Touch, yes, touch, speaks the wordless words of love. We receive so much touch when we are babies and so little when we are adults. Still, in friendship touch often gives more life than words. A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friend’s arms resting on our shoulder, a friend’s fingers wiping our tears away, a friend’s lips kissing our forehead—these are true consolation. These moments of touch are truly sacred.
—Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey
Great-grandma Lubbers lived to be over 100, my grandmother (“Ome”) lived past 102, and Grandpa Ed died at age 95. My parents are still living at home and they’re in their mid-eighties. So, maybe the point is, if you’re sick of me being around on this earth, just know that I come from some good, strong Dutch stock. No guarantees, of course, but I like the thought of seeing 2040. Life is sometimes hard, but it’s generally better than the alternative, right?
During most of the 60s and 70s, there was no liquor store, no bar, and no grocery store selling even 3.2 percentage beer in conservative, protestant Orange City, Iowa, pop. 5,000-plus. Evidently the town fathers thought it better for people to get beer from the frig in their garage, wine or mixed drinks in LeMars, and bottles of their favorite booze from the state-operated liquor store in Alton – the Catholic town three miles down the highway, just across the Floyd River. At the same time, the old-timer doc at the clinic had been prescribing a shot of whisky (every night before bed) for my great-grandmother. Grandpa Ed, her primary contact when she needed something “no later than yesterday,” received an urgent call late on a Friday afternoon. Great-grandma, cognizant of the culture of the town and still remembering the days of party-line phones and inquisitive, prying neighbors down the road, told him she had run out of lemonade. Lemonade? He was confused at first, and then she clarified the issue, “Would you please go to the store – um, the one in Alton – for a bottle of lemonade?”
Nothing like that lemonade from Kentucky.
Grandpa Ed almost never drank – oh, a beer now and then after bailing hay at his younger brother’s place, but that was about it – and he was never – not even once – in the hospital prior to his last few months of life. I had bought his car after his birthday and he had told me, “Randy, go ahead and pray to live until 94, but that’s it – 95 is just too old.” That, at least, was his insight after spending a few weeks in the nursing home unit of the hospital.
Married in 1933, Grandpa’s time there was the first time he had been away from Ome for any significant number of nights in 72 years. My home church pastor, Jon, would visit him regularly during those last days. A very wise and kind pastor, Jon wasn’t afraid to ask piercing questions nor impatient to hear the answers. So one day he asked, “After being away from Ome overnights for so many days, after so many years together, what is it you miss the most?”
After a moment to think, Grandpa responded, “You know, we’ve been in twin beds for a long time, but every night, just before going to sleep, we’d reach out and hold hands for a while. Usually nothing was said ... sometimes a prayer... sometimes a word of gratitude for something that happened that day ... sometimes an exchange of “love you” and “love you, too.”
Who knows what was said? Does it matter?
“Every night,” Grandpa said, “Every night… And that’s what I miss the most. I miss holding hands.”
Touch, yes, touch, speaks the wordless words of love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Rev. Randy Lubbers, counting down the days until the start of the Minnesota Twins’ spring training, is pastor and teacher at First United Presbyterian Church in Winterset. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.