Ten years ago, my grandma went to be with Jesus. Her death was unexpected and left the family reeling. Ten years later, I still acutely feel the loss. And I often write about her profound influence on my life. I had the privilege of giving her tribute at the funeral. I share it here because through my grandmother’s example, we can all be reminded that a seemingly simple life can have a monumental impact in the world.
Rose Marie Nelson
January 11, 1932 – December 2, 2006
I stand before my grandmother’s family, friends, and community searching for words to bring this woman honor and offer some comfort to all of us who grieve her loss so deeply. As I sat down to write these words, I realized what an overwhelming task it is. And this time I don’t have my Grandmother to shake her head at me, wrinkle her forehead, purse her lips, admonish me for tackling something that was over my head again, then reassure me that I can do this.
To say Grandma Rose was a unique individual doesn’t seem to do her justice. If we read a biography of her life it would seem simple on the surface. We would learn that she was raised in a farming family, the middle child of 16 children. She lived out her whole life in the small, rural community of her birth, raising 4 children and never moving away. It sounds simple but we know better. We know the rest of the story about this incredible woman.
My aunt Kay, Grandma’s youngest daughter, was kind enough to share with me some words that I think beautifully describe Grandma:
“I always thought Rose was the right name for my mom. She had this tough stalk … with thorns that allowed her to stand tall in hard times. And her personality could be abrupt and forthright. I always said be careful if you ask my mom’s opinion on something because she would tell you what she really felt – no words spared! She was a great believer in being strong enough to do anything that you wanted to do. She had a fierce independence that enabled her to overcome any physical adversities and she believed in the power of women. However, with this tough exterior that protected her through the hardships of her life, she was a beautiful Rose inside.”
Grandma’s beauty stemmed from an unstoppable love of people. She truly believed that love is a verb and modeled it with the way she lived out her life. Taking care of others was second nature to her. Coupled with her bold personality, she would almost bulldoze you over with her fierce determination to help.
Who of us doesn’t remember walking veggies down to a neighbor, bringing food to the sick or shut in or watching Grandma take time to sit down for a cup of coffee with a lonely soul? She took her grandchildren to the nursing home and had us sing for the residents there and she brought us along to help her care for the sick. Looking back, I marvel that I never once heard her grumble or complain that she was too busy. She just simply was there if anyone needed her, helping in whatever capacity she could.
It is remarkable how, despite grandma’s ability to sharply tell you exactly what she thought, she also had the ability to truly listen. She would lean in and focus on you when you were talking. You could almost see the wheels spinning in her head to process what you were saying. You never felt rushed and you received her undivided attention when she knew you needed it. Of course, then you’d get her straightforward advice, too. But that’s what made it so great. You knew you could trust that she was really telling you what she thought.
We all know how much joy Grandma found in children and how she adored them. She loved being a mother, often saying that the happiest day of her life was when she had her first child. I love seeing pictures of Grandma beaming down at her kids. I could see the look of pride on her face as she watched her children talk during family gatherings.
And she loved not only her own children, but her grandchildren, great grandchildren and everyone else’s children. She would hold our babies and teach them all kinds of amazing things such as how to drink from a straw, say all of the animal sounds, sing Bible songs and new words such as Grandma Rose.
Grandma loved her family. She’d shake her head at our antics, straighten us out when we needed a kick in the pants, bring us food and comfort when we needed it, provide a place to gather and pray for us. And she brought us together time after time so we could all share in the joy of being part of a big family. Also, she was at our soccer games, band concerts, plays, first communions, confirmations, weddings, funerals, children’s births, and daily lives. From the happiest to the most devastating times of our lives grandma was there loving, praying, celebrating with us and holding our hands.
And of course, Grandma was a woman of incredible faith. Jesus was her best friend and she deeply wanted to please him with her life and for all of us to know Him as well. This is a legacy that is just as profound as her example of service.
Grandma truly believed in the power of prayer. My brother Tyson used to say that Grandma Rose had a red phone with one button connecting her straight to God. When we needed prayer, we’d just call her up and say, “Grandma, we need you to get on the red phone.” And I know that time and time again we have all depended on Grandma to pray for us.
She taught me a lot about prayer and modeled its power in life. She told me that she believed that prayers were like flowers offered up to God. She believed that when we all come together to pray, we are offering a beautiful bouquet up to God.
When I think about the family she raised I am incredibly impressed. We are a bunch of over achievers. We are successful businessmen and women, active members of our communities and we hold titles and fancy college degrees. We’ve collectively traveled the world over for business and for fun. We are busy moms and dads and grandparents. We are out conquering the world and fulfilling our dreams.
Grandma was so proud of us.
But my hope is that as we live out our busy lives we never forget what she taught us with her life. People are the most important investment we can make. Traveling to our neighbor’s house to deliver some baked goods or a comforting word is more profound than seeing the world. And we need to be serving others – perhaps sacrificing what is more glamorous or attractive in the process.
Grandma made an indelible imprint on the world without moving out of this small town. She had no fancy college degree, glamorous job, huge sums of money, or Martha Stewart home. She was as witty and cunning as any businessman. But she used her gifts in service to others, often taking the least desired chore. She didn’t wait around until she had resources in place to serve us yet serve she did. And who can deny that Grandma could run circles around Martha Stewart? I bet Martha never butchered her own pig!
Grandma taught us with her life that if we focus just on our own desires, dreams, and pursuits you actually are missing out on life’s greatest joys – friendship, love, and community. God created us to love community and His word emphasizes over and over that service is key to achieving that.
How contrary to modern thinking is it to serve others before you serve yourself? We are told to take care of yourself first then take care of others. Thank goodness Grandma never cared for that line of thinking. And look at us – the fruit of her life’s labor. Look at all of us here who love her, knew her, and were touched by her. We don’t even know yet what we are going to do without her.
So what are we going to do without her?
I like to think that though Grandma was thrilled to see us living our dreams, she doesn’t want us to miss the message of her life.
Maybe we can all take her with us by trying to practice in our lives what she did with hers: Serving others without relying on the telephone, mail, or internet. When someone is in need maybe we should be quicker to be there for them not just be keeping them in our thoughts but physically, tangibly and prayerfully being there for people.
Maybe we shouldn’t wait to be asked or worry about stepping on anyone’s toes (we all know Grandma didn’t worry about stepping on toes). Maybe she secretly wants us to take time out of our busy productive lives to make connections. Maybe there is something to be said for being honest and straightforward with people. We can all learn to serve with joy, expecting nothing in return and even doing it when its not convenient or fun or the way we’d like to serve.
You see, Grandma wouldn’t think there was anything remarkable about what she modeled for us. But we are living examples of how powerful an impact a life of service has. If you asked her what she thought was important in life and what we can do to bring her honor, it wouldn’t be any different that how she lived her life:
We should love the Lord, feed the hungry, clothe the cold, visit the lonely, care for the sick, spend time with one another, and above all, love one another.
“Love comes before all else and charity gives us the permission to practice it”
~Quote I found written in Grandma’s Bible. Author Unknown