
To me, this sort of alchemy is akin to turning a few loaves and fish into a meal for five thousand, or transforming water into wine, or an almighty God coming down to Earth as a fragile baby. It’s the kind of joy that can only come from Jesus. In his last visit with my grandma, Grandpa said to her, “It’s okay to go if you’re ready. I’ll see you soon.” Now, he’s looking forward to her memorial service to celebrate the life she lived and the promise that came in a baby. “It’s going to be a blast,” he says. This advent season, I’m especially grateful to learn from his example of faith and joy.
Becky Langdon is a freelance writer, who teaches Sunday School and leads a confirmation small group at St. Paul. She lives in Davenport, Iowa with her husband Andy and sons, Jacob and Drew.