I don't think it's a coincidence that November marks two significant events in my life. It was 18 years ago this month that I began publishing my musings on this blog. And it was 8 years ago that I said goodbye to my wife of 37 years. I thought about this yesterday during my run. I was listening to David Payne's one-man play called C. S. Lewis: My Life's Journey. In this play, Lewis recounts the story of his childhood and youth, his education at Oxford, his military service in both World Wars, his books. At the end of his monologue, he talks about his marriage. Joy Gresham was an American who captured his heart and soul, just as Becky had captured mine. When Joy contracted cancer, Lewis married her on her deathbed. Then God performed a miracle. She lived for another three years, during which husband and wife reveled in all the bliss of wedded life. The end came suddenly. Says Lewis,
I was with her when she died. Warnie [my brother] and I were plunged into despair.... He did as he had always done in a crisis. He turned to drink. I did as I had always done in a crisis. I picked up my pen and wrote.
Thus was written one of the most powerful books I have ever read, A Grief Observed. Lewis goes on,
[G]radually my grief subsided. And I came to realize that I was looking at my situation from the wrong perspective. Before this it was all about what we hadn't had rather than what we had. And I remembered that when we got married, ... and when she came home, we expected maybe to have a few weeks, no more than a few months. And we had been given three years. And I came to realize that he was the Giver, and she was the gift. And what a gift.
And so, like Lewis, when my wife died, I turned to my pen. Either I would suffocate under the weight of grief and heartache, or else I would learn here and now to breathe the air of grace, to appreciate the years God had given us together rather than focus on his choice to take her home, to see the four years we fought cancer together as precious. The miracle of marriage had been stripped of its vigor, but our love for each other had not died. And in my heart I knew he was right, that nothing in this world coheres apart from him, that he lovingly gives and takes away, and that nothing makes sense unless heaven actually does exist.
To be frank, I hate it when bad things happen to people. I suppose, if I were being completely frank, I really mean I hate it when bad things happen to me. We can't make sense of it, but we can learn the lessons. The lesson that we are all going to die someday. The lesson that amidst all the difficulties of married life you stayed together till death did you part. The lesson that only the gospel frees the heart to accept the will of God as something good, perfect, and pleasing. The lesson that we have to think about how we lead our lives and what memories we want to leave after we are gone. Losing a spouse proves to you how adversity can make you better and stronger. You pull through even when you think you can't, and the next time you're up against adversity you tap into that strength.
I suppose my point is this. Be thankful for what you do have. Never take it for granted that you have been given the blessing of waking up with a woman lying next to you, bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. And as the shadow of death crosses her face, or yours, you will remember that he, too, died and that you both are one with him, and so it will be for all eternity.