A dear friend left us on Saturday.
She smiled serenely at her husband when he told her “Good morning, sweetheart”, and the next time he came into the room, she was gone.
Here one moment.
With the Lord the next.
And while I am truly happy that she has left behind the body that has suffered through rheumatoid arthritis for years, my heart is crying out for her to come back.
Just one more conversation.
Just one more time to clasp her hands in friendship.
Just one more time to watch her interact with her husband, the love of her life.
Just one more chance to convey my appreciation for everything she taught me…
You would have loved Annette.
I can say that with certainty because everyone loved Annette.
It was impossible not to.
She was a tiny little spitfire of a woman, the epitome of a Southern belle, and anytime I had the pleasure of sitting beside her in conversation, I marveled at her ability to navigate truth, humor, and grace as she included and entertained everyone, somehow commanding the room and offering hospitality even when she was too frail to rise up from her chair.
She was like a queen, transforming by her presence a simple room in a senior living center into a palace, her nondescript chair into a throne.
And her husband was her king.
A true gentleman, Mr. J.L’s voice is kindness itself, full of rich tones that cover you with comfort and love when he speaks…
and, oh my. Together, he and Ms. Annette painted a breathtaking picture of Christ and His church, and it was a gift to learn from them as they effortlessly loved one another with every word they spoke and every glance they shared. Their home, free of malice and negativity, was an oasis, and you would be hard-pressed to leave their presence with a frown on your face.
When it comes to Ms. Annette, I don’t even know where to start…
I loved so many things about her. She was as sharp as a tack, and could hang with the best of wits and the cleverest of tongues; it is not everyday that my husband finds a worthy verbal opponent, and Ms. Annette always managed to drop the last joke. How I loved to observe their discourse, a veritable tennis match between two comedians, and my only job was to laugh and enjoy.
I’ll never forget the “bazinga” she dropped on me when I was pregnant with Rebekah. My church had been praying for me concerning some strange heart palpitations I was experiencing; after weeks of panic and worry wherein I mourned the fact that some other woman (the hussy Mr. Gore was sure to replace me with once I was dead) would be planning Gideon’s birthday parties, it was finally discovered that I was simply experiencing acid reflux, and, as we left the clinic that day, my beloved doctor prayed with us that “we would learn to trust you, God, even when we’re being a little bit crazy”.
Well, when Ms. Annette called my mom to check on me and heard the report that I had been diagnosed with acid reflux and a little bit of craziness, she clucked her tongue and said, “Well, you tell her she should get a second opinion!…”
After a pregnant pause, she dropped the punchline: “He’s right. She IS crazy”.
Ms. Annette was not only hilarious, she was beautiful. I still can’t quite believe that Hollywood never discovered her, but their loss was completely our gain. Whether she was in a wheelchair or a sickbed or sitting on her throne in the living room, she carried herself with dignity and poise.
Oh and…jewelry. Lots and lots of jewelry. Rings on her fingers, bracelets on her wrist, earbobs in her ears, dainty shoes on her tiny, little feet…
she fairly sparkled with gems and she sparkled with life, even as hers was coming to an end.
But it was her soul that shone the brightest.
We hit it off, the two of us, from the very first time we met. She watched me grow up, she saw me get married, and she held my babies. And through it all, she loved me.
Her love was pure.
Her love was faithful.
And in a church age where friends so easily come and go, that is no small contribution. It is a remarkable thing to have someone in your corner for life. Someone who checks on you. Who thinks about you. Who prays for you.
And even though Ms. Annette was too sick to attend our church for the past four years, she was for us.
I doubt that she ever realized how much that meant to two young kids just starting out in the ministry.
And so, as I thought about her life today, I mourned…
for the loss of another friend…
for her husband who had to go to bed without her Saturday night for the first time in 72 years…
for her daughter and best friend, Mary, who loved her as much as I love my own mom…
and for this broken and fallen world where death is a grave reality.
But in the midst of my mourning, I felt something else, something new, a reaction that I have always longed for but never mastered.
Death has taunted me my entire life, stealing joy from even the most beautiful moments; it has rarely visited my loved ones, but the fear of it has been a nearly constant companion, an enemy that never tires. It rains on my parades. It poops on my parties. It grips me. It mocks me.
And, in my childlike mentality, I’ve always considered it to be the worst thing that could happen, ever, to anyone.
And that it happens to everyone has been, until this point, inconceivable.
But in one last act of friendship on this earth, Ms. Annette, with her beautiful life and her peaceful passing, has given me a gift; for in her death, for the first time in my life, I am finding a hope that overshadows even my deepest fears. I’m starting to see it now…
this life really is just a vapor and a shadow.
It is a blink.
And in that discovery, I see a choice: I don’t have to be frustrated that my visits with Ms. Annette during her sickest days and my child-rearing days were too infrequent.
I don’t have to wish to see her just “one more time”.
I don’t have to mourn like all is lost for Mr. J.L. or Ms. Mary.
Because the beautiful, life-altering, Bible-based truth is this…
I will see her again.
I will clasp her hand.
I will chat with her.
I will see her smile serenely at the husband who loves her, their bodies free from the curse, their future eternal and perfect.
I will thank her.
And thank her.
And thank her.
This isn’t the life we were made for, but rather, the shortest prologue to our real story, and the friendship that I weep for today has really only barely begun.
What comfort! What joy!
Ms. Annette and I always expressed our desire to live next door to one another in heaven…
and now that she has gone there before me, the thought grows fonder and dearer.
We meet to part…
we part to meet.