Earlier this week I got to say goodbye to a dear friend for the last time on this earth.
The doctors expected her to go anytime. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t see. They weren’t really letting people in to visit anymore. But Walt told me, his voice getting husky with emotion as we walked down the hall to her room, that she could still hear, and if I wanted to slip in for a few minutes to say something to her, I could.
As I knelt next to her bed, I was quiet for a few minutes, a flood of emotion overwhelming me as I gazed at her laying there. It’s interesting, isn’t it, what comes to your mind in moments like these? For me it was a flood of snapshots, little memory pictures that added up to the big picture of who she was and what she had taught me in the short four and half years I had known her.
I didn’t see the tired, wasted body struggling to bear the final pains of heart failure. I saw a beautiful little woman with sparkling eyes and spiky silver hair.I saw the perfect stitches on a lovingly hand-knit afghan she gave me at my first baby shower, all soft and yellow, like a new baby chick.
I remembered how she loved things that sparkled and how she’d end a funny story with, “…and we laughed until we were just sick!”
I saw and remembered the multiple times she had welcomed us into their tiny home with genuine delight and beautiful old-fashioned hospitality. I saw the perfectly set table, surrounded by the sturdy wooden benches she was so proud to tell us Walt made, with tiny individual salt and pepper shakers sparkling by each place. I remembered how she’d set out pickles and olives for us to nibble on beforehand, and wouldn’t let anyone help with the dishes. I remembered how she loved to serve things to her guests that were just a little out of the ordinary and special, like apples in a ham sandwich or the addition of tiny dainty dumplings to a pot of chicken soup. I remembered rhubarb slush and split pea soup and boiled dinner, and the huge jar full of more kinds of tea than I even knew existed.
I remembered the time I was standing in the back of the church with a restless little one, and witnessed her slip her arm around her husband and tuck her hand lovingly into his back pocket as they leaned their silvery heads together for the closing prayer. It was the perfect picture of a sweet marriage relationship that had spanned over 60 years, the rare kind that everyone wants but so few actually have.
I remembered how sometimes I’d be sitting at the piano playing the prelude before Sunday morning service began, and she would pipe up from her seat near the back, “Sing it for us, Beth!” And I would, even though an impromptu solo was the last thing in my mind, because you couldn’t say no when Dee asked. I remembered the favorite hymns she’d always request, and how she convinced us to try “O Holy Night” from memory when we came caroling at their house one December eve.I remembered all these things about her, and more, and I knew I would miss her for all of them. But the most beautiful thing of all about her, and the thing I knew I was going to miss the most was her passionate love for the Lord. She was so eager to learn and understand His Word, so genuine in her enthusiasm over what He meant to her. Her’s was that enviable joy that transcends circumstance, that had come forth as gold through the hard times of life. Her faith was an inspiration to all of us who knew her. I could still hear her voice, piping up strong and joyful from the usual back pew in answer to my husband’s request for people to share what they were thankful for: “Salvation, full and free.” That day was to be one of her last Sundays at church, though no one guessed it at the time, and she was struggling with health problems even then—but the confidence in her voice still echoes in my mind.
And the echo of that simple statement was why, as I looked down at her and the tears slipped down my cheeks, I realized that I was not crying from sadness but from joy.
Here she was, right on the doorstep, going to see the glorious completion of that salvation full and free at any moment. I couldn’t think of anything more wonderful than the moment when she would open her eyes and see heaven and her Savior for the very first time.
And considering that I looked forward to doing the same one day myself, it didn’t really seem right to say goodbye. Instead I leaned down and said softly: “I’ll see you later, Dee. Will you tell Jesus hello for me when you get there?”A few short hours after sunrise the next morning, we received word that Dee had gone home to be with the Lord. And it seemed quite appropriate that I had already chosen these photos of this gloriously happy field of sunflowers to share with this post. If any flowers symbolized the life she had lived, they did, with their brilliant golden faces standing unashamedly tall and joyful, always turned towards the sunshine. Over there, on a beautiful golden shore, she was lifting her face with joy towards the Son with nothing between for the very first time.
It was our loss, but her gain—and I was glad.