Dear Granny K,
I love you. I know we’ve never met, but that makes no difference. I still love you. I married your grandson, John, the cute redhead with glasses. He’s the one you taught to read. You’ll be glad to know that he is also a very persistent individual. After three months of entertaining me and feeding me ice cream, I finally decided to date him. I have been well-fed and well-entertained ever since.
One of the most fascinating stories I’ve heard since I met John was your story. Most of it didn’t come from John but from your son, David. When I visited your son’s beautiful home, I saw a black and white picture of a young couple, looking healthy and happy, without a care in the world. I learned that the young woman was you and the handsome man was your husband. If I wrote the story of your life based only on that picture, I might say that you both lived long and successful lives, retiring rich in the Bahamas after raising four amazing and highly successful children. I could see the two of you reclining on the beach and sipping margaritas out of a coconut with a tiny umbrella coming out of it while the dolphins do flips for your entertainment. As you know, that is not exactly how your story goes…at all. It’s a good thing, too. That would be a boring story that I would never even bother remembering, let alone blog about.
I can’t imagine how I would have dealt with life if I had your real story. Your handsome husband, Kenneth, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) when David was just a baby. You soon moved to Arizona where MS patients reportedly lived a little longer. There, the man you married went in and out of remission for years. He made it ten years with a disease that was supposed to take his life in five. When he died, you had four kids to take care of.
As a single mother, you were a teacher and later went back to school. Somehow, by a miracle of God or an iron will or some remarkable combination thereof, you earned a master’s degree! That could be the end of your story and you would be a hero. Single mothers are heroes. Period. But widows with four children that get master’s degrees are something more.
And that’s not even the whole story. While your husband was dying of MS, a different health issue began to cripple your body. Debilitating arthritis set into your joints. Every day required medication. Every day was painful.
And yet, somehow you managed those kids. ALL of those kids. And I know those kids were tough because I married your grandson and we have three tough kids. One of our kids, Josiah, has type 1 diabetes. He requires a shot before every meal and a “bonus” shot before breakfast and dinner. I know you can relate. One of your kids, David, had several severe food allergies and required his own separate dish at most meals. How did you manage that!?
After pondering all of this, I began to think of you as a saintly woman, on par with Mother Theresa. I imagined that you were the ideal Christian mom with a superhuman level of energy and devotion to your family, somewhere on a spectrum between Mary Poppins and Jesus. I had that impression because my father-in-law, David, always spoke of you with the deepest respect. Then one day we were talking about Howard’s mom from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”. Howard’s mom is a very large lady who yells across the house to her son because it is hard for her to get around. David said, “My mom used to yell like Howard’s mom.” He explained that your situation wasn’t too different because of your arthritis. Learning this made me think of you in a new light. I suddenly realized that you weren’t that sweet, gentle lady that I pictured. You were a real person, like me.
As a real, non-superhuman person, you still managed to raise four well-adjusted adults. I think I figured out your secret. You didn’t do it alone. You knew God was helping you. Most days, he was behind the scenes providing you with strength. Some days, he made himself a little more obvious. One day, while traveling with your kids you ended up at a hotel that had slot machines. As a teacher, you shrewdly saw an opportunity for a teachable moment. You had your kids gather around you. Then you sat at a slot machine and said, “Watch what happens when I put money in this machine.” Your money was supposed to disappear into that machine so you could prove your point, only it didn’t work out that way. As luck would have it, and as God ordained it, you won a small jackpot. No anti-gambling lesson for your kids. Instead, you got money that I’m guessing you probably needed.
God helped you. He helped you live even after arthritis crippled you to the point of needing a wheelchair. God helped you so that you could teach my husband to read. He tells me that he still hears your voice when he reads. God helped you, and in helping you, he has helped me. When I think of you and all of the cards that seemed stacked against you, I don’t feel so hopeless. When my body aches from various health issues; when I have to wake up at two in the morning to check my son’s blood sugar; and when money is tight (like really tight. Like spandex on a rhinoceros tight), I consider your life.
You ran the course set out for you. Keeping your eyes on Jesus, you finished the race. That is what I set out to do. When I wrestle with the difficulties I face (which is pretty much every day), I think of you. Thank you for not making it look easy, but making it look possible. Even though you died when my husband was only eight, I know I will meet you one day, young and beautiful, standing next to your husband, without a care in the world. I’m greatly looking forward to that day.