I received a phone call. Grandma Goose has died. The name brings a smile to my heart and new tears to my eyes. I met her in 1982 soon after I arrived at St Mark’s Church in Buffalo. A quiet, faithful lady with an infectious smile, I first knew her as Eileen. Over weeks and months we began to converse. I found her to be quiet, caring, giving and staunch in her faith. Through her I soon got to know her daughters and grand children who were also associated with the congregation.
While I was doing marriage preparation with her granddaughter Shari I first heard she was known as Grandma Goose. Once I heard it, the name stuck and I began thinking of her with that appellation. When I left St Mark’s and went to another parish she also attended there. After I went into chaplaincy we continued to keep in touch though less often and after my moving to Rochester it was primarily via Christmas letters and cards. Through her granddaughter I had heard of her failing health and memory problems.
Having been her former pastor it was not appropriate for me to visit her though I often thought about her and remembered her in prayer. Having walked with others through this shadow world of uncooperative memory I was concerned for her journey. Her family arranged to care for her at home which allowed her to stay in familiar surroundings with familiar people.
But at age 90 Grandma Goose’s health failed, she entered hospice and yesterday she died. But she gave me one last smile, one last gift of her quiet caring. A gift she may not have even known was a gift. Like many clergy one question has nagged at me for many years. And in recent months it has again been looming in the background of my life. An answer is given me from time to time by different people in different ways. Each time their answer is a great gift. That question is “does what I do make any difference?” In this technological world of cure, clergy don’t seem to do much of anything. I cannot prescribe medicine to ease an illness or fix the hurts that are shared with me. I can sit and listen but cannot supply meaningful answers to another’s problems. I can walk with people on portions of their journey, but I cannot walk through the gate of death with them. I try to allow God to use me as a channel for God’s love and grace. But in the middle of the night I may still wonder if any of it makes a difference. Yesterday, through her daughter Sharon, Grandma Goose had one last gift for me. Sharon told me “Mom did not remember many people but she remembered you.” And through the tears that immediately sprang up in my eyes I smiled – and in my memory I saw Grandma Goose smiling back at me. I give thanks for her and for her parting gift. It is one I hope I can give to others – helping them to see how they mirror God’s presence in the lives of others.