Inspired by Grandma's Faith

Her grandmother, even at 105, had adjusted to life changes; could she do the same?

- Posted on Sep 22, 2014

A black leather woman's purse

I walked into my darkened bedroom, disconsolate. The feeling had become all too familiar since my recent divorce after 21 years of marriage. I almost tripped over something in the gloom. Grandma Banning’s purse. It belonged on my bookshelf. How did it get on the floor?

As I bent to pick it up I couldn’t stop the ache in my heart. If only Grandma Banning were here! She always knew how to comfort me. If I could only talk to her now. I would tell her that the divorce was the right thing to do.

I’d prayed about it. And yet I still felt guilty. Guilty that my marriage had failed. Guilty about the toll the divorce had taken on my three children, especially my eight-year-old son. Fearful that I would never forgive myself, that my life had come to a stop.

Grandma Banning had passed away, at 105, a few months before the divorce papers were finalized. I knew I should be grateful for all of those wonderful God-given years, and I was. Still, Grandma Banning had been in my life for so long that she left a huge void behind.

I’d never told my grandma about the divorce. I was afraid to upset her, I told myself. Really I was afraid to disappoint her. So I faced my marriage breaking up without her counsel and comfort, without her reassuring words and prayers.

All my life she had been my rock. When I needed to lean on her the most I couldn’t bring myself to. I have no doubt she would have been tender and supportive. And strong.

Strong in a way I didn’t think I was. Strong in her faith and in her place in the world. Strong the way she was the day my mother and my aunts helped her move into a nursing home where she would receive the round-the-clock care she required, and where my mother worked as a physical therapy assistant.

The day she left her house for good I watched her gather her things and check the contents of her ever-present black handbag—two tissues; a tiny mirror with Jesus Loves Me on the back, which she’d used to apply her rouge; two cough drops; a vial of holy water; a scarf clip; a coin purse with 13 dimes; a piece of palm that symbolized Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem; and a small wooden cross.

When everything was set she said, “I’m ready.”

It was hard on her at first. She’d lived independently for so long. Gradually she adjusted, even thrived. Even at her age she could accept change.

One day she said, “I know this was for the best.” She had moved on to the next stage of her life. Could I move on? Without her?

Standing in my bedroom I ran my fingers lightly over the age-softened leather of the purse. It still bore the faint aroma of her lilac hand cream.

My mother had given the purse to me after the funeral and I’d put it in a safe place on my bookshelf, a reminder of a grandmother’s love. I returned it there now, making sure it was safe and secure.

A few days later, there it was, on the floor of my bedroom again. How had it gotten there? Nothing else had fallen. No one else had been in the room.

I stared at it. Then I picked it up, sat down on the bed and held the purse on my lap. Was it a sign? And if so, of what? I felt my eyes well up, and a confusion of emotions. I hadn’t opened the bedroom drapes in weeks. I felt so lost and alone in a world gone dark.

Open the purse, a voice whispered to my soul. Open it. I undid the little metal clasp and spilled the contents out onto my bed. They were just as I remembered them. The tissues, the mirror, the cough drops, the holy water, the scarf clip, the coin purse, the piece of palm. And the cross, its wood worn smooth.

I turned it over in my hand. There was a faded inscription that I’d never noticed. I had to squint to read the words—Hope, Love, Joy, Faith: A New Beginning.

For a long time I sat there on my bed pressing the cross to my heart and feeling something change deep within me, a release. Then I stood up, walked across the room and opened the drapes.

Malinda Bertels has been teaching seventh-grade language arts in the Highland, Illinois, school district for the past 12 years. She is passionate about writing and last year published her first novel, Just Pete, a story about bullying. You can visit her website at

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