Her last good day was the day after I graduated from community college.
Plastic water bottles and slabs of cake from Publix littered the small green table that the eight of us sat around. The video of me walking across a stage played on an endless loop. We did not expect Gram to have to go to Hospice this soon. I can't remember much of that day. I've blocked most of it out. It is too sad to think about it all. The woman in the hospice kitchen insisted on serving us cake. It seemed silly—we did not need anyone to play waitress. We were fine. It was fine. It would be temporary. Gram would go back to her home with Grandpa and be fine again. She couldn't die in such a quiet, sterile place.
It was a time full of lasts: last hug, last laugh, last visit to her house, last Christmas. A few months earlier, Gram was sitting in the rocking chair in our living room wrapped in her new blanket. A green paper crown from a Christmas cracker graced her head as she sat and opened her gifts: jewelry, things for her home, things that would unknowingly belong to us again in a few months. Whispers were passed back and forth between family members: "Why is Gram so yellow?" "Is she okay?"
By New Year's Day, we knew what was wrong. The dreaded c-word reared its head. It was pancreatic cancer, and there was nothing we could do. That day, Gram walked around the halls of the hospital with a walker. Once she got tired of walking, she went back to her bed, ate a candy cane, and listened to me play “Be Thou My Vision” on the kalimba she had given me for Christmas. She was wearing those socks that hospitals give to patients, the ones with the non-slip bottoms. Her little red socks were the one thing I remember most about that day. She seemed so small; Gram never seemed small. Sure, she was shorter than the rest of us, but her personality and presence was never frail or diminished before that day.
Once she went into hospice, my mom asked me to make a playlist of hymns on Spotify so that Gram’s room wasn’t so quiet. Gram was, and will always be, the most talented musician I knew. Her three loves were Jesus, her family, and music. I felt like I had to include Sufjan Stevens’ rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy” for some reason. It was one of the few tracks on the playlist that was not an instrumental; it is the one I remember hearing the most in her room.
That May, I heard Sufjan singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” more times than I can recall. After a while, I started to get angry about it. If God was so “merciful and mighty,” why would he let Gram go like this? How could God be “perfect in power” when this seemed like anything but perfect? I stopped sitting in her room. It was easier to sit in the lobby and play games on my phone than it was to watch my grandmother die.
The last words I remember Gram saying to me were, “You’re a good musician, Maggie. Stay close to Jesus.” I understood. I finally understood. I knew Gram was physically weak, but she was not spiritually weak. She loved with an agápē love—selfless, sacrificial, unconditional. I never questioned whether or not she loved me, because she loved me the same way that Jesus loved her. Even though her body was failing, her soul was not. The word “holy” in the Bible roughly translates to “set apart.” The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
God knew what would happen. He knew that Gram was only going to die physically. She was set apart for Him through grace and mercy. I believe that as I write this, she is standing before the throne and singing those same words: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!”
Maggie Lyons is a twenty-something-year-old writer living in the magical sunny wasteland of Florida. She currently attends the University of South Florida St. Petersburg where she hangs out and collaborates with all of her other sad English major friends. You can find her wandering through the Dalí Museum, sitting in the outfield at Tropicana Field during baseball season, or on Instagram at @ly0n_o.