Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Lesson Of The Lilies

I thought the Easter Lilies would bloom and die back. But God had a different plan.
The day my husband graduated to heaven started out just like every other day. Because of his advanced Parkinson's Disease, he generally slept late and somewhere around mid-morning I'd check to see if he was awake and wanting to get up. That particular day he looked up at me, gave a small smile and said, "yup."  I asked, "Are you sure?" and he replied with another "yup." I had no way of knowing those would be the last words he'd ever say.

I called for our live-in nurse to do the necessary tasks to get Jim washed, dressed, and ready for breakfast. Meanwhile, I set out to do my own work. No more than a minute had passed than I heard her call for me to get a bucket as Jim was throwing up. I ran into the bedroom, saw him sitting on the edge of the bed vomiting, and handed the nurse the small bucket I always kept handy. To no avail. I watched in horror as Jim first passed out and then died--despite the nurse giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation and my being on the phone with 911--telling them to hurry.

Within a day, friends and neighbors began dropping by to share their condolences, bringing all manner of food and flowers with them. We rejoiced over Jim's life and talked together over his love for Christ and his unwavering belief that heaven was his true home. We thanked the Lord for taking Jim so quickly that he felt no pain and for the fact that he was now with the Lord he loved so much. I was so grateful that his feet no longer shuffled when he walked or that he was horribly stooped because of poor muscle control. I thanked the Lord that Jim was now whole. And I sobbed the whole time I was doing so.

Unknown to me, I had gone into shock. Days were fuzzy and even now, a little over a year later, I still can't remember much of those first few months. My daughter and grand-daughters took care of every thing that needed to be done. All I did was sign the checks. And even though friends and family took turns staying with me, much of my time was spent sniffling, sobbing and participating in a meltdown or two.

Those who watched interpreted my actions as needing to see a counselor pronto. For some reason, there is a strange myth that hangs around the edges of a Christian's death. It states that those who know the Lord and are left to grieve should be happy and content, for they know where their loved one is. Yet I grieved--fully and wretchedly, even though I knew the Lord was beside me, encouraging me to let out my grief so that I be healed of the trauma and the devastation of being so suddenly left alone.

Since Jim was a Korean War veteran, I chose to have a military funeral. I wanted a family graveside service; my kids wanted a church memorial. We did both. I wanted closure as fast as possible and even though I knew Jim was with the Lord, I couldn't stand the thought of his body laying in wait while all the family made plans to get together.
Jim joined the Navy at 17, with parental permission, knowing he would likely end up in the Korean War. He served aboard the USS Whiteside AKA 90, an Androma class attack cargo carrier that earned 4 battlestars during the Korean conflict.

After the graveside service, I came home to grieve until there were no tears left. Between breakdowns, I found things to do. The two beautiful Easter Lily plants that had been given to me were still showing off their blooms so I set the pots in an outside planter for all to see. I figured I'd plant the bulbs when the flowers and stems died. But that never happened.

Without my even noticing, the shaggy, forelorn stems began putting out new leaves atop the old ones. How odd, I thought. I've never seen that happen before. The next time the lilies caught my eye, each old stem had new leaves sprouting from the stem top. Intrigued, I asked a flower-seller friend of mine is this was usual and the reply was "no."

Every lily stem had dead leaves, which I'd left attached so I could photograph their strange appearance. My good neighbor across the street, thinking she was doing me a favor, stopped by one afternoon and removed nearly all the brown leaves, trying to make it more presentable. I caught her just in time.

Intrigued, I now kept a close eye on those lilies, watching how healthy they were, sitting there atop what still looked like dead stems. Then came the day I saw miniscule buds begin to appear. I watched them grow bigger and longer, then swell so large they began opening their inner beauty to the sun. What a glorious sight. What had once been two small potted lilies was now at least a dozen, and nearly all in gorgeous bloom.

One day as I was coming home from the grocery store, I passed by the plants and marveled at what they had become. I told the Lord how lovely they were and thanked him that they still lived, even though the original stems appeared so dead. "It's like they never died but just kept on living," I said to God as a passing comment.

As I opened the front door to bring in the grocery bags, a thought came so strongly to mind, I knew it was the Lord. I looked back at the lilies and marveled. God had used them as an illustration to give me joy and help me further heal. My heart swelled with praise to God. The lilies had appeared to be dead and yet they lived. Just like Jim.

Jim was the love of my life for more than fifty years. I will miss him everyday that I live and wait anxiously till I see him again in heaven.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." Psalm 116:15

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved
Top photo courtesy of MS Clip Art
All other photos are the property of the author and may not be reproduced

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