A True Story of God’s Sweet Love in the Midst of Grief
He watched me plant our front yard garden. Often, he came just to sit on the porch and watch our garden grow and he shared our excitement as we shared the fruit of our garden. He was most excited about the watermelon growing beside a path in our front yard. This melon was a surprise to me altogether. It popped up late in the summer when I thought the vine was done producing. Nevertheless, it was a welcomed surprise.
As he passed the melon on the path, week after week, his stature tall, his hands grasping each other behind his back as was often his relaxed stance, he would ask, his curious eyes sparkling, “Is that watermelon ripe yet?” If you’ve never grown a watermelon, let me tell you that it takes much patience. You have to wait for weeks after it stops growing in size for it to be ripe. My answer was usually, “Not quite ripe!”
Ripe Just in Time
He was my father-in-law, Gary, and “Poppy” to my children. Shortly before he passed away, Gary had a stroke that took his ability to talk away. A week and a half after the stroke, he had a massive heart attack. The day Gary had the heart attack, the watermelon beside the path in our garden started to split open, just screaming to be picked. It was dripping with sweetness!
When I visited Gary in the hospital the next day, I told him with much enthusiasm that I picked that watermelon and told him how sweet it was. His eyes lit up with excitement and he flashed me a one-sided grin with the side of his face less affected by the stroke I asked him if he wanted any. He non-verbally implied he did. It is amazing how much one can communicate without their voice.
The Promise of a Sweet Bite
The next day Gary was sent home on hospice. This was a chapter of his life we were all so sad to start. We prepared the living room with the hospital bed and plenty of room for equipment. When he arrived home from the hospital, I gave him and hug and a kiss and sat down on the couch next to the hospital bed in the middle of the living room. He looked at me and pointed and grunted. “I want…” were two of a few words he could say. Gary repeated, “I want…” several times over a period of a few minutes while we tried to guess. He’d pause after some frustration and try again. Eventually I said, “Oh! You want the watermelon!” He responded with a relieved and somewhat weary grunt. I told him I would bring it the next day.
Monday rolled around and my heart was heavy. The kids and I tried to go through our homeschool day, but we could not focus. I decided to go to Costco for some of my and my mother-in-law’s needs that afternoon. Even then, the day seemed to move slower than molasses in the wintertime. As soon as I returned home from there, I grabbed the watermelon that I had cut into small bits and chilled for Gary.
The Final Taste
It was nearly evening by the time I found myself at Gary’s bedside again. The word was he hadn’t really eaten much. He looked at me and grunted as if to say, “Did you bring it?” I smiled and ran to the fridge. I fed him a couple pieces of the sweet, juicy watermelon. He then put his hand slightly up, signaling it was enough. His eyes smiled and thanked me.
That night, he slipped into a coma and never communicated again. I realized quickly that he was not hungry when he asked for the watermelon. Gary wasn’t asking to try it for his benefit, but for my own. He cared for me that much.
A Sweet Love
Gary always showed he cared for my sister-in-law, Robyn, and I, the only “daughters” in his family. When in the hospital, just after his stroke, he tried communicating to me something with grunts and pointing. We finally figured out he was trying to tell me he liked my dress. So much effort was put into giving me a compliment. It was confirmed by a grunt and a satisfied one-sided smirk. When my parents were about to leave the hospital room, he frantically was trying to communicate something to us, so my parents stayed until it was figured out. We finally figured out that he didn’t want my dad to leave without a meaningful handshake.
In the last days of his life, even without a voice, he communicated over and over again how much he loved me. This has brought me to tears many times. After all, I was just his daughter in law. How could I be so deserving of this love? But now, in hindsight, I know why. It was because I love his son. All the love he showed for me was love he was showing for his son as well.
An Even Sweeter Love
God was so gracious in the midst of grief to give me these sweet tidbits of love, these moments of mercy sprinkled through the bitterness of loss. Had that surprise of a late season watermelon become ripe a week later, Gary would not have been able to taste it. Yet, in God’s timing, He knew just when the watermelon needed to be ready. And the whole point of this wasn’t how sweet the watermelon was, but it was to show me through the sweetness of Gary’s love and care for me, how gracious God is to his people. To me, that is such a treasured, undeserved love from God, my Heavenly Father.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” 1 John 3:1a