67 Shades of Love

Romance and love are a beautiful thing, aren’t they?  Here we are, a few days removed from a holiday all about love and romance.  But, how do we know when someone really loves us?  What is true romance?  Is it chocolate, flowers, date nights, and love notes?  Yes, in some ways it can be that.  But, recently, I have witnessed pure examples of true, sacrificial love from my grandmothers.  And believe me, this love is not defined by flowers and chocolate.  It is defined by something far more wholesome.

About a month ago, my maternal grandfather passed away.  In more ways than I could ever mention here, he was the epitome of a great grandpa.  But “grandpa” was only one of the many hats he wore:  He was a great father, husband, worker, and American.  He was 90-years old when he passed away and had been married to my grandmother for 67 years.  Sixty-seven years.  For the last several years, my grandfather was very sick.  To preserve his privacy and dignity, I won’t go into the sad details.  I watched my grandfather go from one of the strongest men I have every known, mentally and physically, to a shell of the man he had been.  And through all of this, my grandmother cared for him.

I can sympathize with her, but I cannot empathize.  I have no idea what it is like to watch the once vibrant love of your life, deteriorate in front of your eyes.  I cannot imagine the emotional toil, the drudgery, the loneliness, the frustration that accompanies taking care of a terminally sick spouse.  It has to be utterly exhausting on many levels.  And, yet, everyday, my grandmother was there for him.  When things got really bad, it gave me some comfort to know that when my grandpa opened his eyes, it was her face that he saw.  Probably the only face that was not confusing or unfamiliar on some level.  He got to look into the face of the only person on earth that had vowed to care and love him through “sickness and health” and “for better or worse.”  My grandmother lived out these vows:  Not just the easy part, but the hard part.  The part of the vows that sounds good on our wedding day, but that none of us really give much consideration.

My other grandma is in a similar situation.  My paternal grandfather is still with us, but he, too, is very ill.  One day when I was back home for my grandfather’s funeral, I made a trip to see my other set of grandparents.  My grandfather had been taking a nap and my grandma woke him up so that he could come out to visit with me.  She guided him into the living room, helped him into his chair, covered him with a blanket, and then lovingly tasseled his hair.  It was emotional for me, because my grandfather had physically changed a lot since I’d seen him just six months before.  Yet, it was so endearing to see my grandma run her fingers through his hair.  Such a loving gesture.  This is her love, her partner for life and even in these trying times she still touches him with adoration.  I thought a lot about that moment, brief as it was, on my drive back home after our visit.

Isn’t this what we all desire?  This self-giving, sacrificial love?  This is a love story, but not one that we often hear about.  In fact, we, as a culture, would find this story bland and too quiet.  Instead we are wooed by tasteless stories like “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Stories of selfishness, pain, and sexual filth are what we laud and hold up as “love stories.”  We flock to movie theaters to get a cheap thrill, while somewhere out there is a woman caring for her spouse through selfless acts of love–through service.  My grandfather can really offer nothing in return at this point, other than his presence, but my grandma gives him her time, her attention, her energy, her devotion, her love.

Their houses are quiet.  The days are often long and uneventful.  There is sadness, I’m sure.  I even bet there are times when my grandmas feel like giving up and throwing in the towel, but they don’t.  This is the part of the marriage vows being lived out to their fullness.  I bet on their wedding days, my grandmothers never thought that at one point they would be confronted with the day-in and day-out care of their husbands.  But, that is what we all hope for as we stand there on our wedding day.  We hope that this person across from us will be there till the end, tasseling our hair and covering us with a blanket to keep us warm.  We hope it will be their hand that reaches out to us to help steady us as we rise from a chair.  We hope that it is their face that we look into even when life gets foggy and confusing.  That is our hope.  I’m so grateful that my grandfathers found that in my grandmas.  They are strong, honorable women and I stand in awe of their commitment and devotion.  What great examples they are to me.

This Sunday I was praying and thinking about my grandmas.  I prayed that my maternal grandma might have strength and comfort during this time of loss.  I prayed for my paternal grandma that she might have strength and comfort during these days of caring for my grandpa.  I thanked God for their good hearts.  I thanked God that I had examples in them of what it means to be a good wife.  Then I picked up my daily Bible readings and I read this:

“Suffering is necessary.  It is the backbone, the very essence of moral life.  Love is recognized by this sign, and when it is lacking, love is but a prostitution of strength or of beauty.  I say that someone loves me when that someone consents to suffer through or for me….”

Jesus suffered for us and that is how I know he loves me.  My grandmothers in their own way are suffering and sacrificing and that is why I recognize the love there for my grandfathers.  They have to give their all and in giving their all they are loving.  Isn’t this what Jesus taught us?  To help those in need, to serve others as if we are serving Him.  True love does not take, it gives.  It gives when the other cannot.  It gives even when you are tired of giving.  It gives even when there is no fanfare or accolades.  It carries on even when things are dark or bleak.

For me, this Valentine’s Day, romance is not found in boxes of chocolates or candlelit dinners.  My grandmothers have provided me with the most romantic story.  I am humbled by their unwillingness to leave their partners behind.  My heart smiles at the beauty of their dedication to the vows they took so long ago.  I am touched by the bond, the unity between them.

As I was leaving my maternal grandmother’s house, she said to me, “Sixty-seven years.  How do you fill that hole in your heart?”  I have no answer.  All I know is that kind of love is beautiful.  It is pure, it is real, it is supernatural.  It’s the kind of love story I want to hear about, because it gives me hope, it makes me cry, it touches my soul.  Thank you, Grandmas, for your example of real love.  In a world focused on selfish wants, you are examples of Jesus’ love and that is more powerful than any blockbuster movie.

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