To those of you who have lost a beloved spouse, I come to you sharing memories of past pastoral visits [I think this is an original work of mine; but creeping dementia may delude me. Let me know if I wrongly claim it; I will gladly acknowledge the author.--wca]
I often visit those members of my church who are unable to get out of their homes. And more than a few times, when I visit them, they will say:
“My wife sat in that chair, watching the Lawrence Welk show; or “My husband liked to watch the Dallas Cowboys too.” or “That’s funny, my husband didn’t like green beans either.” or, My visit often brings back memories of a loved one who has died.
For you see, there is a great mystery that we experience when a loved one dies. In the ABSENCE of a departed husband or wife, there is always a lingering PRESENCE. Small habits, patterns of speech, daily events all call to mind the memory of the ways the moments of a shared life were filled, not so much by the large and memorable happenings, but by the small, routine, repetitive acts of the day… And no matter where we go, or what we might be doing, we are reminded again and again of the “presence” of our absent loved one.
Remember with me the words of the song Frank Sinatra sang: I’ll be seeing you; In every lovely, summers day; And everything that’s bright and gay; I’ll always think of you that way; I’ll find you in the morning sun; And when the night is new; I’ll be looking at the moon; But I’ll be seeing you
The Wisdom of the Scriptures tell us that when a man and a woman leave their parents, they cleave together and become one flesh. So two separate members become one member. And when a beloved spouse dies, we are truly dis-membered. Isn't it natural and understandable that we would try to re-member ourselves through our memories. So we remember, again and again.
Secondly, let me say that most of us are not, or were not married to Nobel Peace Prize winners, Olympic Champions, Betty Crocker cooks or great political figures. But in the richness of spirit we can feel the presence of the sacred in the “everydayness” of our ordinary lives.
James Autry has written a book, LOOKING AROUND FOR GOD, and he describes the modest records or ordinary lives found in the modest obituaries in the newspaper. He has made a list of some of those descriptions. Listen to some of these: • He was a member of the VFW, and he played his accordion at local nursing homes for several years. • She was a retired housekeeper for the Holiday Inn. She enjoyed flowers and boat rides. • He enjoyed repairing small engines. • He was a member of the state champion soft ball team, and was proud of bowling a perfect 300 game in November 1982. • She had been a waitress at Luby’s cafeteria for twenty years. • Farming was his life. She enjoyed reading the Bible.
jNone of these people ever walked on the moon or gave a million dollars to a college, but each of them contributed to the texture of our lives. Each of them had a passion and served the rest of us with their life. What I draw from this is that we can all be proud of our contribution to the common life---whether it was large or small. And especially as we remember our departed loved one, we can be thankful for the gift they gave to us and our community. And the greatest gift we can give to their memory, after an appropriate time of grieving, is to vow to live life to the fullest.I have heard spouses in a marriage say these things: • If I die first, I want you to marry again. • If I die first, I want you to stay busy, doing some of the things you really enjoy. If I die first I want you to take that trip to Europe we always planned to take. But because the loss of a husband or wife is such a huge devastating loss, we cannot just "turn on a switch" and be happy. We cannot just "walk out of the door of sorrow and go into the door of joy."
Listen to the words of a recent widow: • There is confusion, because sometimes you are there and then you’re not. • I found your hat in the trunk of the car, and want to tell you. • I learn to relight the pilot light. • How to drive alone at night. • I wear your T shirts to bed at night, and leave your clothes hanging in the closet. The loss of a husband or wife, can bring a numbness, a dead feeling inside. It can be as if your batteries have given out. It is not easy to live life to the fullest when you feel so empty inside. It is very difficult to face life with a smile, when you have no taste for pleasure. Nonetheless, I can truly say that if I were to die tonight, I would want my wife to be on a plane to Germany as soon as she was ready, to see our son--who is stationed in the military. We have planned that trip many times and never gone. The last thing I would want is for her to give herself over to a lifetime of grief and “remembering” me. (Well, a little grief would be okay. )
Being a Widow or a Widower is not easy. But when it happens to you or your spouse, those who have experienced this great loss -- and their recovery from that loss, will be there to help you with their wisdom. Thank you widows and widowers, we salute you.
Deuteronomy 24:17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.