It was a beautiful September Saturday evening just last month in my home state of Kentucky. The sun was beginning to set, and my beloved Grandmother had just taken her last breath.
I had spent the last nine days by her side all day and night. At that moment I felt completely exhausted, and utterly peaceful at the same time. In fact, before then, I don’t think I knew that great peace and sadness could coexist, but they can. Thankfully, the sadness is temporary, but the peace—that remains.
My Grandmother and I have always been close. From my earliest years, I remember a sense of deep connection between us. It was a type of mutual understanding that at times didn’t even require words. It was always one of my great joys to be her granddaughter. I have always felt proud of the woman that she was and all that she had done in her life.
She lived the extraordinary through means that always looked seemingly impossible. Although she was ninety years old when she went to heaven, she had lived healthy and strong. There was no virus and no fatal diagnosis. What started as low blood pressure turned into her transitioning to her next chapter. I recognized as I grew older that as a woman, she took care of herself, and this was a higher quality of life.
Most of my tears had already been cried out over the previous week leading up to her moving to heaven. That was mostly because every moment with her became so very precious, and I could feel their weightiness. Every word she would say—they are all etched in my memory. On one particular night she woke up and simply reached out for my hand. She took it into her own tightly, laid it on her chest, and then went back to sleep; that is how we stayed the rest of the night.
Over this past month, I have had the gift of reading through her journals that she left me. She was a terrific journal keeper! I have learned so much about how important it is to record events, memories, transitions, thoughts, and prayers. Her journals are mostly made up of the latter. She prayed continuously for her family throughout her writing. She wrote her thoughts to God, pondering decisions and believing for breakthroughs. In the thirty-plus journals I have read so far, not once did she ever write a negative word about anyone. That was simply not what she was writing for—to air her grievances. I recognized this as a higher quality of life.
If she struggled with anything it was worry, and I don’t think she would mind me telling you so. She had a deep love for her family and wanted to do with her life what God wanted her to do. These thoughts and feelings could drive her into places of worry about things turning out right, but she grew in her trust in the Lord, which I find written in the pages of her journals from her later years. What she says and how she says it is tempered with an awareness and a certainty of God’s working, and a patience for His working to get things and people where they need to be.
I’ve wondered as I read through her recorded history if she ever went back and read what she wrote? I don’t know for sure, but as her Granddaughter, I have the privilege of perspective, knowing how those seasons and situations turned out and how God was so faithful to her, my Grandfather, and really to our entire family.
I believe the secret to this woman’s success in living through so much (born during the Great Depression, raising a family during the Civil Rights Movement, national crisis, etc.) was that she chose to live for the Lord and out of her heart—genuinely and with passion.
The things that she did came from what she had a passion for, and the things that she said out of what she was passionate about. I recognize that this too is a higher quality of life.
Knowing the tendency when someone has moved to heaven is for that person to be immortalized in thought and conversation by their loved ones, I try to keep my memories of her planted firmly on the ground, but it has not been that hard to do. She was already quite beloved before she made her transition into glory, by both family and stranger alike.
Although she had curated quite a collection of beautiful things that she had a deep appreciation for in her lifetime such as photography, rare books, and jewelry, she was most passionate about what was on the inside of people. She treasured that, and because she did, to be in her company was to feel treasured.
One year before my Grandmother’s passing, almost to the day, she had been visiting me in Nashville. I had taken her on a drive out to Franklin, TN to meet one of my heroes growing up, and someone she admired as well. We spent a couple of hours or more talking together, and when it was time to go, it was my Grandmother who had become the object of my hero’s affection. She stood holding my Grandmother’s hands in her own, planning another visit.
Something about her genuine, God-kind of love just pulled her right into everyone’s hearts. On the day of her passing I got a text from them asking if, “Miss Billie Mae had made it safely to her new home in glory.”
Today I am imagining that heaven is already quite taken with her too, and I smile that she is experiencing a higher quality of life in eternity right now. I find myself wondering what she is up to in her new world. I have discovered through talking with people whose loved ones have gone to heaven that we all wonder things like, “How aware are they up there of what is happening with us down here?”
I believe the great cloud of witnesses is called that for a reason—that they are witnessing something, and that it is real. Maybe not the everyday stuff, but in a general sense, I believe they do know the state of things concerning those they love.
I can imagine her excitement right now for whatever is coming up next out of the goodness of God—something I find myself thinking a lot about in a year like 2020. It’s been a little over a month since that evening in Kentucky, and this is what I do know and am ever more aware of with each passing day:
Situations and seasons will change but these three remain—faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
And this is the highest quality of life we can know.