It’s the anniversary of my beloved husband’s death and I’m remembering…again. How could I not? He was the great love of my life and I miss him every day and a thousand times on Sunday.
What I’ve found is that as we grieve, our experience of remembering slowly shifts. It takes on a rhythm of its own. The first few years after Leighton died I was guilt-ridden. I felt I had failed him because I could not single-handedly conquer cancer by sheer force of will. And so for several years remembrance day was a time of painful recall. With rigid self-discipline, dutifully I scraped back through the grim medical details of what happened to end Leighton's life and the best part of mine. I’d kept a detailed log of events and treatments as his illness progressed. Later I transcribed it into a narrative - it came in handy for my annual descent into self-recrimination. For a while it was much easier to punish myself for my perceived insufficiency than to forgive myself for not being able to save his life. Sometimes when we’re in the eye of the storm we confuse our role with God’s…
But finally the moment came when, after much soul-searching, I acknowledged that I hadn’t done anything “wrong”. I didn’t cause his cancer and I certainly couldn’t cure it. And when I released my self-reproach, I understood that really I had done everything any human being could do to support and sustain the life of another. Only then was it possible to release the medical horror and indignities and focus on the beauty and sanctity of Leighton’s life.
And as I reflect and remember again today, I’m thinking about the grace of our God-ordained love and marriage. Even against the backdrop of his illness and dying, what I remember and cherish most are his last words, “I love you”.
At the end, he sensed his time was short. Yet he rallied briefly before sinking into the final transition of his life when he would “go on toward perfection” (Hebrews 6:1 NRSV). He opened his eyes and for one shining moment his sweet, adoring spirit returned. It was as though he realized he’d been emotionally absent from our life and from me. His face shone with beatific gratitude, perhaps because at last I had agreed to let him go. His eyes and spirit drew me into the depths of his soul as he said, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.” These were the last words he ever spoke. He poured his final breaths into reaffirming his love for me. This moment of perfect oneness is in my heart forever.
I grieve, I remember…again. What I know with certainty is that death is a part of life. But death cannot part us, death has not parted us. We are together, forever, always. Thanks be to God for the divine gift of life and eternal love.
Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.
1 Corinthians 13:7-8 JPB
Keep me this day, O God, in the serenity of your love. Amen.