In my family, "grandma" is also a verb. "Grandma-ing" means nodding your head in agreement while not really listening to what someone is saying. We have perfected the art around Grandma Schubert, an extraordinarily loquacious lady for whom silence is a mortal enemy. She fights gaps in conversation with endless chatter about health problems, death reports, church updates, redundant stories, and of course, a barrage of questions with no pause for a response. While "grandma-ing" lacks compassion, it serves as an important defense mechanism against boredom, nagging, and endless one-sided discussions.
"Grandma-ing" has taken on new meaning in recent weeks as Grandma has been actively dying from cancer. As a general rule, we Schuberts "do not go gentle (or quiet) into that good night." Grandma was given six months to live more than two years ago. She fought hard to witness my sister's wedding and my ordination last year. Now, she really does have only a few months to live, and she is raging against "the dying of the light." Her verbal tirades have targeted doctors, nurses, family, caregivers, and her own body. Many times I've tuned her out. As a pastor who listens regularly to the joy, pain, and concerns of others around me, I've wondered why I struggle so much to hear the needs of someone so close to me.
Isaiah and I visited Grandma tonight. The cancer has ravaged her lungs and diminished her vocal cords so that her voice is a scratchy whisper. For the first time in the nearly 30 years, I notice pauses in the conversation where Grandma either needs to catch her breath or is too tired to continue. In those gaps, I hope for grace for all of my years of "grandma-ing." I try to hear carefully what is being said. And I am convinced that listening -- truly listening -- may be the greatest act of love there is.