Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4
I’d been thinking a lot of my neighbor and buddy Michael and praying for him ever since I got the news that his wife died after a long battle with cancer – well, maybe not as long as some, but a year ago she was diagnosed and now she’s gone. I ache for him, which I’ve been telling myself is just part of the prayer process. Listen to that ache and share it with God. “Hold Michael up,” I say. “Be with him.
She wasn’t that old, not much older than me, and not only does she leave Michael behind but she leaves a 23-year-old son too. I wasn’t able to visit her in hospice because I had a terrible cough and cold the two weeks she was there and knew I couldn’t risk exposing her or others to my bug. Then when she died, I was far away in Africa, not even making it back for the memorial. But there was a moment on safari, when I looked up at an acacia tree outside my tent, the noonday sun illuminating the branches, and I thought with both an ache and relief, “She’s gone.” Her suffering was over. Later I found out it happened that day.
Yesterday I finally saw Michael heading to the park on his morning run as I was coming back, the two of us guys hugging each other in our sweats, then standing on the cold sidewalk, remembering a remarkable woman. “You still running regularly?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m trying to keep to a schedule.”
“You were married to a woman who was all about schedules. She kept us all on schedule.” I thought of the terrific job she did keeping us organized when Michael and I were running the neighborhood baseball league for kids. Michael might have been the commissioner but she was the one who made sure things happened.
“You know,” he said wistfully, “for thirty-seven years I saw myself as a red balloon that would have blown away if I didn’t have someone holding on to the string and keeping me grounded. That’s what she did for me.”
“Your ballast,” I suggested, mixing up the metaphors. But then, what else do you do when coping with something as big as grief? “You’ll be okay,” I said. “We’ll see you for dinner on Saturday?”
“Yeah, we’re looking forward to it.” I gave him another hug and we went back to our runs, part of our schedules.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. I hope I participated in some way in that process. You listen, you pray, you remember, you talk, you give a hug, and you don’t forget because loss is a thing we all share. Mourning and comforting is part of following Jesus.