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Gig Line: The sanctity of life

It was supposed to be a typical morning . . . you know, the kind where you and the love of your life sit down for coffee and a morning chat; maybe when you discuss plans for the day or what you accomplished the day before. Maybe the morning carries on with usual chores and check marks beside the “to do” list posted on the fridge, then the evening comes and the softening of sunlight falls and shadows dance under the trees and maybe, just maybe, you sit down again with that special love and offer a little gossip or funny tales you heard through the day. You have dinner together, clean up the dishes then retreat to the living room or den, put your feet up and watch a little TV, discussing with each other the joys or disappointing news of the day. About the time you start to doze off, the other half of your very life taps the other on the arm saying “Wake up honey, it’s time to go to bed!” but before you totally fall into that slumberous rest, you pray and you pray hard for all the ones you love, for the ones that they love too. You even pray for their pets because you know that anyone and anything dear to their heart matters. Then after a kiss and “I love you” to each other, you rest your head and your worries upon your pillow; and you expect the same routine to be the same again the next day. Life is good.

But unfortunately, the next day the routine is not the same, nor will it ever be the same again. Everything changes. Suddenly the world stops spinning, the clock stops ticking and the birds stop singing. There is news that the one and only true love in your life has stepped into another realm, into a sacred and holy place. They have left the task of picking up tree limbs from a recent storm and have been escorted by angels to grasp the hand of Almighty God. They have journeyed to Heaven. You are frozen in time – it cannot be true – wake me up, somebody please wake me up. Dear Lord, what is going on? My other half is gone, gone from my side not just for today or until I wake up from this horrible nightmare, but gone from my arms, from my side. His knee will no longer bounce the little ones, his sweet, sweet smile and beautiful, gleaming eyes will no longer gaze deeply into mine. That quirky little grin that sometimes meant something mischievous was in the midst that made you laugh, you will not see again, except in your mind’s eye and memories. How could this be?

The countless phone calls among family, friends and co-workers seem endless and the words spoken by medical staff just don’t seem real. It’s just too hard to fathom, to comprehend, to accept; you don’t understand. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not yet. You still had so much to do together with the kids and grandkids, but through the hugs and tears of others who loved him too, reality starts to take hold and you can’t help but sob. You were each other’s inhale and exhale, he inspired you each and every day, he made you laugh, his hugs were as special now, after 60 years together, as they were in the very beginning, his kisses still as sweet as honey.

Amid the grief that has fallen over everyone like a big heavy cloud, you gaze across the room still in disbelief – this just cannot be . . . can it? Really?

Plans are just now underway, while your life is frozen in time, arrangements have to be considered and decisions have to be made and carried out to the best of your ability, the kids all grown now help as best they can to comfort you and show you the love and respect you deserve, not only as Mom but as a grieving widow. Their hugs and hand holding helps but the pain is so intense even with the best comfort they can offer, you feel numb.

Over the following days, the celebration of his incredible life is planned out being cognizant of what he would have wanted and having asked and having received input from those closest to you, you trudge on – what choice do you have? The service you decide will be held as a private family gathering, unfortunately, due to COVID-19, that dastardly virus that has separated so many families over the last several months. You know without question that countless people of all ages and walks of life want to be at your side to comfort you, to tell you how much this sweet exceptional man loved the special lady in his life – you – now his widow, you are on your own, kid.

The service takes place in the church not far from home and no one other than the pastor of the church, your son –­ a Pastor himself – and the two Coast Guardsmen will be seen in the precious video, that thankfully records that unforgettable day.

The setting is simple, very simple but eloquent; on the Communion table is the treasures to behold; a handsome picture of a gentle man, a Christian, a man of integrity and kindness; a man devoted to his wife, children, family, friends and his entire community. In the picture, he proudly wears his U. S. Coast Guard uniform – the branch in which he served for 20 years; he is smiling as if he means it. He was proud; the uniform wasn’t just required apparel, it was his shield of honor and distinction and of a man who loved this country we call home – America; placed beside it was his hat . . . men always love their hats, don’t they? His precious uniform hat that crowned his head and a mind full of intelligence and prayerful thoughts; beside that, the handsome box that held his remains – simply that – he was no longer there. He was long gone, visually unseen but ever so present in the hearts of so many. God’s word says, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. . . in glory; and to the right of those very special contents was that folded red, white and blue symbol of what we as a nation stand for, what our men and women have fought for and our poignant symbol that flies over countless ceremonies as an emblem of our country’s greatness.

The pastor shared sincere words of fondness and respect and about how Christ destroyed our death and restored our life; and how footprints are left on our hearts. So fitting, so true. “Amazing Grace” – a so loved hymn – was played so beautifully, so peacefully, so traditional for a time like this.

His son and namesake (also a pastor) of the great man being celebrated stepped to the podium and gave an articulate, moving and powerful summary of his daddy’s life. An image of his dad, almost like a much younger twin, he spoke of the antics his daddy playfully engaged in as a young man; spoke of how long and how much his dad loved his mother; talked about the love and respect his three siblings had for their daddy too and how if he or his brother and two sisters needed help with something, dad always had or made the time to help, many times fixing or giving detailed instructions on how to repair something from scratch and right! He related to how his sister loved that their dad was always there for each of them; taking care of what was important to each of them fixing broken baby dolls and “always a hero;” viewed by all the siblings as having an outstanding work ethic, being the hardest working man he had ever known. He said his daddy liked Elvis Presley and hence “How Great Thou Art” sung by Elvis filed the air waves and made me smile. It was a nice surprise, sweet and real. It was personal with him naming the 10 most important things to their dad, starting with the tenth and working up to the first – that being his daddy’s love for God and the church – and to surmise, the service was very endearing and memorable.  The last hymn we heard was the unforgettable “The Old Rugged Cross” and just like the two songs played before it, tears filled my eyes with thankfulness that I had an opportunity to personally know this man and to love his family and I felt truly blessed.

After his describing his father’s gift of profound love, the two Coast Guardsmen came forward in perfect unison; removed the folded American flag from the Communion table, carefully unfolded it, turned it fully opened for all the world to see – its bright stars and stripes so pronounced while “Taps” sounded – it was beautiful. Then they refolded it with great precision and in perfect harmony, fold by fold, perfecting its corners to meet again, tucking the final fold in ever so carefully. Finally, the flag and his military service honor was presented to this new widow with a message of gratitude from the President of the United States on behalf of a grateful nation. They saluted and the gentlemen departed. The ceremony was poignant yet striking. It was heartfelt and touching – it was perfect.

The final words offered from the pulpit was to “Go in peace.”

I like many widows and widowers feel the pain of a best friend, lover and spouse’s loss. For me it has been four years now and it still hurts deeply. For my friends, it has only been less than two weeks, but we are a sisterhood. We belong to a club we do not want to belong to; we are different and sometimes the circumstances are different, but we are the same. The waves of heartbreak, the whispered prayers, secrets spoken only to his (or her) ear and empty arms goes along with our membership, but we are strong because we have to be; we are thankful because the time with and blessings of loving someone so precious outweighs the aching heart, the most intimate of moments are cherished perhaps for the last time in our lives and maybe not. But to all of us, we can and will get through this unexpected change in our life with courage, determination and by holding the strong hand of Almighty God. It will take time, perhaps more time for some than others but to all who are around us. Be patient with us, let us cry and just get it out. Let us miss them at times simply out of the blue; it is just the way it is. And thanks to our children, our grandchildren and the prayers and support of our friends, life will go on and the world will start spinning right where it left off; the clock will start ticking and the birds will start singing again. We just have to listen.

If you know a veteran who could use some help, please contact me at 252-202-2058 or write to me through giglineheroes@aol.com or call Dare County Veteran Service Officer, Patty O’Sullivan at 252-475-5604 or email dcvac@darenc.com. God bless you and with love, I wish you all good health, safety and happiness. Thank you for reading Gig Line and by all means, stay tuned until we “read” again!

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