In loving memory of Ilah Swenson, 1924-2018.
My grandmother called everyone, “honey.”
Wait staff, sales people, grocery store clerks, booking agents, teachers, preachers, me, and probably you.
“Well, hello there, honey.”
“Oh, honey, that’s all right.”
Growing up, I realized the uniqueness of my grandmother’s penchant for this pet name. I’d never heard anyone else use it like that before. It seemed kind of intimate for just anyone.
“Did you ever notice how grandma calls everyone, ‘honey.’ What’s up with that?” I asked my sisters.
“Well, I think she’s just really nice,” they replied.
But it wasn’t that fake kind of nice—the kind of nice people are to you even if they don’t like you. My grandma really was nice. I genuinely don’t think it ever occurred to her that a conversation partner didn’t deserve to be liked.
Another word for this behavior is “gracious.” She was gracious—all the time!
It’s really mind-boggling to think about. You don’t have to think back very far to get a sense of her grace-filled personality.
In her days at Armour Oaks, she would tell visitors every chance she got, “I wish I was still in my home, but I can’t be there anymore. I’m lucky to be here. And the food is…pretty good.”
I mean seriously, how could you not complain? But she didn’t. It sounds cliché, but I really do want to make the claim that she hardly ever complained.
A few times, maybe.
For instance, when she was in the hospital with severe muscle pain. And there was that one story she told about the time grandpa made her mad. (I think she must have forgotten the others.)
Surely she wanted to complain more, but I never heard her do it. Can you imagine?
It’s one thing to serve your family for decades and decades, to care for your husband and your children, and your grandchildren, but to do all that and never complain?
I can’t imagine. Can you?
But, then again, there’s a lot my grandma did that I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine marrying a widower with four children—toddler to teenager. I can’t imagine having that much family thrust upon me after coming to terms with the fact that I’d probably never have one of my own.
But she did it. And she loved it.
She gave her life to her family, and the only payment she ever wanted were the memories that they gave her.
“I lay awake at night,” she used to say, “before I go to sleep, and I think about my family, especially my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
And I am positive that when she lay in bed on the last night of her life, she was doing just that. And I’m sure that when the nurse came in to check on her and said, “How’re you doing Miss Ilah?” that she responded, “Oh, honey, I’m fine.”
And you know what? I think she meant it.
Because her family—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—where all right there with her, just like they were each night when she put her head on the pillow.
I cannot imagine a more gracious life, and it is my fervent prayer that we will inherit some of that grace.
Now, when I say inherit, I don’t mean something genetic, passed down through blood. That wouldn’t be the case with most of the family here, anyway.
I mean something else passed down, generation to generation. I’m talking about the little vehicles of grace that she shared with us, and that we will continue to share.
I’m talking about things like laughter from way do in the belly.
I’m talking about miniature cans of Coke.
I’m talking about road trips to Joplin.
I’m talking about stories from La Cygne, Kansas.
I’m talking about leaving a nativity set out all year long because it is always the right season to be reminded that God became flesh and dwelt among us.
I’m talking about cashing a “mad-money” check each month.
I’m talking about unplugging the toaster after each time you use it.
I’m talking about taking an hour to stretch out on the divan.
She shared all that with us. But most of all, she shared God’s grace, and now, we’ll share that Grace with the world.
The good news is, we won’t do it alone. We’ll have God’s help. And Ilah—Grandma Swenson—will still be with us. Perhaps not technically in the blood that runs through our veins, but steadfastly in the blood that Jesus gave.
So, come to think of it, I guess we do share blood. And just because she’s gone doesn’t mean we won’t find her there, each time we dip our bread in the chalice, each time we say our prayer.