It was a hot night – a night already begging for sleep.
Bryan was downstairs on the couch, in the air conditioning, but I like my bed, so I toughed it out, tossing the covers around. Piper showed up at some point, and had just settled into a sweaty sleep when I saw my phone light up across the room. Normally, my phone is on silent, but tonight it buzzed longer than a text, so I jumped up.
When my mom texts at 11:59 pm, it’s usually just her being up late and finally responding to a question I no longer needed answered. When my mom CALLS at 11:59 pm, something is wrong.
“Oh, Charissa…Grandma Hunter died tonight,” she sighed.
“WHAT??!” It shouldn’t have been as big of a shock as it was, but, nevertheless, I couldn’t believe it.
I tried to reach back for when I last visited, when I had last taken the kids to see her, when I had last hugged my dear Grandma Hunter. Regret piled in as I knew the two months had been too long.
Grandma and Grandpa and a bunch of us cousins
Trying to fall asleep was now impossible.
Around 2:30 am, I shut myself in my closet, ransacking every memory box on the shelves, knowing I would find my Grandma there. Without fail, she showed up. My grandmother’s dignified cursive poured out of card after card that I found as I dug through memories from middle school, college, and into married life. My pile of cards continued to grow as I moved on to the memory boxes of my children. There was a card for every one of their birthdays up until 2016, and even one to Judah on his day of birth, June 29, 2016.
Grandma and me (pregnant with Judah) and my dad in 2016
The last card I personally got from my Grandma was a 10-year anniversary card in early June, where she wrote, “May the Lord strengthen you and daily fill you [with] His joy and peace. We’re praying for all your ministries, plus a smooth delivery of that precious baby.”
I remember she accidently sent that card to my old address, a house we hadn’t lived at in 6 years. When it had happened, she laughed at herself and couldn’t believe she had done such a careless thing. Come to find out, she had a brain bleed no one knew about – a brain bleed that wouldn’t be discovered until four months later, the day after her 81st birthday.
That’s why the cards stopped -- because Grandma almost died on that day.
But she didn’t die the day after her 81st birthday. She lost every ability to do anything independently – but she did not give up. She learned how to eat again. She learned how to walk again. She learned how to shower again. She learned how to smile again.
Judah had a special place in Grandma's arms -
Visiting Grandma on Christmas Eve, 2016
Talking was harder. She evolved from saying, “Worthy, worthy, worthy” to saying “Words, Words, words,” with many different inflections and singing notes in church, but her ability to communicate never fully returned. And her ability to write never had much of a chance, either.
But I think Grandma deserved a break from writing.
When my search through my mementos finished, I found no less than 60 cards from her, sent to me, my husband, and my children. 60! And that’s just the ones I saved! I only saved 10 of my birthday cards from her, so I know there are 20 more out there somewhere!
There were 10 birthday cards to my children.
Eight Valentine’s Day cards.
Halloween was one of my Grandma's favorite holidays! 2014
There were letters sent to me at AWANA camp, while I was on mission trips, for our wedding, for Easter, Christmas, graduations, and for when we bought our house. She wrote to my husband and told him how proud she was to call him a grandson. She wrote to my children and thanked them for the art projects they created for her and she always snuck in a few dollars, clarifying that it was to pay for my “film” as I always printed off pictures of the kids for her.
In November, 2006, she wrote me a letter for Thanksgiving. She told me that I had never disappointed her in any way. While I find that hard to believe (I was no perfect child), I think my Grandma might have been the ultimate practitioner of grace-giving. So much so, that she never held anything against me, and simply loved me. Less than a year later, in my college graduation card, she wrote, “We are so proud of your accomplishments, but we love you because you were put in to our lives for that purpose.”
Grandma took me on my 10-year-old trip to Disneyland, where we met up with my California cousins! 1995
Grandma loved a good tea party with Cayden. 2013.
Grandma and Grandpa, my brothers, my dad, baby Cayden and I
She watched her husband deteriorate and pass away four months ago. She still couldn’t speak or write. Often, she seemed frustrated and constantly raised her hands to the sky, as if asking God to take her. I was thankful for the past year and a half with her, for sure. While we couldn’t carry a conversation, she was an excellent listener, and always nodded along to my stories and laughed at my videos of the kids I would show her on my camera. She still had a great laugh.
Grandma and her kids at Grandpa's grave in April, 2018.
She got to know my son, who was born just before her brain bleed. She laughed at him throwing balls around her room and loved the girls’ costumes on Halloween this past year. I learned to appreciate her…never enough though.
So, I think God left her here on earth for us as her family…to get a little more time in with her. But I don’t think this is the main reason.
My Grandma was an evangelist.
She loved telling people about God’s love and grace and how all that mattered was where you will spend eternity. So, I will tell you why my Grandma was left here on earth for more than 81 years.
Grandma meeting Piper Grace Bernard for the first time in August, 2013.
She is my middle child – my spitfire, my walking contradiction.
She doesn’t remember much about Great-Grandma Hunter before her brain bleed because Piper’s 3rd birthday card in August 2016 was the last one received in our household.
When I told now almost 5-year-old Piper Grace about Great-Grandma dying, she looked at me and said frankly, “Did she go to Heaven or Hell?”
A little taken aback, I reiterated that Great-Grandma had gone to Heaven because she loved God so much and believed that Jesus had died for her sins.
“How do I go to Heaven when I die?” She inquired.
In my head, I thought, “I guess we are doing this…”
I laid out the gospel for her, something she has heard before, but never taken to heart.
“That’s a lot of words,” she said. “But what words do I have to say?”
Piper with her collage she made out of craft treasures from Grandma Hunter's house.
So, she repeated after me, saying that she had done wrong things, and needed forgiveness and wanted that from Jesus, who had paid for her sins by dying on the cross. She said that she believed that Jesus rose again to beat death and thanked Him for loving her.
And so, the day after my Grandma died, not only did my stargazer lilies bloom, but my daughter, Piper, entered in to the family of God. Oh, how the angels in Heaven were kept busy on our family’s behalf in those 12 hours.
There is no greater legacy my Grandma would have wanted to have left behind than children who loved and sought after the Lord. In her many years of experience, she had lived the beginning of her life without the Lord and once she found Him, could never get enough.
Camping at Honeyman in July, 2016 with all of the great grandkids (at the time).
All the Great-Grandparents together for Judah's 1st birthday party in June 2017.
She was a woman of grace who really knew how to forgive and move on. I was a child in need of grace often, so I was appropriately named, Charis. So, with Piper. And so, when I am asked why God allows us to suffer through hard things in life that seem to have no reason, I will always be able to point them back to grace, the free gift we do not deserve, that was bestowed on my daughter by way of my Grandmother’s death.