How to Remember Well…

My Grandma and Grandpa Phillips

The day before my grandpa’s birthday I sit with another old man as he takes dialysis. He is lying flat on his back and there are tubes of red swirling and sighing around us. Life’s blood.
I remember his sharp nose and those ears—how can I forget those ears? He was tall—always towering over, even when stooped into old age. He would have been 114 tomorrow—and has it really been that long?
My grandpa lived to be 100—sharp and independent until the last. He was a farmer in his younger days and I remember those lush red strawberries in his garden. How they tempted. Red.
This gentle man is hooked up to so many machines and all this tubing and he tells me, Every time I go to the doctor they find something new wrong.
And I nod sympathetically, reflect it back, give him the gift of the presence of my body. But my mind is remembering that time I sat with my grandpa on his porch swing. How he cried that day, missing my grandma.
I feel an ache and the red swirls through those tubes and I can smell life oozing through that thin plastic. I’ve always squirmed at those Old Testament atonement passages—all that blood…it seems too gory…too much. And I wonder at the way the person offering the sacrifice would lay his hand on the animal’s head, acknowledging the exchange. Giving this life, for my sin…
I am thinking about all my regrets. How I wish I had more time with the people I love…how I never give the right gift.
The gift of me.
We used to have a big party for my grandpa on his birthday. All the family came from far away places and local politicians would sit with him as he waited for the cake to be cut. Our Jeffrey was only three months old when he passed. As soon as I could travel after birthing that child, I took my two babies up to see “Pap”—anxious to have his blessing on this new one. Jeffrey carries his name: Ray. Jeffrey Ray. When I asked Grandpa if we could use his name, he was so pleased.
I sit and listen to the dialysis machine whisper life and I miss my grandpa. And I wish for a party. And I want to do something to remember him well. My thoughts ebb and flow and suddenly I see this man that I am sitting with.
He is someone’s grandpa too.
Blood has been shed for me and atonement is a weighty thing and as I watch this gentle man receive the gift of clean blood, I think I understand those Old Testament sacrifices better. It still makes me queasy, but shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t I feel how hard it is? Life.
Why do I take it so for granted?
I remember my grandpa so I open my heart to this man before me. I ask him questions I wish I had asked my grandpa. I see him.
It helps me remember with my heart. It helps me remember well. And I marvel at the way the past and the now and the future are all spun together—tied together by the red ribbon of sacrifice.
With  Jennifer, and Emily today. Love my sisters.You should go visit them.


  1. says

    I am reading a book by Victoria Sweet about her medical work in an alms house. She writes that one of the most important lessons she learned there was to be with her patients in the quiet space of not asking, not answering, not doing. Presence itself is the gift, and it is always the right one.

  2. says

    Yes, Maureen, I agree. So many times I am present in body but my mind is elsewhere. I am making an effort to honor my patients with my whole self these days. I find I get so much more satisfaction from my work this way. A local pastor calls this kind of presence “holding them with our eyes.” I’ve been trying to do that. I may have to check out this book you speak of. You are such a wealth of resources 🙂

  3. says

    /I know, David, I know! My grandpa lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, desegregation, /and so much more. I wish I had asked him about it all. I wish I knew what he thought about it then and later…

  4. says

    Now that my parents have left their earthly home, I’ve often wished I’d asked more questions. I think we always will.

    Your post stirs another memory for me. I was once the nurse administrator for several dialysis units. One time we asked all the patients to bring in photos of themselves as children and we filled a bulletin board with them…and as I looked over their photos one day, I was broken and in tears at this realization – this photographic reminder – that they were so much more than the frail and ill and sometimes bitter and angry adults who often took out that anger and bitterness on us – that they someone’s child.

    Lovely post, Laura. Truly.

  5. Ace Draper says

    Your post makes me want to go visit my Mom who is in a nursing and ask some more questions before God calls her home. She is 85 and sometimes her mind is clear, she has a hard time remembering short term thing, but she can remember things that happen long time ago.
    How honored your Grandpa would be that you wrote of him and that you reached out to the man you were helping.
    Love the anology of the blood you wrote of…I love the line in an old blue grass gospel song,
    When He sees me He see the blood of the Lamb
    When He sees me He see me as worthy and not as I
    He views me in garments as white as the snow
    For the Lamb of God is worthy and He washed me this I know

  6. Ace Draper says

    I just realized my comment has my husband name on it, my name is Betty Draper and my blog is

  7. amyscanderson says

    This is beautiful. Would love to have something more substantial to say in response, but please know I really appreciated it.

  8. says

    /Thank you, Betty (I think I might like to call you “Ace” :)). After my grandpa died, I collected stories from his children about their life growing up on the farm. There were nine brothers and sisters all together–the eldest now gone home. But they all shared, and so did my cousins–the grandkids. It was the closest thing to hearing his stories I could get and I am so grateful for that collection now. I know the story of how he lost his pinky toe (his brother dropped a rock on it when they were creek wading but he like to tell everyone a snake bit it :), that he loved to drive fast, he worked so hard on the farm, and when my uncle was a prisoner of war during the Korean War–he spanked my dad (the baby) for the first time because he was too noisy during the news on the radio. So many treasures. Maybe you can do the same? Wouldn’t your mom love to hear those stories too? Bless her, and you too for loving the way you do./

  9. says

    /Oh, Patricia. Thank you for sharing this story. What a beautiful thing you did when you saw your patients that way. You have a beautiful heart, my friend. What a gift you must have been to those folks–grumpy and bitter and all./

  10. pastordt says

    Oh, nice, Laura. Yes – seeing someone is so important, isn’t it? How I wish I had asked more questions, listened to more stories. I got some from one grandmother but the other side? Not nearly enough. (And that whole blood image is hard sometimes, isn’t it? But also so very visceral, life-filled, messy – like we blood-bearing, blood-needing folk.)

  11. Hazel Moon says

    My mother lived to be 100. She wasn’t on dialysis, but her skin
    was so thin and fragile that the slightest friction the skin would tear and
    required bandages and care. In March of
    this year she peacefully went to be with Jesus in her sleep. I miss her, and know that we all are in a
    fragile state no matter what our age. I
    think about heaven more often these days.

  12. says

    I regret not asking my grandparents and other elderly relatives to tell my their stories. The thing is, I don’t think I learned to appreciate old family stories until I’d grown up a bit myself. I think it takes some growing up to learn to appreciate others and to begin to understand the value of being present.

    I appreciated your reflections on life-giving blood. Can you even imagine being present during OT sacrifices? The horror of it, the smell? I think that was a huge part of the lesson unfolding before God’s people every time a sacrifice was offered–the sheer horror of what was necessary.

  13. says

    And my word for the day today is “hematic”–of or pertaining to blood. Creepy. But sitting there with that gentle man, realizing how precious it is to have this clean blood flowing through him…the value of that really sunk in for me. God considers every drop precious. It just fills me with wonder.

  14. says

    Me too, Hazel. Me too. 100 is a ripe age to make it to, isn’t it? If I can live like Grandpa did for that long…I don’t know. I think I might like that. Your love must have made your mother’s days richer. Such a beautiful thing.

  15. says

    Some days I do better at seeing people than others, Diana. I have such a tendency to become self-absorbed…draw in. I’m working on that. I think Nancy is right–one has to have a bit of living under the belt to know to ask for those stories. Don’t you wish you could go back sometimes? Tell your young self not to take these things for granted? Things like stories, and loved ones and…blood. Yes, blood. The drippy, messy stuff of life.

  16. says

    Girl … you love well. I can hear your gentle voice, as I’m reading. I can hear that voice asking questions and really listening. That’s what you do. You are a gift.

  17. says

    Tied by the red ribbon of sacrifice…

    I wish I’d asked more questions, too. And had written down more of the answers to what I did ask–because I don’t remember right.

    If my blood was swirling, I would so love your sweet presence at my side.

  18. Amy Anderson says

    Just realized I comment here under various forms of my name. . . interesting. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that the evening after I read this post I had a dream about my Papa (Nana’s husband) who’s been gone almost 20 years. It was just a dream, but it was still a comfort and interesting timing after reading your post:)

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