Goodbyes, Change, and Grandma

Author: Angela Burril

I am not good at change.  I like all things vintage, except my refrigerator and my long-distance traveling car—these I would prefer new or with very low mileage.  Yet, aside from God, all things change.

Angela Burril ChangeThis last spring ushered in a profound change, and I have yet to get my mind and heart around it—the passing of my most beloved Grandmother.  My mother died when I was only 17 years old. In my panic over all the things I did not know how to do without her, Grandma showed up. She lived a mere 10 miles from my house and handled my emotional frenzy with grace. She gave instruction on how to boil an egg, and never disregarded my feelings of despair.

“The only time this will differ is when you are trying to cook at a different altitude.  For now, just boil it for 15 minutes exactly and you will have a perfect egg!  You can do this!” she said, and as she did my blood pressure dropped back down a good 50 points and my heart rate settled to where it could no longer be heard pounding in my ears.

Time and time again my Grandmother would stand in the gap when my motherless spirit threatened to drown my soul with tears and my immobilized voice cried out to the Lord in pain.  God knew I needed her.  God repeatedly sustains me with His word, and often those words come through human vessels. To me, Grandma was a vessel through which God poured compassion, understanding, and love.

In her last days, we knew the time was close.  So, I left my two girls and husband to fend for themselves for a couple days while I traveled three hours alone to say goodbye.  She was no longer always coherent and her eyesight was nearly gone. Into her nursing home room I marched, upright only because I had asked every person I could think of for prayer!  My arms were loaded with my Bible, a hymn book, and a quilt I was working on. My heart carried every intention to be a comfort to Grandma and to tell her how much I loved her.

“Hi Grandma!  It’s me – Angie,” my voice was strained with a lightness that did not reach my soul, and I busied myself looking for a space to unload my arms to give myself a minute to regroup my emotions.

“Oh Angie!  How nice!  Would you like a cupcake?  I’m sure I have cupcakes or something for you!”  Grandma responded in delight.  My gaze did not take long to inventory the room and know that Grandma’s homemade bakery delights were not to be on the menu this time or ever again.  Grandma spelled love F-O-O-D, and every bite of her homemade creations was permeated with her deep affection for her family. Taste buds danced with joy and contentment, sighing because they knew they were home.

“That’s so nice, but no.  I’m okay.”  I replied and moved to change the subject.  “May I read to you from my Bible Grandma?”  I asked.

“Yes,” she replied very simply.  I read to her from my Bible, and then from the hymnal the stories of how hymn writers were inspired to write a particular hymn.  Then I sat my quilt in her lap, so she might feel the work I was doing on it.  She dosed off and on all day, but just when I thought she was asleep she would pipe up with a timely word that made me smile.  So, I talked to her the whole time, just like I had always done since I was a little girl.

“Grandma, when it comes time to go, look for the angels.  They will show the way to Jesus.  In Luke 16:22 Jesus tells the story of how the poor man called Lazarus “…was carried by the angels…” after he died.  Grandma said nothing and seemed to be far off in her own thoughts.

The next day I came to say goodbye.  Grandma was having a good morning.  She listened to my step-mom and I sing some hymns and I read a blessing over Grandma.  Numbers 6:24-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“Grandma, I just want to say thank you,” I said in a voice so thick with emotions that I could not find the words to convey all that I felt.  “You have loved us well.”

She visibly brightened with delight and replied without hesitation, “You’re welcome.  There is enough to go around.”  The next flood of tears rose instantly in my throat.  I treasured up these words to muse over later, because there was still one more thing to say.  I needed to tell her the last words my 10-year-old daughter wanted Grandma to hear.

Change Angela Burril“Grandma, Teal wanted me to tell you that if she doesn’t see you before, she will see you with Jesus in heaven.”  My tears were near the breaking point, but I wanted to stay in this moment.  I swallowed hard again, and bent to kiss her cheek goodbye.  “I love you, Grandma.”  I turned and walked blindly to the door.

Just as I reached the door, Grandma called out to me once again, “Travel safely.”

I don’t know what God is teaching me through goodbye, but I know He holds tomorrow.  In the midst of this pain, there is joy and that can only be because of the hand of the LORD!  I would not feel the pain if I had not felt the love.  I can take the joy and the pain because I know it has been sifted through God’s fingers. He is here to comfort me as I grieve.

I grieve, but I do not live in grief.  The sacrifice of Jesus laying down His life has given me this freedom.  I can rejoice, although I am certainly sad, because I know, thanks to Jesus, I will see Grandma again.


Angela Burril HeadshotAngela Burril lives on a small acreage farm in Madras, OR with her husband, Gus, and two young daughters, Teal (10 years) and Shiloh (5 years).  She taught high school science (Biology, Forensic Science, Integrated Science, and Physical Science) for eight years.  After that, she became a stay at home mom and part time “ranch/farm manager.”  For the last 10 years, Angela has taught ladies Bible Studies, and some various adult Sunday School Classes.  Some of the topics she has spoke on include: waiting on God, fear, loneliness, letting God lead your emotions, grace, loss, and spiritual authenticity. Angela’s speaking is characterized by sincerity and a wholehearted attempt to see the trials and challenges in life as blessed
opportunities to see and feel God’s presence.

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Sitting With Messy Grief

In memory, the turbulence created by losing a loved one causes those first long days of mourning to become foggy, but the people who showed up, stood up, and rose up amongst the chaotic whirl of life stand out.  As one who has been cocooned in grief and blankets on the edge of the couch I remember the faces that flowed in and out. When the sorrows of life and death pile high, our thoughts can easily become characterized more by messy questions than solid faith.

It would be foolish to assume that life can happen without mess, though I might just take that option if it were available. We all face trials and bear witnesses to how quickly life can become layered and difficult. It is there in the stacking of trial that we face a choice.  Let people in.  Let the God (who already knows) in. Or, leave the facade in place.

Messy Grief Holly HawesIn a day when  friendships can be made online, the ability to seclude ourselves from interactions with others continues to increase. Our relationships often appear to be more “fair weather” than anchor. When the water is rough we need to know solid ground can be sought.  Who will be there?  What is true?

God is not afraid of our mess. Whether it be caused by sin, or by suffering, he pursues us right where we are.  In Psalm 34:18 we are reminded that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  

His nearness and presence isn’t just an afterthought, it infiltrates every nook and cranny of the story arc of time.  In the very beginning of creation people walked with God in the garden of Eden. The “with” was broken by sin, and a savior was promised, one who was announced in Matthew chapter 1 as “Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

Not, God watching the mess from far off. God with us.

There is profound opportunity for holy community in what I have come to think of as withness.

Definition: Identifying with another person, standing by their side through a storm. Being with them no matter how hard or messy it becomes. See also steadfast love.

We call this cosmic withness the incarnation. God becoming flesh, identifying with us. Jesus did not flee from the mess. He experienced: Loneliness, disappointment, loss, rocky friendships, betrayal.

He can handle our questions and days that seem brazen, broken, and dark. Mess doesn’t push him away, instead he draws near. He shows up.

Psalm 31:7 says, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,…”

We must let down the facade, the masks, and the pretense and be comforted in how God sees. He knows. Full of mercy and steadfast love, He is Immanuel.

Little matters more that who is with us and who we are with. We have the opportunity to reflect God’s goodness to the world. While acting as the hands of feet of Jesus may sound cliche, we forget what an honor it is. Until the dwelling of God is with us in glory, the people of God, by the power of His spirit, go to offer presence to others.

Holly Hawes Messy GriefThere are countless barriers to simply slowing down to be with others, especially in times of suffering or loss. We get wrapped up in our own busy lives and fail to notice that day by day they withdraw and wither. We don’t know if we should mention their pain, so we gloss over it. We wear the mask for them, pretending we don’t see that life has shattered, but we need not always force discussion when we know how to be with. We can say, “I’m here to talk if you want to, but I am also just here to be. You are not alone, just let me know what you need. I also brought chocolate, blankets, coffee, movies etc.”

It mattered to me when someone cared right in the middle of mess with truth, not platitudes.  It mattered that love became action: the friend who brought flowers, another who fed us, the one who took over my sink of dirty dishes. Though the world spun God came, and He sent his people to be with me when I could offer nothing.

When the mess of despair filled me and threatened to overflow, I was full of doubt. The presence of others reminded me that God had not abandoned me. He had not left me. The pain was palpable, but He was still sweet. He was present in the here and now, and with the one who was no longer with me.


holly-squareHolly is a wife of 7 years as well as mom to a teenager (by adoption) and a child she’ll meet in heaven. She’s been foster mom to 10 kids in the last 3 years, and works part time as a church bookkeeper. She loves interacting with people who are hungry for change and ready to see God at work in their lives. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She writes to tell the stories of what God has done, especially through her experiences of infertility, foster care, and adoption. These days you’ll find her catching up on housework while listening to a podcast, trying not to have dinner be a Pinterest fail,  and sipping coffee while teaching her daughter to drive.