“On his law, they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
Which yield their fruit in its season,
And their leaves do not wither.”
The dreaded call comes late at night. “Your grandfather is in a coma. We think he had a stroke.” In the morning I board the first plane back to my hometown of Tidewater, Virginia to visit him.
Thoughts flood my mind on the long plane ride. My grandfather was the most significant person in my growing up years. I spent every Sunday afternoon and evening with him and my grandmother. We ate the same Sunday dinner: fried chicken, green beans, potato salad, and Mabel’s (my grandparents’ cook) homemade pound cake. After dinner I would sit on his knee as he read me the funny papers. We all then took a short nap. I can still see him and my grandmother lying together on the small couch in their dining room/den. Then we would go to the country to his farm, walking the length of his property by the river as he told me stories about his growing-up days. Sometimes we would visit his nearby relatives and the cemetery where my grandmother’s parents are buried. Then we’d walk to his townhouse for Sunday night church, 7-up floats, and the Ed Sullivan show. I would spend the night in their big guest room bed and then walk to school the next day.
My grandfather is a symbol of unconditional love, always there for me, supporting and loving me in good times and bad. I did not spend much time with him after I left my hometown and went away to college and medical school. He, however, never forgot me and sent me letters every week on his 30-year-old typewriter with intermittent keys that barely print. Every other sentence ended with etc, etc, etc. Each letter was filled with stories of his experiences away from home in World War I and words of love and encouragement. Always enclosed was a dollar bill. When he suffered this stroke twenty years later, I am devastated. I cannot bear to lose the love which I knew he showed to me no matter what I had done.
I walk into my grandfather’s hospital room for the first time. There is an immediate look of astonishment on his face. I believe he knows me even though he never again shows any sign of recognition. As I sit by his bed and listen to his labored breathing, I feel helpless. What can I do? All my years of medical practice do not give me answers. I remember his faith tradition and honor it by reading the Psalms aloud, beginning with this first Psalm. I am embarrassed when personnel come into the room, but an inner voice says this is what my grandfather wants to hear. I am calmed. This is what I would want at my deathbed-- to hear the Psalms read by someone who loves me.
My grandfather’s illness and death become a major turning point in my life. This is the beginning of my journey in earnest seeking to find a connection with a power greater than myself. I desperately want to believe that somehow I will stay connected to my grandfather, and my tradition tells me this might be possible through a belief in a God. I cannot bear the thought of never again knowing the love I received from my grandfather. I want to return to my tradition and begin a new spiritual journey. My grandfather’s unconditional love leads me back to the unconditional love of a God. We now begin this journey reading the Psalms together. We will be “trees planted together by streams of water,” hoping to bear fruit in our season.
What do these Psalms mean to you? For me they are readings that I can turn to when I need to give or receive comfort. When I read this first Psalm, I return to my grandfather’s hospital room reading this passage to him. I feel his love, even in his unconscious state, as I read to him words he loved and shared with me in his daily living.
Remember today someone who first showed you a glimpse of the unconditional love that you long to receive from your God. If they are alive, call or write and thank them. If they are dead, give thanks for them.
-From The Call of the Psalms: A Spiritual Companion for Busy People.
Dr. Seibert is a pediatric radiologist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences who has been an ordained deacon in the Diocese of Arkansas for nine years. She is a facilitator for the Community of Hope, Walking the Mourner’s Path and Trinity’s health ministry. She is also on the board of the National Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. You can find about more Dr. Seibert and her books at www.temenospublishing.com.