A Letter to my Grandmother: It is Time to be Mary

Thank you for your years of loving active service. Thank you for your prayers as you grow daily feebler, daily closer to Our Lord.

Johannes Vermeer, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” ca. 1655
Johannes Vermeer, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” ca. 1655 (photo: Public Domain)

I see you, Grandma. I see you in your weakness and pain. I see your struggle to stand, to cook, to do the work you have been doing every single day for the past 65 years.

You have lived as Martha, the one who served the Lord through an active life (Luke 10:38-42). You served your husband, your family, and your God faithfully for all of these years. And now your body will not let you do it anymore.

You married young, had your first three children in three years. Then another, and another, and another. And then the baby of your old age came in your forties. You served them all with great love, modeling your faith.

You loved them humbly. You surrounded them with your care.

Three meals a day. A clean home. Stories. Baths. Bedtimes. The warmth of a loving family life.

They all grew up. You grew older.

You watched your children leave. Six of them got married. You welcomed grandchildren into your heart.

Twice a year my family invaded your house for a week. You always made our favorite meals, the ones we only got at Grandma’s. We told you of our adventures in the backyard creek or our day on the beach at the lake. You were always shopping for groceries, baking brownies, getting meals together, or digging out the coloring books and paint by numbers.

It still feels like coming home to see the painting of Christ’s face as we came in the front door, to sleep in the yellow bedroom, to look at the fish on the blue-striped wall paper, to play hide and seek in the once full bedrooms, to dig out the old toys and games in the closet — but most of all to be welcomed by you. You always delight in us and we delight in you and your quiet way.

As I got older, I loved standing on my side of the kitchen island, talking to you as you worked. I offered to help, but you insisting on serving.

You watched me grow up. One year I brought a young man along for the visit. You traveled to our wedding, and then you welcomed our children into your home. Our lives were busy, but we have always made a little time on our road trips to see you.

We stop for lunch on our many road trips, and from the time of my engagement to my husband, you always made us grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. No one makes sandwiches like yours.

It always broke my heart a little to drive away as you and Grandpa waved from the porch until we were out of sight. And then you stopped being able to come outside. The stairs are too hard. We say our bittersweet goodbyes from the living room — hoping to see you again in half a year.

You still always served us, always cooked for us. How many beds did you make for us over the years? How many loads of laundry? How many dishes have you washed?

You have been Martha as the Lord intended her to be. You served us all with him in your heart. For as long as I can remember you went to daily Mass with Grandpa. Daily Mass is the most important part of the day. In your love for us, you worry about each and every one of your seven children and their spouses, your 17 grandchildren, your 12 great grandchildren (so far). You pray for us always. How many prayers have you offered up as we live so far from you?

In your devotion to daily Mass, I see your devotion to each other. Your love of God and each other has been a model for my life, a model for my marriage and motherhood. You never complained when you filled your own plate last, when you sat on the couch instead of at the table, when you went back to the kitchen to clean up. You took us all in with joy, always delighting, and always concerned over us.

Yet, after all of those years of being a loving, happy Martha, God is calling you to rest. At the end of your life God is asking you to be like her sister Mary. Your body is rebelling against you, not letting you do what you want anymore. You are tired. You are weak. And he is asking you to offer that to Him. He is asking you to sit in your spot on your loveseat and let yourself be served.

It is hard to be served when you do not have the strength to serve anymore. It is hard to let others take care of you.

I know a little what it is like to lose my strength, to not be able to walk without help, to not be able to stand and cook for myself, and to want to so badly. Lyme disease makes one feel old. I learned that while I had to rest, while my body could not do what I wanted to do, I could still be close to him in prayer.

I think those who suffer, who cannot serve others with their bodies anymore, are closest to him on the Cross. It is a privileged place to embrace his Cross and to hide in his wounds.

It is a privileged place to sit at his feet, to know his contemplative gaze while you sit with him and others serve.

You have served all of these years, and now you are closer to him, more like him than ever. You always tell me how proud you are of my life, but Grandma, I am proud of yours.

So, my dear Grandma “T”, I pray you embrace the cross before you, the one you are living now. You have served him well. Now serve him by offering your broken body in prayer and love. Only grace can fix the brokenness in your descendants’ lives. Only grace can bring us all together in our Final Home. And your suffering can help us accept this grace.

Thank you for your years of loving active service. Thank you for your prayers as you grow daily feebler, daily closer to Our Lord.

He is calling you to something higher now. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). I know you are up to his call. And I love you.