Thursday, February 26, 2009

Memories of The Granj

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my wife Katelin's maternal grandmother, Jinx Lacey, passed away about three weeks ago. It was the result of a tragic, random accident -- walking in a parking lot at night, she tripped, fell, and hit her head, which led to internal bleeding and a coma. Katelin and I were able to be with her and the family the day after it happened, and the next day when they removed life support. Jinx would have turned 70 years old just a month later on March 6, so not only was this unexpected -- we were expecting decades more with her. In lieu of her passing and her funeral last weekend, I wanted to share some memories.

When Katelin was born and Jinx became a grandma at age 47, she wanted to be called "Grand Jinx," which eventually became "Granji," which then evolved into (and became interchangeable with) "The Granj." "(The) Granj(i)" was just her name, even to non-family.

I was one of those "non-family" people who knew and loved Granj for years before I ended up marrying into "the family." Granj was the crisis counselor at McNeil High School in Round Rock, Texas, for almost 20 years -- four of which included my own high school tenure -- and my getting to know her was largely independent from, though coterminous to, my getting to know her beloved eldest grandchild, a fellow classmate and, as it turned out, future wife. Granj was involved with various clubs and organizations at McNeil that I participated in, and we slowly came to know each other through them.

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Granji's assessment of me had to do, principally, with four things:

1) "Just look at that long, dark, curly hair! If only God had given me curls."
2) "Honey you are just too smart for the old Granj!"
3) "Such a sweet, sweeeet boy!"
4) "I don't know about ol' Paul ... he didn't seem too fond of my kind, women. But he did write my faaavorite passage -- Romans 8. You know, when I discovered that Scripture -- my favorite is The Message translation -- it changed my life. I didn't know that nothing could separate me from Jesus' love. But ol' Paul wrote it: it doesn't matter! He always loves me. And I just love Romans 8. I love it love it love it."

As you can see, I loved Granj because Granj first loved me. For whatever reason, some combination of my hair, my head, my sweetness(?), and my Bible-ness endeared me to her. And even had I not ended up dating and marrying her granddaughter, I would be so happy, so grateful, to have known and been known by the Granj.

But I did marry Katelin! And as Bill Simmons would say, that brought things to a whole new level.

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One of the most meaningful things Granj ever did for me was react to my dating Katelin with the kind of exuberant, exaggerated, outlandish gusto for which she was so well known. Granj was downright euphoric about our relationship. It is difficult to explain to someone who didn't know Granj or doesn't know Katelin what that means, because to say Granj was Katelin's "grandmother" makes her sound a million miles removed. But, instead of calling her "grandmother," let's call Granji Katelin's oldest best friend. She took her to church, had her over for sleepovers, went out to dinner, stayed up late giggling, wrote passes to get her our of class, talked about boys, and, in general, taught her about life. Granji's oldest daughter is Kim, and Kim's oldest daughter is Katelin. In the most wonderful way, then, Granji lived profoundly as The Matriarch -- in her own glorious, goofy, gaffe-prone way -- to Katelin both as the oldest grandchild and as the youngest in three generations of women. As such Granji gave herself to Katelin: and Katelin received Granji. To know Katelin outside of knowing Granji and Granji's central importance is simply not to know Katelin.

And so, imagine the great burden placed on me, the suitor and husband-to-be: Will the Granj, as Matriarch and oldest best friend, approve? Thus my relieved sigh, my satisfied smile, to know from the beginning that she did. And boy, did she make sure I knew it, too.

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Granji was a bright shining light in the best and fullest sense of the metaphor. Her presence quite literally illuminated, lit up, the room. You never didn't know Granj was present. She made it quite known, in her own particular ways.

Granj was a light in her language. She was someone who, written or spoken, made abundantly clear just how beloved you were in her eyes. Her language was gratuitous. An email or card or voicemail was a kind of marathon of words, with ellipses and cliches and poetic touches that were wholly doused in Granji's distinct stamp of personality. One of the reasons Granj felt so much like family to me was in part because she shared this trait with my own mother.

Granj was a light in her work. She loved her "dumplings," high school teenagers trudging through the most difficult time of their lives. For all of her verbosity, she was a listener at heart, and the testimonies of dozens of current and former students reveal just how great her impact was.

Granj was a light in her laughter. Nobody had a better sense of humor than her, and largely because Granji knew (with G.K. Chesterton) that "funny" is not the opposite of "serious" -- you can be humorless and serious or humorous and unserious, but humor and seriousness are not mutually exclusive. Granji took life seriously, loved it, and therefore she laughed at it. What else could she do?

Granj was a light in her family. The matriarch of three strong daughters and eight grandchildren (including me), Granji was and is the center of everything -- and rightly so. There are people who seek the spotlight and there are people who by nature are the spotlight: and we all knew to which category Granji belonged. As an old friend shared at her funeral, Granji was an amusement park unto herself; and no more so with her family. A current student came to the hospital to see Granji in her coma and was confused to meet her middle daughter -- as he said, nobody knew she had children, only grandchildren. And if you knew Granj, you knew her grandchildren's names by heart.

Finally, Granj was a light in her faith. She was always picking my brain, telling me about her dad being a preacher and how I could have his old Bible collection, marveling at the very mention of learning Greek or Hebrew like I had just performed a miracle. Granj was "someone you don't worry about"; not that I am personally inclined to worry about others' eternal destinations, but it is an understandable concern, especially for loved ones and especially for the prodigals among us. But we all knew Granji had a kind of direct line with God -- that sort of saintly, prayerful, playful friendship with Jesus that bespoke with utter clarity the connection between a loving Father and a glad daughter. Granj never missed an opportunity to tell me about "the car wash," her (as I might put it) baptism from death to life, or (as she did put it) from codependency to healthfulness, almost 20 years ago. That was due to the work of other counselors on her behalf, and it was also due to the discovery of passages like Romans 8: the full and received and lived knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Granji was living witness to that truth.

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About six months ago Katelin and I started receiving substantial checks from Granji in the mail. Why, you might ask? We did. And we were promptly informed that Granj had decided to alter her monthly charity contribution from March of Dimes to us. As poor newlyweds in graduate school, she figured we needed the money. And we did. And so we became Granji's monthly charity.

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Granji was my first main experience with death, especially on such an intimate level. Three of my four grandparents died before I was 10 years old, and the fourth is alive and well (and kicking! That is to say, watching good basketball). A beloved teacher, Ms. Buffalo (a Granj-ish character if there ever was one), died when I was in fourth grade. And two years ago Adam Langford, a missionary from Jinja, Uganda, where I spent two months the prior summer, died in a tragic car accident. In those relatively few examples, however, I was never emotionally present for or physically connected to the suffering or death. I was either too young or geographically removed.

Here, though, we were present for the long, hard, 36 hours of coma, strained breathing, life support, and waiting. It was a rush, and surreal, and inexpressibly dark. Yet I could never have imagined how much life there was even in the midst of so much darkness. God's grace was never far away, his presence always present to us, and we received profound gifts when we least expected them. Granji went to see her youngest daughter after she fell. What if she hadn't? What if we never knew what had happened? The next morning she was found in her bed, in her pajamas, glasses on the side table; her coma came after she fell asleep. Thank you, God.

All her adult life Granji was terrified of slowly slipping into Alzheimer's (like her mother and sister) and living out her days in an utterly anti-Granji existence -- incapacitated, inarticulate, incoherent. She always said, at the first sign, to take her out back and "shoot me with a horse tranquilizer." We would never have wished it to happen this way, but we receive it as a gift that Granji's greatest fear was not realized: for all intents and purposes, she died in her sleep.

So much else to say, but no need to name it all. Suffice it to say that there were equal amounts of laughter mixed with crying in the room as we waited, for how else could we best honor Granji? Everyone dies, as the saying goes, but not everyone lives. Praise God that Jinx Lacey lived, and praise God that we who were blessed to know her felt the gift of that life with every laugh and every hug, every "piffle" and every prayer.

On the drive home at 3:00 in the morning, after she had passed on, I shared with Katelin, through tears grieved yet grateful, that the thing I was saddest about was that our children will never know Granj, but how overwhelmingly thankful and happy I was to have known her. That remains my feeling today, and it will be a lasting memory for me. I lament to God that my children will never know the life that was Granji, but I am so grateful to have spent even one evening with her. And I am happiest in knowing, with Granj, that death is not the final word.

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What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


  1. Brad-your words written on this page are a gift to all who knew Granj, thank you so very, very much for sharing them with us.
    Thank You.
    Love to you and Miss Kate,

  2. Brad,

    Thanks for sharing. Almost one year ago my wife's grandma died too. From what you share my relationship, and my wife's, with her were very similar to you and your wife's relationships with Granji. May God's peace continue to be felt in your lives.