My Grandparents’ Rubric for How to Live Faithfully, Humbly and Joyfully

Their home had a particular warmth to it that would draw folks in, but it can’t fully be attributed to the fire in the hearth. The embers of their love were always burning, and they’d confidently share the source: their Lord and God.

Robert ‘Bob’ and Frances ‘Fran’ McCartney
Robert ‘Bob’ and Frances ‘Fran’ McCartney (photo: Courtesy of Bridget McCartney Nohara)

Growing up, it was only a pasture that separated my siblings and me from our grandparents’ farmhouse. My little feet would carry me swiftly through the tall grass and wildflowers, friendly horses nodding me on, until I reached the mint-green door where they’d be waiting.

From Grandma and Grandpa’s porch, I’d wave an enthusiastic, “I’ve made it safely!” wave to my mom back on our porch, and I’d step inside.

I recognize the undeserved gift it was to grow up next door to my grandparents; the older I get, the more I relish it. In an attempt to turn this back to praise, I’ve spent time gleaning what I learned from those days filled with poetry and peppermint patties. And as I reflect, I realize there is something here in terms of lessons for all of us.


Simple Hospitality

My grandparents, raised during the Depression, were no strangers to hard work and scarce means. Meeting in high school, they were separated when my grandpa was deployed overseas to fight in World War II. The distance didn’t stop their being smitten, and upon his return, they wed. In the years to come, they’d raise nine children of their own, but many more would call Grandma and Grandpa’s house home, with scores dropping by for dinners, holidays and everything in between.

Those two had a knack for hospitality. With sweet country simplicity, Grandma often referred to their home as “The Dew Drop Inn,” thrilled by every visitor, announced or not. Their home had a particular warmth to it that would draw folks in, but it can’t fully be attributed to the fire in the hearth. The embers of their love were always burning, and they’d confidently share the source: their Lord and God.

I hope my home emits the feelings that Grandma and Grandpa’s house gave me and all those they welcomed: feelings of ease, lightheartedness and honest encounter. I pray they’re in heaven interceding for me.

It’s easy to think my house needs to look its best before I welcome people in, but then I remember that Grandma and Grandpa were welcoming because they offered their best: homemade meals, porch swings, and their easy, generous nature lent to thoughtful chats, hearty laughs and sweet memories.

Kindling that same spirit, I ask for their intercession as I stir my pot, tidy my table and entrust the rest, hoping all who enter will leave renewed, just as I always did in their agreeable abode.


Legacy of Service

I feel confident saying my grandparents left a legacy, and I’d wager that anyone who knew them would agree. But theirs wasn’t one of earthly treasures. Instead, it was cultivated in conversation, honed with honesty, primed with patience, and lived in love.

Husband and wife, they were devoted to service, and always in right order: to God, to family, to country. Grandma’s deep devotion to St. Vincent de Paul always influenced her attention to the needs of others. This wasn’t lost on their nine children, my six siblings and me, and my vast number of cousins, or any of the other countless lives impacted by Grandpa and Grandma. As we’ve grown older, it’s powerful to see all the ways we’ve responded to our unique calls, each embodying a part of them.

Picturing a life of service often brings to mind images of far-off missionaries and endless volunteer hours. These are beautiful examples, but it’s not what everyone is called to. I learned from Grandma and Grandpa that a life of service is quite simple: It is responding to everything in love.

Perhaps your vocation or season in life doesn’t allow for long days at the soup kitchen or trips to Central America. But do you have a child tugging at your hem? Do you have a hungry family to feed, a lonely neighbor to offer fellowship to, or a fretful friend to assist with a flat tire? These opportunities that arise each day are our invitation to be people of service. May we always say, “Yes.”

“Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily,” as St. Francis de Sales put it.


Praying for a Holy Death

At the age of 86, Grandpa began to swiftly decline, trading his cement-finishing tools and fence-post-fixing days for a slower pace, cheerfully relishing the presence of his beloved wife and family. These final days with Grandpa are among those I hold most dear. Though the end came quickly in a sense, it was evident that Grandpa never feared death; he was a brave man in the truest sense of the word.

When asked how he was doing, even until the end, Grandpa would respond, “Better than I deserve!”

Blessed by close proximity, I was present the day Grandpa died. Surrounded by his family, Grandma’s hand clutching his, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy rhythmically swelled around his hospital bed positioned in their living room. It felt fitting that this living room, one that held so much for so many, would soon be the place where the angels would descend to escort him into eternal life. 

In the days leading up to his death, Grandpa was noticeably slipping away. Foggy eyes and shaky words drifted into little to no communication, signifying the end was near. Standing prayerfully by his side, we can all attest, the veil became thinner.

Grandpa, who had been silent that day apart from his raspy, labored breaths, gently opened his eyes. Clearer than anything he’d said in days, the patriarch spoke to his family: “I suppose this will be the happiest day of my life.”

I’ve returned to this moment countless times as the years have passed. It was so strikingly clear that Grandpa knew where he was going.

In my own life, I’m often so caught up in the minutia, worrying about things of no eternal value. Grandpa’s life and death gave me a rubric for how to live: faithfully, humbly and joyfully.

I hope I’m blessed with 86 years to grow in love and virtue, but the truth is that none of us know the day or the hour. So let’s put ourselves to the task immediately, learning from the holy men and women who walked before us, picking up our crosses, serving humbly and carrying on joyously.