Grandmother Milligan

After years of both physical and mental decline for my Grandmother Milligan, the moment we’ve tried to ignore finally hit on Friday morning:

Grandmother Milligan’s health is very poor and she will likely pass away today and perhaps in the next hour or so.  Please keep the family in your prayers.

I cannot think of Grandmother without thinking of the striking way she was described by Kristen Milligan, Inheritance of Hope’s co-founder who died in this month five years ago.  Kristen’s book Consider It Pure Joy  begins with her going to the hospital for surgery, commencing what became a nine-year journey with cancer.  She had a special visitor:

I was reassured, though not surprised, to see my mother-in-law, Mrs. Milligan, who had arrived late the previous night from Tennessee.  Despite her full-time professorship at Middle Tennessee State University, she had not missed the birth of any of our children.  In fact, she had not missed the birth of any of her nineteen grandchildren.  With five children, five spouses of children, and nineteen grandchildren, she somehow manages to make us all feel incredibly special and incredibly loved.  When Luke was still tiny, I enjoyed reading a book called  The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which suggested that each of us has a way in which we best express love and best feel loved.  The five suggested love languages are time, touch, service, words of affirmation, and gift giving.  I have seen a dominant love language in each of my children and in my husband (a definite man of service).  My mother-in-law is the one person I have ever met who truly seems to have all five.  She is very special and has been a blessing in my life over and over.

As of today, we will have to start saying Grandmother “was” very special, yet I am sure that she still “is” very special and will remain specially influential for years and generations to come.  All those children and grandchildren – plus children-in-law, grandchildren-in-law, and now nine great-grandchildren and counting – not to mention numerous relatives in the extended family and countless friends, represent a living and lasting legacy! 

We will not soon forget, nor could we undo the influence of, such a profound life.  We will always cherish her love as Kristen so well described, her gentleness, dignity, intelligence, music, Christian faith, easy smiles, flair for shoes, Southern gentility in the very best sense, trips to the children’s museum, biscuits and gravy and oh-so-sweet tea – just a few of the many gifts Grandmother readily shared.

Although it was not the last time I would see her, my lasting impression of Grandmother is a holy moment that emerged last Christmas.  Years ago, Grandmother’s love of family gatherings and music combined to create an annual tradition in our family known as the “Milligan Musicale.”  As the family grew over the years, so did the number and variety of acts.  All ages participate, performing everything from world-class trumpet music to duck calls, with comedy routines, slideshows, hymns, push-ups, kids just being cute, and who knows what else all sprinkled in.  

At the 2016 Milligan Musicale, in the midst of such variety, Grandmother’s three daughters went to the front.  They announced they were going to sing one of “Mama’s” favorite songs – with her!  Despite being so frail physically, upon hearing this, Grandmother rose and joined her daughters in the front of the room.  Despite being so faded mentally, Grandmother sang the right words, on pitch and in rhythm, with a sweet smile on her face.  This woman who by then spent most of her time sitting silently literally rose to the occasion and made heavenly music with her girls.

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  Just recalling that moment now brings fresh tears for me.  It was a beautiful gift, pure grace.  A joyous glimpse of heaven on earth.  One more divine entry in the already-rich legacy of a dying woman.  In a packed house full of family, God came and filled it still further, filling Grandmother with life and every soul to overflowing.  Hallelujah!

Grandmother was blessed with a long and healthy life.  Kristen’s life was shortened by terminal illness, yet in her own words hers was also a blessed life, including her life during her terminal diagnosis.  The difference in how long they lived is overcome by the similarity in how well they lived.  Their days were marked by faith, hope, and love with great intentionality.  May it be so for each of us.

Thank you, Grandmother, for who you were and are.  For loving us so well.  For a life so well-lived.  How fun to think of you on this day in the deepest and truest sense rising to the occasion and making heavenly music in the packed house of God’s family.

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
 and she laughs at the time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
 her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

– Proverbs 31:25-31