My 96 year old maternal grandmother hardly remembers my name, but I still remember the years I watched her fingers plying the rosary beads one by one for each of her grandchildren. Around her twisty bed post, she’d drape her rose-scented brown rosary, marked with a safety pin on the bead she stopped so that she could resume her prayers the next morning. With those same bent fingers, she used to hold my hand and squeeze my pinky finger as she took my cousins and me to Church together.
My paternal grandmother’s fingernails were lined with distinct vertical ridges. I loved tracing each of those lines both as a little girl coming to visit with her, and as an adult sitting by the bedside where she lay for many years. How precious were those wrinkled, age-spotted hands that once upon a time stitched, sewed, crafted me baby blankets and helped me lift the watering can and harvest the hibiscus.
Your grandma’s fingers may have owned the rights to the best recipe for chicken fingers but mine, both of mine working together and yet separately, were responsible for my deeper conversion into the Catholic faith. No doubt about it. And therein lies the superpower of a grandmother: they are the fingers of God.
Grandmothers pray. They offer up their sufferings. They instruct. They show by example. They spoil children to a certain degree mothers cannot. They have wisdom from years of experience. They console. They are patient from years of waiting. They are present (with cash presents!) for the big graduations and have sprinkled cupcakes ready for even the tiniest one’s birthdays. They are favored and trustworthy sitters. They rock and sway babies to their grandmotherly beat circa Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. They counsel teenagers whether we like it or not and we do remember their advice past our teenage years whether we like it or not (so keep talking, grandmas.)
With their canes or wheelchairs, they can liven up a wedding march or reception. Their understanding and indulgent smile at our toddlers in Church can neutralize the grumpy old man’s glare from the first row. And though they might have a hard time maneuvering their Oldsmobile’s to keep up to the minimum speed limit, their grandchildren’s lives hardly passes them by. Don’t let those squinty eyes and mattress-thick bifocal eyeglasses fool you, they are very much aware of and they care a great deal about generations down their line.
My children are blessed to have two devout Catholic women for grandmothers. At random times, they parrot grandmotherly lessons to me about: “the infant Jesus’ red cape of protection”, “offering up your sufferings,” and the one I often forget: “God is a god of order. He likes order even in the sock drawer.” My husband and I always make sure they have their grandmother time. Not just because we get a nice date night out of it, but because we know first hand how much grandparents can bless their grandchildren’s lives. The relationship is reciprocal, I like to think.
St. Anne was hardly mentioned in the Bible but I don’t think we can overlook the importance of a holy, prayerful and suffering grandmother. Psalm 92: 15 says “They shall bear fruit even in old age.” As priceless heirlooms in our family history, wise grandmothers often serve to point us to the direction where God wants to lead us: to the truth of the Church of our ancestors, to a devotion for Mary our Blessed Mother, to Jesus passion in the cross and to a redemptive love that waits for us in eternity.
Whatever the generation, we always need grandmothers and we should never stop calling, writing, visiting, respecting, taking care of or praying for ours no matter where they are. We could even visit a stranger’s grandma in a nursing home sometime during Lent or after. Maybe if we remember the elderly in their dignity as indispensable fingers of God, the insane demand for euthanasia would die a natural death.