He held her hand in both of his looking for some sign, some movement, not wanting to believe that she was really gone. He gently kissed that cold hand, looked at her still face…
“I shouldn’t have left you alone.” He whispered, fresh tears lined his faced as he closed his eyes. He brushed her cheek and slowly lifted himself onto the hospital bed to lie next to her with his head on her heart;
“I love you, Libby. What will we do without you? The children…”
Lifting his head while still looking at her he said,
“She was my life, George.”
“And she was my sister. I can’t tell you not to feel what you are feeling, I hurt too. I know it’s not my department Jack, that’s what you do, but you know that she is in a better place, you know that she is happier there than here. I’m thankful that she wasn’t suffering long; she was in a lot of pain. Come, my friend, there isn’t anything you can do. She was one in a million, but it was her time to go.”
“George, you have known about her illness for a few weeks, I just learned of it yesterday, why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t you tell me?” Slowly getting off of the bed, Jack still held her hand. Kissing it softly he crossed her hands, blessed her and left the room.
Jack went through the motions for the next two days, the funeral and acknowledgments from sympathetic friends, acquaintances, and members from his church. Talking with George was necessary but difficult, he was grieving as well, but Jack was unable to comfort him. He was in his own world of sorrow that he just couldn’t seem to shake. He had a right to grieve for the woman he had spent the last 14 years with, for the woman who bore his children, for the woman who laughed with him, cried with him, prayed with him… Christian or not, he was still human, and he felt empty without her!
Today was the day Libby was buried.
The five of them walked wordlessly into Henry’s office. Jacks four children sat down in the outer office where Mandy, the church secretary, offered them soda and chocolate. The service was solemn, the graveyard had been bleak.
Pacing the room as Henry sat, Jack began to talk.
“Libby mentioned ‘not enough alone time’, time that she and I could spend together. We often set a date to do just that, well – I broke every date for one reason or another. You know… she didn’t care if we just sat and watched television. We would get the children taken care of for the evening, and sit down to a movie, and then I’d get a phone call, Libby wasn’t much of a complainer. I never thought that she wouldn’t tell me she was sick. She felt my work was more important, helping other people – marriage counseling, hospital visits, giving last rites… I was there for them, but not for Libby.” A deep intake and release of breath, a sigh that was filled with regret and unshed tears
“It’s funny; the doctor assumed I knew, why wouldn’t I know?” He laughed at the absurdity of it, a sad hollow laugh.
“I am her husband, and a minister besides! Libby thought my work was more important… how could she think that I wouldn’t take time out for her.” His tears began to well up in his eyes again. “Henry… she was my wife, the love of my life… I don’t… don’t…”
It was too much, Jack couldn’t hold back any longer and Henry let his young friend cry. It was a terrible loss. Libby was a very down to earth person with an easy laugh, always smiling; even when the children were driving her crazy she would have a funny story to tell. She brightened a room without even trying. The church secretary was often the recipient of Libby’s favorite greeting. The 64 year old woman was always given a big smile and a ‘Good morning, gorgeous!” Often, Libby would bring a dozen fresh cut flowers or a jar of candy for Mandy’s desk saying that she saw them and thought ‘Mandy would love these.’ Libby’s visits to Jack made any day a special day, a happy day. One could never be sad around Libby it just wasn’t possible.
Jack stepped back from Henry. “I know that I should be happy for her, she is out of pain and she is with our Lord in heaven! I’m just … lost. Ryan is angry, Emily and Molly are reserved and BJ, well, he just wants his mommy.”
Sitting back in his chair, Henry asked the question that was most on his mind.
“Jack, did you ever tell Libby how you felt about her? I mean really felt about her? Did you ever tell her that she was the love of your life? I know she wore her heart on her sleeve for you, everyone knew she loved you with her whole heart and soul, she said it many, many times to me, to Mandy, to just about anyone she met that you were her heart, her closest friend and the only one who knew her better was God, Himself.”
Jack walked around the room looking, but not seeing the books and knick-knacks around Henrys office. “She knew, Henry. I told her I loved her every day, every time I kissed her, she knew.”
“15 years of marriage can get pretty routine Jack. Did she know that she came first in your life, that if you had known about her illness you would have dropped everything to stay with her and the children? Is this the real reason that you are having difficulty with Libby dying: Guilt?”
Jack stopped and stared out the window. Had he? Did he neglect to see that Libby felt that his work came first with him? Did he not notice how quiet and accepting she was when he had to rush out on their anniversary to give comfort to a family? Was he that callous and unobservant to his wife? Jack fell to his knees, “Oh, God, please forgive me! Henry, what have I done? Please tell me, what have I done?”
Henry came over to Jack on the floor and helped him up. “Nothing Jack. She didn’t die because of you; God called her home, you said it yourself. You do what every man who has a job and a family to provide for does. It’s not uncommon for men to take their wives and children for granted. It is not intentional and you should not feel the guilt that you are allowing yourself. Libby didn’t tell you. Why? We wont know, but you will get through this. Remember what Paul said in “Corinthians 1:3-4, Praise be to God … the father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles,” You have four young children, Jack, who need you, go to them. Take your children for a time so that you may all heal together — as a family. Listen to me, as a friend as well as a counselor – go, just keep me in touch, o.k?”
“Henry, God has definitely blessed you with wisdom and timing.” Their handclasp was familiar and strong. Jack left Henrys office, faced his four children and said: “We are going on a trip, Pastor Henry gave me some time off.”
Molly and Emily got up from their seats and hugged Jack’s legs. Ryan still held BJ as he slowly rose. “C’mon girls, lets get into the van.” It was like a funeral procession with their heads bowed and no noise as they walked to the vehicle. Jack wanted more than anything to hug them and comfort each one with the knowledge that mommy is happy now all the pain is gone. Yet, he was still having difficulty with the loss himself. They knew though, even BJ had cried, “Mommy went to heaven.” Maybe in some little way, the children would help heal Jack.
Once all were in the van, looking straight ahead, 13-year-old Ryan spoke; “Dad, if we’re going away for a while, are you leaving your robes behind?”
Jack knew exactly what his son was asking, wanting, needing to hear and what Jack wanted to tell him. “It will be just us Ryan, the five of us, God and your mother too… here,” he tapped Ryan’s temple “and here” he tapped Ryan’s heart. “No phones, no visiting, no emergencies, no preaching, just us.” Ryan nodded once and turned to stare out the window allowing the silent tears to fall.
For the millionth time, Jack wondered if this sudden decision to go to the mountains was a good idea. Driving, he had time to think. There is no better time to be a Christian than now because he knows where Libby is; he knows she is in a better place – it just hurts so much! He thought he would be more accepting of this, but then again, she wasn’t supposed to die so young. 39 is normally the age you say you are when your 50!
Tears welled up in his eyes again as he fought the feeling of despair. Jack looked at Ryan who was asleep. His head against the window and his face, which should have been serene in sleep, was tortured in grief. He touched Ryan’s cheek lightly praying he could dispel those dreams from his young face. Looking behind him, the girls lay asleep atop each other, holding each other tightly, again with anguished worried faces. Finally glancing toward BJ sleeping quietly with his fist tucked under his chin and blanket clutched in his little hand.
Looking to the road again, then looking up, Jack began quietly; “Heavenly Father, I want to thank You for Libby and our time together. I know your timing is perfect, but I am having trouble handling this. I know I will see her again, and I know I will get through this with your help. Libby dying is ripping at my very core. Lord, grant me wisdom and strength in this time for I know I cannot do it alone. I am sad that you needed to call her home so young, Lord, but your wisdom is great. My limited mind is asking for grace and peace. I know I will find joy and happiness in time, I pray that my children be able to smile again soon. In Your holy name Lord, amen.
“Daddy?” came a little voice from behind his seat, Molly.
“Daddy? Are you still sad about Mommy?”
“Yes, sweetie, it will be a long time before I feel better.”
“Isn’t she with Jesus now? I thought you would be happy, not sad all the time.”
“Well Molly, I know Mommy is with Jesus and that she is very happy. I am sad because she is not with us… in person. Yes, that does seem a little, well, selfish I guess , but, because I know I’ll see her again, I just miss her a lot.” Molly nodded, hugged her stuffed dog and looked out the window at the passing scenery.
The miles slowly passed, almost midnight, need to stop for the night. This will be the fifth night without Libby. The nights were the hardest. Libby and Jack would snuggle close together, talk about their day, the people they met, the difficulties they faced, pray together and go to sleep. After seeing that the girls were asleep in the adjoining room, Jack left the door open between rooms and changed into his PJ’s. He stared at Ryan and BJ. Ryan still had an anguished look on his face while BJ was watching Jack.
“Is everything O.k. BJ? He whispered.
“I miss mommy. How long till I see her again?” Jack sat on the bed and ran his fingers through his hair.
“It will be a long time BJ. Mommy died very young, and you still have a lot of growing up to do.”
“Maybe I’ll die young too!”
Jack was not prepared for that statement. ‘Oh, Lord, give me the right words and the strength to say them.’ He thought.
“Well, BJ, that could happen. We don’t know what plans God has for us. Whatever reason God placed Mommy here, whatever her job was, it’s done now so God called her home.”
“Well, Mommy was a good artist, maybe God wanted her to paint the skies for us.”
“BJ, that is a wonderful thought. Maybe every time we look to the sky we’ll see Mommy.”
“Rainbows and Clouds. She always painted great clouds.”