Grieving was a process I knew well, but that didn’t make it easier. Each new loss took on a personality of its own; my husband, John’s, recent death no exception.
“Please, God, help me. I know I’ll join him in Heaven someday with You, and that is a great comfort, but doesn’t seem to help adjust to the here and now.”
For the hundredth time, I escaped to the familiar balm of the past, burying my mind beneath it’s warmth, much like snuggling under Grandma Rose’s memory-square patchwork quilt. The peace I yearned for was beyond reach, an intangible wisp of consciousness hanging in the shadows.
The telephone rang, disturbing my inner cocoon. Like a drowning swimmer catching the edges of a lifeboat, I snatched the receiver from its cradle.
“May I please speak to Tilly?” a nickname from bygone schooldays that softened the stigma of my legal name, Matilda.
“We were friends years ago at Ridgemont,” the voice hazily familiar.
“Jeanie? Is that really you?” recalling her face from childhood days.
We talked at length, reminiscing and laughing as we caught up on each other . . .
“I can empathize with how you feel, Tilly. My Fred died five years ago. It gets better . . . Have you been going to church, since?”
“No. The thought of his empty space beside me is too painful . . .”
Our daily telephone conversations continued . . .
“Remember when we made cookies for Widow Gray, and forgot to put in the sugar?”
“And it wasn’t until my mother choked out the truth after tasting our leftovers that we discovered the truth,” Tilly’s heart warmed and swelled in remembered pride, much like her present cookies (no sugar missing) now baking in the oven as they talked.
Later, Tilly decided to take the cookies to church for the children’s Christmas Program Practice, Jeanie’s closing suggestion. While there, Esther and Felicia snagged her for the Program’s choir, complimenting her on her strong alto voice, making it almost impossible to refuse.
“I don’t feel like going, Jeanie. I’m just as lonely amongst people.”
“It was that way for me, too, but it helped pass the empty hours. Now I really enjoy the activities, especially when they involve service to others. There’s something about knowing you can make a difference, that you can lighten someone’s load . . .”
“Oops—Jeanie, I’m getting another call.”
“And, my doorbell’s ringing—let’s just talk tomorrow.”
The other call was from Mrs. Pickering, soliciting Matilda for the ladies quilting circle.
“It’s for that new couple at church. She’s expecting, you know, and they’re getting married next month. We want to gift them the quilt for her bridal shower. Some ladies think that’s rewarding their behaviors, but the majority of us think it’s a way we can show our loving support. What do you think?”
“I think these young people are just like the ones Jesus reached out to. How can we do less?” her granddaughter’s recent out-of-wedlock pregnancy brought to mind.
“Jeanie, I still can’t feel loving. It’s like my heart is stone cold.”
“Love isn’t just a feeling, though, Tilly; it’s an act of the will. It’s obeying Jesus’ command to love, even if we don’t feel it. Sometimes it’s hard; but, in a way, it’s easier because we can command our will, whereas we can’t command our feelings.”
I thought about that final conversation with Jeanie in the days that followed. Days filled with the joy of service to others, a lifeline for me as I adapted to John’s absence. I tried to call her when there was a lull in my busy schedule, but couldn’t reach her, wanting to reassure her I was going to be okay, after all.
A week later, I received a telephone call from my high school reunion committee chairman. I asked about Jeanie.
“Oh, I remember her, sure—the family mailed us her obituary. It’s here in my file—would you like me to read it to you?: ‘JEANIE TALBERT, AGE 60, KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY ON NOVEMBER 20 WHILE SERVING AS A NAVY CHAPLAIN OVERSEAS. PRECEDED IN DEATH BY HUSBAND, FREDERICK.’”
Shakily, I hung up the phone and reached for my journal, skimming backwards to the entry of our first phone call. It was dated November 21:
“An old childhood friend, Jeanie Mae, called me today, out of the blue. We had fun getting re-acquainted. She’s a widow, too.”
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