I have had the privilege of knowing some of the greatest elderly people in my life. One of the more crushing moments in my life happened to me when my grandmother had passed away. My grandmother exhibited a beauty that I have been graced to encounter in only a few people since her passing. One of my last memories of her happened months before her death. She had struggles sleeping because her body was covered in tumors, and sleeping on her back caused her great discomfort. When I woke up, I saw that she was outside and was cleaning all of our windows. After she was finished with that, she came inside and mopped our floors. My Grandma’s life existed for the sake of others. Every human being that encountered her became present to the love of God. She loved every human, never showed any resentment towards others, and exuded peace. She just seemed to understand that the primary use of our time should not be filled with such minor issues.
In his book Our Greatest Gift, Henri Nouwen explains how we are always moving from one dependence to another. In the first third of our lives, we are dependent upon our parents, teachers, and other adults around us. In the next half we are dependent upon our spouses, our coworkers, and other people we live life with. But, in the last part of life, we ought to learn how to be dependant upon being a child of God. Nothing more, nothing less. When we are able to receive all of our love, all of our peace, and all of our hope from God, then our lives can exist simply in giving this to others. You are simply an extension of the grace of God. This being a child of God creates a new kind of dependence.
There is a simple trust in being a child of God. We trust that we were born into love, and we will die into love. That God is going to carry us through the pain of death (both spiritual and physical), and lead us into his eternal love. When I look at my grandmother, I saw someone who knew that her time was running short, but chose life as she faced her death. Her death was rooted in the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Life. Her clinging to being a child of God offered to us an extent of what Jesus offered to those when he died, the Spirit of God. Henri Nouwen says this about a child of God dying, “Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, is meant to bear fruit in other people’s lives… Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, will bring the Spirit of God to those we leave behind. The great mystery is that all people who have lived with and in the Spirit of God participate through their deaths in the sending of the Spirit. Thus God’s Spirit of love continues to be sent to us, and Jesus’ death continues to bear fruit through all those whose death is like his death, a death for others.”