The phone rang at suppertime last Friday and we ignored it lest it be another robo-call. Later Jim went to the phone to see if he could get in a few holes of golf and heard the voice mail signal. He called Eric, our elder at church, knowing it was probably bad news and it was. In shock, he came into the family room and told me it was Jeff and he was gone. We sat in disbelief--and Jim did not go golfing.
I texted Chris, our pastor, to say I was praying for her too because I knew she would have to be in the midst of it all. She texted back with her thanks. And then shortly after that, she asked me to get meals started for the family. Joanne called and said she would bring breakfast; I said we would do lunch. I then passed it on to Mary who is in charge of meals at church. I was so glad I did because with many, many offers it got to be a complicated undertaking.
Early Saturday morning, I went to Martin's and bought a large sub--of which they had many for game day at Notre Dame. We added brownies, fruit, carrot sticks, and a potato salad and brought it all over to the house at 12:30. Little Asher, age 5, came up to us and said, "You go to my church." Later, as he was bouncing all over the room and under the blanket on a make-shift cot, he said, "My daddy died." Those words haunted me all day.
I prayed and prayed, "God, be with Kelly." As I did, I thought of Denise who would care about Kelly a lot but not yet having made the commitment to join our church, might not be on the elder list to call. I didn't want to have her hear about it on Sunday morning so I contacted her. She was so appreciative. I thought about how prayer works. In this case, I could do nothing more for Kelly but did God put Denise into my mind?
Sunday's church school was changed into a time of support for each other. The worship service was changed also into a time of lament, not only for Jeff, but also for the horrific hurricanes experienced this week. Chris had a short meditation in which she admitted to "being shaken to her core." She spoke of Jesus calming the seas and raising Lazarus but not Jeff. Yet Jesus was in the boat and he wept--and then he died as the ultimate gift of being one with us. Joel's congregational prayer was so meaningful--also full of lament and questions. He mentioned that there was no drummer this morning--Jeff's role. He expressed the guilt we all felt when we laughed or smiled in spite of this tragedy. He was so bold as to refer to two "unstable men" on either side of the world threatening nuclear war. There were many hugs and tears and tissues in each row ready for use.
David asked me to play the organ for the service. There was just one congregational hymn for organ but I had to find music for before and after the service. I did so with care--choosing strong hymns but not sentimental ones. I could not play "It is well with my soul" for now. "For All the Saints" was an easy choice for the postlude. The idea came to me to ask the guitar players to join on the two Taize songs I had chosen and even without any practice, that worked out so well. "Oh Lord, Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord, Hear My Prayer" and "In God Alone, My Soul Can Find Rest and Peace." The timing, which had concerned me, was perfect because the family began walking in at that point and then I could play "Great is Thy Faithfulness."
We had gone to the visitation in the afternoon in spite of my hesitation to see the open casket which I avoided. Kelly was alone in a chair at the time we walked in and she greeted us with great sobs and hugs. We just held her and loved her. Somehow, she was so gracious as to tell us, "Jeff loved you guys." A few hours later, Kelly was strong enough to give a profound and emotional and theological eulogy for her husband. She ended with recounting a letter he had written to her when they spent a year apart during their engagement 12 years previously in which he told her to stop worrying about their next "Good-bye" but instead think of their "Glorious Hello."
The church was packed with friends and family. It was strange to look out over our sanctuary filled with folks dressed in dark clothing. Cars were parked on the grass and at the school next door. That in itself was a tribute to Jeff and Kelly.
Now life goes on. There is a fund to help with finances without the primary income for this young family. Kelly will have to go back to work as a therapist. How can she help others when her own world has fallen apart? Her family is far away. We will be her church family as we have been. I wish I had known Jeff better; I do feel as if I know Kelly better having had a few one on one conversations with her--initiated by both of us at different times.
David posted this on Facebook after the service and it made me weep once again when I read it Friday:
Today I heard a eulogy given by a distraught wife that knocked the socks off everyone in the (very full) room. I saw a lot of people who haven't been around all together in the sanctuary to celebrate the life of this man. I listened to a Roman Catholic priest say "Amen!" multiple times as our female pastor delivered an excellent, profound, and personal meditation. I listened to amazing voices lead us through "Shepherd me, O God," and the congregation responding with an outstanding communal voice, and my dear friend playing Taize' songs on organ with guitar accompanist - it was excellent. Jeff's work wasn't done. Tonight he accomplished a great deal of kingdom building.
The Body of Christ is an amazing thing. Tonight we saw a wonderful part of it in the midst of a tragic situation. We mourn together. Together we will work through this. Together we have the ability to support Kelly and the boys. Together.