I recall a meeting last January in a quaint diner called Twin Rocks in the North East Pennsylvania mountains. It was a clear but blindingly bright day because the sunlight reflected off the snow on the ground although it was bitterly cold. I was there with Fran, she was wrapped up nice and warm, still suffering from her last bout of chemotherapy, struggling to move around and stay conscious. This restaurant had particular significance because it was there, some 13 years before, that we went on our first date as a married couple. The smell of freshly brewed coffee hung strong in the air.
We were there to meet up with our Pastor, Eric Gustafson, and have conversations about theology and the afterlife. Pastor Gustafson arrived with his usual optimistic whirlwind of positive energy. He encompasses the quintessential model of American independent Baptist theology. He lives and works by the Bible and by the most fundamental doctrine based on that. And he brought all that enthusiasm and encouragement with him that day. It was quite the opposite of the shipwrecked wife I had in front of me. While she too had very similar doctrinal beliefs, she had been through constant suffering for months. Her soul was shaken. Her strength was gone, and her coherence wasn’t always there either. I felt a sense of loss already by that point. This was no longer the strong woman that I'd known for many years as my wife, with the strength to support me and love me, and be there for me.
She was an empty shell of what she was. She needed help just moving about. She was full of anger and bitterness, but her faith remained steadfast.
I realised that while there were two very different characters in front of me, they were both packed with American idiosyncrasies, their personalities felt so alien to me I suddenly felt a wave of xenophobia and felt so entirely lost in a foreign country and I wondered what I was doing there at all.
The conversation turned to the afterlife. Pastor Gustafson talked of his encouragement and excitement about what she was going through, because his thought process is always based on divine intervention. His thoughts were always “What’s in it for God?” And he explained how this would be a great opportunity to express her faith, and to me, and how encouraging it was to him that I was able to remain so calm through such a crisis. Her response wasn’t quite as positive. He asked Fran what her concerns were, and she addressed two of them. The first, and the most important to her, understanding her pending demise was her sense of how very limited her time was. She expressed a desire for more time, to live here on earth, to, and this was of course her primary concern, be an active evangelist and being able to do work for God. It had taken me many years to understand why her first love was for God, and by that time I was completely on board with that. I think we both tried to reassure her that God would be able to carry on with His work despite her not being able to do it. I think the performance based theology that she was used to motivated her to have these concerns.
Her second concern was that she was leaving me alone. I wouldn’t be able to defend for myself. It was quite a reasonable concern given my confidence and personality at the time. And it was definitely quite a struggle to adjust to life without her, especially with her family. Essentially her prayer was that I would not be alone. Looking back on that I realise that her prayers were heard, and it’s as much her prayers for me and my life without her that puts me where I am today, in a relationship with Gill, on the verge of getting married, as it was prayers for Gill to find someone for her to be married to.
So I thank God for His answer to prayer.
Today I go and perform my final task as a husband to Fran. I’m traveling to the sea to scatter her ashes. Those that I have at least. The other half I left in America per her request to be scattered on that both sides of the Atlantic. I have no idea what’s happened to them. But that isn't my responsibility. As they are only bodily remains it isn't as important as knowing where she is spiritually now.
Gill will be going with me, as her good friend too it's only right for her to go. And I'll be the patriarch of a family again. A position I need to be in. Even if it is a family of two, a dog, a cat and a hamster.
I look forward to this new adventure in my life. I realise I'm a very different person than I was a year ago, and I'm all the better for it. I wonder what I have in store for me over the next few years, but whatever happens I know I'm blessed abundantly to have had the life I've had and the life I do today.