The Unseen Guest At My Mema’s House

I love my Mema very, very much.

If you don’t know who my Mema is, she is my grandmother. My only living grandparent. My lifelong next-door neighbor who kept me and a slew of other cousins and kids while our parents worked. Needless to say, she’s like a second mom to me. And I, among others that know her, adore her. Just this past weekend my wife joked that she might love Mema more than me.

She’s a skinny, frail woman who looks much younger than she actually is, and her sweet tea is so mouth-puckering that even I have to water it down. Her house is a refuge for many–a sprawling ranch-style brick home that my Grandaddy built with his bare hands. It sits on top of a hill overlooking gorgeous rolling green pastures and a picturesque red barn, all against the backdrop of breathtaking sunsets over the foothills of the Upstate.

When Kristi and I drive up to visit our families like we did this past weekend, we always stay in a spare room at Mema’s. She greets us with warm hugs and we open the door of our room to see a pile of Trident gum and chapstick–two of my well-known so-called addictions. If you’ve ever wondered, Mema is my supplier. I always have them with me but never buy a single one.

She married my Grandaddy when she was fifteen. They raised a family, worked hard, and somewhere along the way both met Jesus. Watching their marriage growing up was foundational to me. I had never before seen two people who knew each other so well and loved each other so much. It’s in the eyes, you know. That’s where you can tell.

Growing up, my fondest memories of my Grandaddy are from December each year, where he would save up most of his vacation days and take them all to spend with the family. We would drive through the pastures in his truck and pick trees to chop down, building boyhood muscle swinging an axe, splitting enough wood for the winter. Then he would rake leaves into a pile and take turns throwing us kids into them, laughing and flailing.

My first great loss was my sophomore year of high school, when I held Mema while she wept and decided we had to take Grandaddy off of life support. He was only 60 and it was a shock wave to our family. I still remember writing an essay about it in English class and describing the ordeal as “a night so sad even the sky cried.”

I remember picking her up for church weeks after he died, bursting with grief because there she was, sitting on the stool beside my Grandaddy’s chair at the table, eating dinner like always. I could have sworn I saw her talking to him. She said she was just talking to herself.

Over time, I knew she was getting lonely. For years she would cry all day during family events on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So, we got her a dog.

It was a golden-colored Pomeranian. She named it Puge (a great-grandchild too young to name things rationally came up with it).

Puge was a good dog, and (I think) a great companion for her. Something for her to take care of, because that’s what she does–she takes care of things (and people).

And then when I was in college, Puge got hit by a car.

And she cried. Oh, she cried. And I cried because she cried.

She said she didn’t want another dog. That it was too much. So, naturally, a while later, I picked her up and told her I had a surprise for her. We drove to meet a lady selling a litter of Shih Tzu puppies, and Mema punched me in the arm when she realized it. I told her there was no pressure, that I just wanted her to look at them.

We of course left with a little cream and brown stumbling ball of fur. We named him Teddy because he looked like a teddy bear. And for the next several years, I watcher her, of course, take care of him. Talk to him, walk him, feed him scraps from the table.

Maybe you know where this is going.

Today, I got a phone call from my Mom, who said that Teddy suddenly got very sick. He started having seizures and she had to take him to the vet. The vet said there was nothing he could do and that he needed to be put down.

So I call Mema. And she of course, cries. And I tell her I am so very sorry. That I love her. She says “It happens,” thanks me, and says she loves me too. And then she tells me that she does NOT want another dog. So I ask her if she wants a cat. Or a pig. Or a chicken. She politely declines all further ideas.

Because, you see–I want to fix it. Really, really badly. I love her so much, and I don’t want her to cry. I want to fix it.

But I can’t. I can’t fix it. All I can do is tell her I love her. And I know that helps some. But I hate–absolutely hate–that I can’t fix it. That I can’t make her not be sad. I’ve never been able to, and I can’t now.

But even as I write this, I’m reminded of the banner that has sprawled above her kitchen table for years. It has a picture of a long banquet table, with chairs all around it, and below it has this quote:

Christ is the head of this house: the unseen guest at every meal.

I unfortunately cannot make all things new. I can’t fix it.

But Jesus can.

And thankfully, He is. In His time.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

-Revelation 21.3-5

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