When I lost my husband early in 1992, I lost my companion, my lover, my best friend. Jerry died of complications from a heart transplant, and after only six years of marriage, I became a widow at the age of 35. We should have been laughing and looking forward to a long, happy life together. Instead the years ahead loomed like an endless, deserted highway.
As the initial numbness faded, sadness overwhelmed me and I sank into a depression that deepened with each passing month. Time was supposed to heal all wounds, but for me it was an enemy that carried Jerry farther away.
I had a strong faith. Jerry had been a minister, and I was a director of Christian education. Nevertheless, grief and loneliness overshadowed my faith, and the solace I had once found in God was gone.
Occasionally I was able to lose myself in my work or enjoy an evening out with friends, but as soon as I walked through my front door, the silent house reminded me of the emptiness of life without Jerry. I'd look at the piano and think of how he loved to hear me play and sing. The couch in the living room made me remember our evenings snuggled in front of the TV. Some nights I lay awake for hours, missing the warmth of Jerry's body beside me.
Special occasions--Valentine's Day, Jerry's birthday, our anniversary--were the most difficult. Even Thanksgiving and Christmas, with family dinners to distract me, were devoid of joy.
As the first anniversary of Jerry's death grew nearer I didn't want to think about what I was going to do. Should I pretend it was just another day? Should I spend the day looking through our photo albums, reliving happier times?
Finally I decided the only place I might find peace was the beach. It had always been a place of rest and serenity for me. I wanted to hear and feel the power of God's sea, to inhale the sharp, briny air. Maybe that would make me feel alive again, close to God again.
I made reservations at a hotel on Amelia Island, Fla., where I had stayed once. It seemed an ideal place for solitary reflection and renewal.
'You Can't See the Water, But You Know It Is Near.'
On the morning of January 12th I awoke early in my hotel room, my mind flooded with memories of that day one year before. The brown warm-up suit Jerry wore in the hospital--a Christmas gift from me. The afternoon we spent together, sitting side by side on the starchy sheets of his bed, looking through the classifieds for a new puppy to keep me company while he recovered. Later, the emergency call from the hospital. The short drive there, which seemed to take an eternity. The stark words, "We couldn't bring him back."
I knew a walk along the Amelia Island shore would clear my head, so I forced myself to get out of bed. I looked through the window. A wall of thick gray fog had rolled in. The mist obscured everything--the water, the sand, the seagulls, even the hotel courtyard. A walk was out of the question.
I sat there glaring resentfully into the dense fog. Then, in the rhythmic rush of the waves against the shore, I thought I heard a whisper. Or was it the surf?
You can't see the water, but you know it is near.
What? Then I heard the words a second time. You can't see the water, but you know it is near.
The words receded, and in that moment of quiet, I understood. I couldn't see the ocean through the fog, but I could smell its saltiness in the air. I could hear the sound of the surf and the cry of the seagulls. Wasn't it the same with God?
A Maid With a Surprise Bouquet
A soft knock at the door interrupted my thoughts. I was puzzled; I didn't know anyone on the island. A hotel maid walked in, holding a glass vase with a beautiful bouquet of pale pink roses.
"I thought you might like these," she said, setting the vase on a side table and rearranging the flowers.
I was stunned, and it must have shown on my face because she apologized. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's not that," I said, unable to stop my tears.
"I found the roses in another part of the hotel," she said. "I can't explain it, but something told me to bring them to this room."
I looked at the bouquet more closely. That's odd, I thought. Not a dozen. Not a half dozen...
Then I told her about Jerry, about my loneliness. As I poured my heart out to this stranger, the fog of pain lifted. "Jerry used to give me pink roses on special occasions," I said. "We would have celebrated our seventh anniversary this year."
The maid hugged me tight. "I know you're still grieving, but life is more than grief," she promised as she slipped out the door.
Standing in the middle of my room, I stared at the bouquet. Seven pink roses. I heard the whisper once more: You can't see the water, but you know it is near.
Thank you, God, for telling me Jerry is safe with you, and I must go on. Thank you for the seven pink roses--and for the angel who delivered them.