28 January 2009

Today my husband and I shared tea with a woman who was in her late eighties. Her voice is unsteady when she speaks, but her eyes sparkle like she's seventeen. The same seventeen dark haired, green eyed beauty who met her husband at a church youth camp.

During my afternoon with Ruth she reminisced about the days when her husband was alive. In fact, George seemed to find his way into nearly every conversation we had. While we drank tea she talked about many people she and George had fed over the years. When we walked around her family room she pointed out George's favorite recliner that he used to sit in. Her husband may be gone, but he was as alive as ever in her heart. There were notes posted around the apartment to remind Ruth to keep going. To persevere in the midst of the pain and loss. Her day was scheduled out so she wouldn't get lonely. She refused to let us help her with the dishes because it gave her something to look forward to.

I couldn't help but feel like I was on the verge of tears the whole time we were with her. She seemed so content and at peace with life and how things had ended up. It wasn't until about halfway through our time that she spoke with great effort, "I always hoped I would be taken Home the same time as George, but I guess God has a reason to leave me here for a while longer. I believe to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord so that's why I'd like to be cremated." I wasn't sure what to say. Do I nod and agree, as if I have thought about being buried or cremated? Do I give her a sympathetic look or do I smile because she's smiling, anxious as ever to be with the Lord and reunite with the love of her life. I decided to smile and try to understand. She then, with a smile, asked John if he knew of a crematory in town.

The rest of the afternoon she showed us pictures and every special artifact in the home. Her husband's high chair when he was a baby, a frame her father-in-law had made for her and a chest of drawers they were given for a wedding gift back in 1940. Near the end of our visit she pulled out a collage of pictures her granddaughter made for her husband's memorial. We followed her through a lifetime with her husband. She reveled in the past for a few minutes, reflecting on how beautiful she once was. She told us about how George died and while he was on his deathbed she took his hand and said, "George, I'm going to put your hand in Jesus' hand now." He took three deep breaths and was gone. She sighed, muttered a small "Yes." and began a new story.

I couldn't help but wonder how she's done it? How to say goodbye? How to watch your friends die and perhaps your lover? Your husband and best friend? How would you say goodbye?

The whole time all I could hear was a song Sara Groves sings meeting a similar lady.

"She lost her husband after sixty years,
and as he slipped away she still had things to say.
Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts.
And what do I know? What do I know?

I don't know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of those things.

But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord,
and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good.
Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord,
and from what I know of him, that must be very good."

All I know is that when that time comes I hope to be as strong as Ruth.
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