For the longest time, I didn’t know my great-grandmother’s name. When I greeted her, I called her “Grammaw Ree.” It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally asked my father what her name was. Turns out, I had fudged the pronunciation for the last several years, though in a way barely discernible: her name was Marie. Everyone else was calling her “Gran Marie.” Oops.
Gran Marie, or Marie Spainhower, lived into her late 90’s and was sharp as a tack till the day she died. Every night she prayed and listed the names of all her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren (in birth order, I might add!).
I remember sharing a room with her one night and she sang hymns to herself till she slept; song after song after song, a limitless memory of music. With my grandmother’s help, she even wrote out some of her memoirs. Some of the stories were stirring, some were tragic, most suffused with love and faithfulness.
What I remember most about Gran Marie was what happened when she went into the nursing facility. Gran Marie was blind near the end of her life and lived at my grandparents’ home. For many years, my grandparents faithfully cared for her with the help of home health services.
My grandparents were committed to taking care of her for as long as possible, but Gran Marie insisted upon going into the care facility against their wishes. Transporting her around was a bit difficult because of how frail she was and because of her need for a wheelchair.
Because of that, she missed out on seeing her friends and she missed going to church services. From what I remember of her memoirs, I’m sure she remembered her younger days of raising livestock and chasing children and disliked even the perception of being a burden upon anyone else.
So, despite my grandparent’s protests, despite her doctor’s objections, Gran Marie went to the Church of Christ nursing home. And get this — she asked for a roommate. No private room for her!
Her reason? She hoped that God would send her someone who needed to be ministered to.
Gran Marie was blind, Gran Marie only got around with the help of a wheelchair and she wanted to continue to minister to others. I was in seminary at this point and my great-grandma’s servant heart humbled me.
She got her wish. Her roommate was suffering from what seemed to be dementia and she would become very agitated at night. Whenever this happened, Gran Marie would slide herself out of bed, into her wheelchair and roll over to her roommate’s side. She would pat her hand and sing to her until she subsided. Then Gran Marie would head back to bed.
Thinking about that scene brings me to tears . . . makes me hope that I can one day be as loving and graceful as she was.
Gran Marie loved deeply, loved freely and served all people with an openness of spirit that welled up from her deep faith in God. No matter her age, no matter her bodily ability, she heard the cries of the “least of these” and acted with compassion.
She was and is one of the saints of God and I am privileged to have her in my cloud of witnesses.
Rev. Elizabeth Grasham is the Senior Minister at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Galveston Island, TX. She is the mother of Gareth (4), an avid geek, and a life-long book-lover. Elizabeth tweets about all the bizarre children’s tv shows she has to watch and makes some delicious homemade pop-tarts.