In the Oscar-winning film, “Braveheart,” there is a scene where Queen Isabella whispers a great truth in the ear of the evil English King Longshanks on his death bed. “You see?” the queen says. “Death comes to us all.”
Of all the trials and sufferings in my life, none have tested my faith in Christ and my commitment to fulfill God’s purpose for my life than when confronted by death. I did not think there could be anything more painful than watching my 60-year-old daddy draw his last breath. But I was wrong.
Three decades later the love of my life, my best friend and my partner in life’s journey, my late wife Bernadette, passed away at 63 years of age. She had survived breast cancer. I had survived kidney and bladder cancer. We were planning how we would spend the retirement years of our lives when disaster struck.
She began slurring speech, triggering an MRI. When the doctor walked into our hospital room and told us what they had discovered and that she would be taken by ambulance to a hospital that could handle brain tumors, it was the most difficult situation I had ever faced. First, keeping my emotions in check, while focusing on her as reality set in. She was brave. Her faith was strong. She never wavered.
After calling her sister to tell her, I headed home to get some things. Bernadette would never see our home again.
Upon arrival, I emotionally collapsed. I flew into a wild rage. Banged my fist against the wall and screamed as teardrops became a downpour. I knew our world would never be the same.
It was a world that was totally predictable. Bernadette could set the clock by me. She knew as soon as I finished at the office, I would be home. It was that way, every day, for the 17 years God gave us together. Friday nights were “date nights – and we never missed a one. She picked me, so she got to pick the movie and restaurant of her choice.
Every night our last words to the other were, “I love you” and were sealed with a kiss. The last time her eyes were open – with a breathing tube down her throat – I whispered those words in her ear. She nearly came up out of the bed struggling to say the same to me. I stroked her hair, held her and said, “Honey, I know, I know.” She closed her eyes and never opened them again.
Since her passing I have come to realize the enormous impact she had on my life. God used her to confirm His call for us to serve Missouri Southern Baptists. She had never left her hometown of Louisville, Ky., but she trusted God and it inspired me. My heart aches for people who do not realize such things until their loved one is gone.
Living the single life again – this time at 66 years of age – is a challenge. I understand now why the church is instructed to help orphans and widows. When you lose your spouse, you lose your helper. The magnitude of that loss will often not set in weeks or even months after the loss of a spouse. Mopping, dusting and vacuuming all fall on the survivor. Budgets have to be managed and bills paid. There is laundry, a yard to mow and the responsibility of fixing anything that breaks, not to mention cooking and then cleaning up the kitchen – something Bernadette always did. Vehicle maintenance and doctor appointments only add to the seemingly endless litany of things that must be done – even if still working a full-time or part-time job. And in the midst of it all, grieving continues.
So, what are we to do?
I turned to the one who loved me so much that He died for me because of my sin. I do not know how people survive the death of a loved one without leaning on Jesus. He is the Great Comforter.
We know from his mournful reaction to Lazarus’ death. Since Jesus is omniscient He knows what we are feeling and thinking. By the power of the Holy Spirit He comforts us in our time of sorrow and dread. God’s Word gives us encouragement and direction.
I will never get over Bernadette’s death. But through my faith in Christ, He has given me the strength and the motivation to go on. I do not like living without her, but I have come to accept it and live with it. She is in a much happier place – waiting for me. Though I miss Bernadette, my love and allegiance is to Christ and I must fulfill His purpose for my life. I pray you will, too.