April 20, 2010

Goodbye Baltimore at One Hundred and Four

My grandmother Sara Lichtenstein Goldberg died Friday morning, April 16. She was 104. When my mom, her daughter, asked me if I wanted to say anything during the funeral, I quietly said Yes, I do.

I felt immediately as if God had given me something to say. It went something like this:

After a conversation with my brother Alan, I understood more deeply how we all have our different experiences with Grandma. And we need all our stories about Grandma in order to make her whole. What I'm about to share is my story about her, and there'll be other stories we'll tell.

My story isn't so much about the woman who was my grandmother as much as it is about the lessons I learned from her about forgiveness and reconciliation in God.

As a child who visited Grandma and Grandpa a few times a year, I watched as Grandma argued--some might say they were spirited discussions--with her brothers, my mother, my uncle Saul. I watched and I understood: this is how she creates connections to people in the family, through arguments and fighting.

As a young adult, I saw how my mother Helene persevered through all those arguments, staying connected to Grandma by regular visits to Baltimore and through daily phone calls. The older my grandmother got, the more frequent the calls, sometimes two, three, or more times during the day. I watched how my mother chose to stay connected, despite the anger and bitterness my grandmother expressed.

Also as Grandma got older, my two brothers and I started calling her at least once a month.

About three years ago, Grandma stopped taking my calls.

I didn't know why, and Grandma didn't say. But each time I called, imaging that her anger toward me had passed, her caregiver Sandra would answer the phone, say to my grandmother, "It's your granddaughter Elizabeth..." And I would hear her say, "No, I don't want to talk to her. I'm angry with her, I'm not going to talk with her."

And that would be that, until the next month when I would call again.

I never did find out directly from Grandma what angered her so, and my calls because less frequent.

During that time, I understood how other family members, relatives, and friends were cast off by Grandma. I think most people just gave up. But for me, because I had witnessed my mother's perseverance, I wanted to be reconciled somehow with Grandma.

I changed my strategy, and I asked my two brothers and my mother to start inserting into their conversations with her that I was seeking forgiveness from her. I also called Grandma as Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, was approaching in 2008. I think on that day, she took my call:

Grandma, it's Yom Kippur and I'm calling to ask you to forgive me. I know I've angered you and upset you, and I'm sorry for that. I'm asking for forgivness...

She said she would think about it.

From time to time, my mom would tell me, "She's still thinking about it but she's not ready yet."


Here are the lessons I've learned through my relationship with Grandma.

1. God does not command us to be unhappy.

2. When I detach in anger, and when I stay disconnected, I lose the opportunity to reconcile with the other person.

3. When I stay emotionally connected--despite the anger, hurt, bitterness, and pain--I allow God the chance to work through us, to work through me. God has the chance to help us be reconciled to one another.

4. We can be leaven to one another, helping lift up the Spirit of God in each other and lighten one another's burdens.

5. We can choose love when there is pain. Difficult as that is at times, we can choose love.



Marshall Massey said...

That is a very fine ministry, Liz. Thank you for sharing it.

Mary Ellen said...

A wonderful story, Liz. I think that it was meaningful to your grandmother that you persevered. At least - she was thinking about it - thinking about the possibility of forgiveness. That's a start - even at 104! I'm glad you could say farewell with this spirit of hope and love, instead of bitterness.

anj said...

I can't even begin to let you know how Spirit used your testimony/eulogy to speak to my condition. Thank you for writing this, and I am sorry for your loss and so glad you were able to speak truthfully at her funeral.

Joanna Hoyt said...

I'm sorry; and, thank you! I'm sorry for your loss--for her death, and all the things that didn't happen before it. I've been at some of those family funerals where the unresolved conflicts sit in the corners, unnamed, grating on us all, and I wish some of us had spoken this clearly.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks to all of you for your affirmations and tender responses. I am reminded over and over again that Love is the testimony that often is unnamed and is much needed.