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My Wife Died

On Easter, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, I stood by my wife’s bedside in the hospital intensive care unit. I read aloud the Easter story. Then, with the hand of one of my sons on my shoulder, I prayed.

My wife had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, medically induced. On this planet, she could never again know love, or laughter, or comfort. Without planning it, I heard myself praying, “Even so, come quickly for her, Lord Jesus.”

She took a deep breath and was gone. My son said, “Dad, God heard your prayer and took Mother home.”

Death came not as an enemy but as a friend; for death is not an end but an entrance, not a goal but a gateway. That is how powerful the good news of Jesus Christ is for the believer.

Indeed, God’s grace is sufficient. It is ministered partially through family and friends. But well-meaning friends do say some strange things! The worst are the glib Bible-quoters who are untouched by your grief, but who share a memorized set of verses. On the other hand, some people who are stunned with grief for you say foolish—even crude—things. But they help because they care.

My advice: If you’re not crying a little inside, please do not intrude on the sorrowing. If you do care deeply, then almost any scripture is a gift from God. Unless you have been there, please do not pretend to understand.

After my wife’s death, I said to my sister, who had lost her husband some years earlier, “I am sorry that I never did respond to you appropriately at the time of Jimmy’s death.” Her loving answer reveals the insight of one who has lost a spouse. She replied, “Duke, I am glad you did not know how to respond.”

Thank God that you do not know how to respond, but use a handshake, or a hug, or a few words, and say, “I am praying for God to sustain you.”

Do not avoid talking about death. It is “the last enemy” only for a non-Christian. For a Christian, “to die is gain.” Phrases used in place of “death” do not help. Some are offensive. How I really felt exploded from my heart when, after a church service, a well-intentioned acquaintance caught me off guard by saying, “I am sorry you lost your wife.” Before I could edit my response, I said, “I did not lose my wife. I know where Marguerite is. I am the one who is lost.”

Alone after half a century of being part of a divinely-provided partnership, nothing in the world seems familiar any more. It would be easier to start over on a new planet!

Returning home from foreign travel for the first time after Marguerite’s death, the prospect of entering an empty apartment threw me into deep depression. I was embarrassed that after more than three months, I could not handle my grief. I felt that as a Christian, my faith should have dissolved my sorrow—that as a reasonably intelligent person, my mind should have come to terms with the harsh reality.

To try to escape, I picked up a news magazine provided by the airline on which I had traveled; the wisdom I needed was in the last lines of an article on death: “In fact, you never really get over the death of someone you love; you just learn to live with it.”

Now, I am not trying to stop grieving; I am asking God to teach me how to live usefully the rest of my life, remembering His promise, I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).

Dr. Duke K. McCall served as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1951-1982) and a five-year term as president of the Baptist World Alliance. He was also a pastor and father to four sons. This article was originally published in the Baptist Standard in 1983.

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20170305
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jul-Sep 2017. CCMUSA.