She was ice-skating, and she fell. He picked her up. That’s how my grandma and grandpa met.
I ask her to tell the story often. “These great big arms just swooped down and grabbed me,” she chuckles, “and then he kissed me on the cheek. I said, “I don’t know you!” And he said, “I’ve had my eye on you for quite some time.””
The next morning he stopped by her house with a sled and invited her outside.
Fast forward through 67 years of marriage, through three sons and a daughter, aircraft carriers, camels and crew cuts and Christmas trees, oil rigs, golf games and barbeques and rosaries on car trips and teaching me the box step in the kitchen – and he is 90 and lying in the fetal position, skin pallid and tongue parched, breaths shallow and quick, and often mouthing ‘Momma,’ his name for my grandma. He has drunk up all life’s sweetness and the bitter dregs are on his lips. And we are watching her watching him die.
Even now, at Grandpa’s death, my grandparent’s love is an example to me. As a young single person, full of the desire to give love – to the point where I demand it as though it were mine to demand – they remind me that this love, it does not mean what I think it means. It is not what I think it is.
This love is ferocious. It is fierce. It is the Great Wave of Kanagawa. It requires as much as it gives. In the midst of every call to love is the whisper, the question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” And unless we partake of the Blood of Christ we find ourselves empty in our response.
Grandma strokes his head. I move to the edge of the bed, put my rosary between his hand and mine, and say a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
My heart and my desires seem so little in this moment. How can I pray for love? I barely understand it. Even more, how can I be the carefree girl on the ice when I know how it ends, when I know that this is what will be required? When I know the ice-skating and sleds change to ice chips and diapers? How did Christ laugh during an idle moment in Nazareth when he foresaw the nails and the thorns?
I suppose I can pray and hope for love only with the faith that love is as strong as death, unyielding as the grave, that after the last breath there is life. And that earthly love is bound up in that life, not this one. This is a Resurrection kind of Love.
This Love gave my grandparents to one another and sustained them through 67 years of marriage. This Love transformed them from a happy pair on the ice to a sage married couple, faithful unto the final throes of death’s sturm und drang.
He passes peacefully. We are there.
“Momma, I’m going to walk again,” he had said, a few weeks before he died.
“Now I realize what he meant,” she said, holding his silent hand.