I was not surprised when I heard Joe’s heart stopped beating. We all knew that his heart beat in time with Audrey’s heart and when she died a few months earlier, it seemed so had the spark of his own life. He spent the last few months journeying through the motions of his days. He sat in church as usual, but without her by his side he always looked a bit lost. He welcomed us into his home to sing Christmas carols but he wept as we did so – everything reminded him of her.
When I would come to pray with Joe, I told him how when I lost my mom it helped to write down my thoughts about her. Joe was raised to believe his pastors had wisdom and so he listened to me. He poured his time and tears into writing down their love story. With his failing eyesight he recorded the treasured sum of his days with her – his words spoke of true love, pure and sweet. They were married sixty years.
Joe had always known Audrey was the one. Joe told his friend, Earl, that he was going to marry Audrey shortly before he even asked her out on their first date. Sure enough, by September of that year they were married.
What followed was a good life – not an easy life, but a good life made beautiful by two people who knew how to be thankful for all they had, to see the blessings all around them, and to pour out generosity and positivity to all who knew them.
I was Joe and Audrey’s pastor the last five years. I visited Audrey in the hospital and at home many times as her health failed. I presided at her funeral where her grandchildren sang beautiful songs to honor her memory. My sons and I visited her grave often and picked wildflowers to adorn her resting place.
I moved away to a new call at a church in Minnesota just a few weeks before Joe died. He had been hospitalized with a heart condition and I came to see him in the hospital up until it was time for the moving van to come. The last time I spoke with Joe it was right before he had a major surgery. I told him I loved him and I would see him later. I meant after the surgery was over but he never woke up again while I was still in Texas.
Nobody tells you when you become a pastor how your heart will break for your congregation. Nobody tells you how you will love them like family and no matter how much you might like to treat your work like it is just a job, it is never just a job.
Today some other pastor gets to commend Joe to God’s care and keeping. Today some other pastor gets to gather with this family I grew to love and remind them of God’s eternal promises. While I am certain God has called me to be right where I am, it doesn’t change how hard this is for me. I want to be counted among those who grieve. Because I do. So much.
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face shine upon him and be gracious unto him. The Lord look upon him with favor and give him peace. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.