Updated on October 2, 2012
What Do You Mean When You Say That?…
originally posted February 8, 2011
It was a very weird experience. For several years, my grandfather was ill and my grandmother kept saying, “But he’s not sick.”
Family member after family member tried to explain the seriousness of the illness, the deteriorating health, and what was going on. But grandma stayed firm: “But he’s not sick.”
More than three years passed between diagnosis and the time that grandpa died…and all that time, grandma kept saying, “But he was never sick.”
We would look at each other wondering whether she was blind in the situation, whether she was in denial, or what on earth was going on…wide-eyed, deep breathing, shaking our heads in wonderment, we could not understand.
In the days after he died and before his funeral, I sat at grandma’s kitchen table as she washed the dishes…rather than speaking, or trying to convince her of anything, I finally just resolved to listen.
And she talked. She talked about the day he died. She asked about my life. She talked about family, about their support, about what life might look like now.
And then she said it: “You know, he was never sick.”
Deep breath…”Grandma, what do you mean when you say that?” It occurred to me that we never asked that question. We would jump right in, trying to explain. But for once, I asked the follow-up question, “What do you mean when you say that?”
Her response blew me away.
“Well, he was never sick. He was never bed-ridden. I thought he would be weak to the point of not getting out of bed. And he was never sick like that.”
The world stopped. We all–and by all, I mean 30+ of us–spent three-plus years thinking grandma was losing it. We could not understand how she could miss the point so badly. And yet, it was we who didn’t stop long enough to ask a follow-up question.
What she really meant was: grandpa was never sickly.
Sickly. Two little letters made all the difference. The judgment between sanity and delusion was, unbeknownst to us, hanging on an adverb.
And when I quietly shared what I learned with the rest of the family, sigh of relief after sigh of relief rang forth. And we all chuckled at our own judgments.
It makes me wonder how many times do i take what God tells me and just jump in with a reaction rather than asking follow-up questions. I wonder how much of my life, how much of my understanding, is simply hanging on an adverb.
Maybe I should ask more questions and make fewer statements. Maybe, like that day, I should commit to set aside my preconceived notions of God and simply listen.
Grandma. Always teaching. Whether she knew it or not.
photo by Scott Boyd