Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning
When with our Savior, heaven is begun
Earth’s toiling ended, O glory dawning
Beyond the sunset, when day is done
When an elderly person dies peacefully and in good health, we consider them to have concluded their life on earth in a most blessed way. We hope that one day, we will also slip away to Heaven during a nap in our favorite chair, the way my husband’s eighty-nine-year-old grandmother, Elsie, did last week.
A week before she died, we visited Elsie and shared lunch. As usual, my husband told her there was no need for her to prepare anything, but there wasn’t much point in that. We showed up with soup, snacks, homemade bread, excellent Amish-made cheese from nearby shops, and brownie pudding for dessert, and she’d still baked her own batch of brownies.
While I didn’t like her going to any trouble for us, I understood her way of showing love, and I respected her work ethic. She demonstrated her feelings through the amount of work she put into taking care of her family and her home.
For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. – Psalm 128:2
For years, she and my husband’s grandfather, Carl, canned produce from their huge backyard vegetable garden. I’m sure that when they started canning decades before, it provided an economic way to feed their five children. But long after their children were gone, they kept up the practice. The work of growing their own produce through the heat of summer, and canning quarts of beans, tomatoes, corn, pickles, and more in their small, humid kitchen – it offered purpose. It hearkened back to happy times. It was good work, made more gratifying in that it was intertwined with love.
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. – Ecclesiastes 4:9
Before I married my husband and moved to the Midwest, I’d never heard of a dish called chicken and noodles. But I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Elsie’s meaty, salty, chewy egg noodles cooked in homemade chicken broth. I had to know how she made the dish, and she was happy to share her recipe and a little hands-on instruction with me. Needless to say, traditional chicken and noodles is a labor of love! I like to think I do her proud when I undertake the time-consuming recipe about once a year.
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. – Ecclesiastes 2:24
Though I most often remember Elsie working or talking about work – even her letters were filled with news of what kept her busy – my dearest memory of her was from a day when she did not work at all. The day of Carl’s funeral, in the church pew, at the graveside, and in the church hall afterward, she sat still and quiet as others worked around her. She cried very little, or at least not very openly. Perhaps that is why I’ll never forget the moment that I tentatively put my arms around her, murmuring a few words of comfort, and she hugged me back. Hard. She said brokenly, “I knew he was going to die. But I just didn’t know it was going to be this soon. I wasn’t ready.”
Well, dear Elsie is with Carl again, and with two children who passed on before her. Her brown eyes are bright again and her stooped back is straight. I look forward to talking with her about the moment she saw Jesus, as she woke from sleep and stepped into Heaven. And then, after that, maybe she and I can spend some time in the kitchen together.