When you are married to a pastor, you attend a lot of weddings. And as a Pastor of Student Ministries for his entire career, Patrick took part in numerous weddings, either officiating or leading in some way. Weddings were monumental events for both of us as we watched former students making life choices. They grew up before our very eyes and we were excited to watch as they began this new phase of life. Staying at one church a long time means as the years went on, we were more and more connected with the families celebrating the special occasion.
Before Patrick became sick, my memories of weddings all blend together. The date put on the calendar, the gift purchased and the outfit (including Patrick’s tie color of the bride’s choice) chosen. When the day arrived, Patrick left early to prepare. Later, I would find a friend to join in the auditorium. Afterwards, we connected to go to the reception where we enjoyed the night together.
After his diagnosis, I remember weddings much more clearly. There was one already on the schedule a few months out. He tried to tell the bride he should withdraw because his speech was starting to slur. She insisted she still wanted him to speak, which he did. I stood in the very back of the church, not able to breath, listening to his slow speech; wondering if he would make it through; still in shock that this was happening.
That was his last wedding to officiate; all the others he did have to back out of. The next wedding was odd because he sat next to me during the service; like regular attendees. He wasn’t a part of it and we all knew he should have been. At the reception I carried his plate through the line as he pointed to what he wanted. I vividly remember carrying his plate back to the table and cutting up his food.
The last wedding Patrick attended was in October 2012, only eight weeks before he died. It took so much effort to get him there. The wheelchair barely fit between the tables. He could only smile and nod. Not able to eat, he sat there watching the rest of us dine on amazing food. He tired quickly, but insisted I stay longer, and had Parker drive him home. Later, he told me how hard it was to watch everyone eat…I still feel terrible about that.
Since Patrick’s death, I have been attending weddings alone. Obviously, it’s quite a bit different from just sitting alone during a ceremony. Just eight weeks into my life without Patrick, I forced myself to go to one out of respect and love for the two getting married. I knew Patrick would have wanted me to go. I was in a daze the whole time, still feeling like I had a huge neon sign over my head shouting, “Her husband is dead – she’s a widow.” I barely remember who I sat with at the reception; it’s really all a fog. I know I zoned out a lot that night. The bride’s mom and I talked; she knew how hard it was for me to be there and she thanked me.
The rest of the weddings of 2013 are a blur. I think I missed a few. I know I walked out of one during a song. Sometimes as I sat listening to the message, I would think of our own wedding. Death was the last thing on my mind when I made my vows to Patrick, and it’s most likely not on the mind of current brides and grooms. But in this cycle of life, it is a fact that most likely one of the two making promises will have to watch the other one die.
Now the wedding season of 2014 is here; Many weddings I can’t miss, nor do I want to. Last month brought the first barn wedding. Apprehensive at first, I was thankful Parker was going with me. As the wedding began, I smiled thinking of Patrick’s part in the bride and groom’s life as well as in the lives of both sets of parents. I thought of how Patrick saw the beginning of the couple’s love relationship and how he’d be smiling that the wedding had come to fruition.
But as is typical with grief, waves of emotion often hit unexpectedly. And this time, it happened as the pastor got up to begin the challenge. You see, it wasn’t our senior pastor, as it usually is, but instead it was the older brother of the bride…a former intern of Patrick’s. He’d grown up in our church and Patrick reached out to him as a young teen. Patrick believed in him when many others doubted. Through the years, their friendship had grown; countless hours spent together. Even when Patrick was very sick, this young pastor came over to our home and sought his advice.
So I was overwhelmed thinking of how this young man had grown; how much Patrick loved him and how proud he would be. I almost burst out loud into tears, but since I was on the 3rd row, I took quick short breaths and kept it together. Later during the reception I was able to share my thoughts with both the young man and his mom. And I did lose it (quietly) when the bride’s mother told me how Patrick’s life had influenced everything that happened that day. As the evening progressed, I ended up having a great time. A couple girlfriends even convinced me to get on the dance floor for a few fun songs. Parker and I were among the last ones to leave. On the way home I was filled with peace and gratefulness.
Today is June 17th and I have been dreading this day unlike any other so far….because today is our 25th wedding anniversary. I say “is” because it will always be my anniversary. I just don’t get to celebrate it with my husband. He is in Heaven celebrating Jesus’ presence. I don’t know if he is aware of the date and I doubt he is thinking of our wedding. But since I’m still stuck here on earth, it’s all I’m thinking about. Just five short years ago on our 20th, we were in Mexico with our best college friends and we all agreed we would do it again on our 25th. No one dreamed that one of us would be dead.
I decided in advance to take today off work. I just want to be alone to remember; to journal; to pray; to cry. Grief takes time and has to be faced. Earthly marriage is a representation of what Christ has with his Bride, the church—with us. It’s what He came to earth to live and die for…so we could be His bride. I know my love for Patrick is nothing compared to God’s love for me. That thought is staggering. My finite mind cannot comprehend. What a gift from God the message of the gospel is. What a treasure my marriage was.
You see, I know what Patrick and I had was special, if not rare. Not everyone marries and experiences falling in love more and more with each passing year. Most wives don’t get to participate with their husbands in their jobs, working in a ministry that both are passionate about. What I enjoyed in my marriage to Patrick was something many people never experience. To be completely loved by a faithful, Godly, fun man was a blessing I will never get over.
I am learning to live alone. I am ok with it as I choose to be content with the memories. I have no desire to remarry; my wedding ring is put away simply because it causes too much pain to look at and feel every second. The hole is gaping, but I know the pain represents how good I had it. My relationship with Patrick is not over…it has simply changed. He will always be a part of my life. And for that I am grateful.
In honor and memory of my husband, I’ve jotted down 25 reasons I loved being his wife:
- He let me be myself & he understood me
- He challenged me to grow
- He made me laugh and even thought I was funny
- He loved people and no one stayed a stranger for long
- He made life an adventure and fun
- He was a leader, but didn’t have to force anyone to follow
- He was man’s man
- He wasn’t afraid to tell me no or let me know when I was wrong
- He forgave quickly; never yelled or flew off the handle
- God’s Word led him and he led our family
- He treated others with respect
- He was always willing to listen to me about any subject
- He was humble & teachable
- He encouraged my independence & kept me grounded.
- He had friends, I had friends and we both had friends together
- He loved the church & being a pastor
- He loved being a dad and included the kids in everything he could
- We enjoyed each other’s company
- We loved serving the Lord & worshiping Him together
- We loved each other’s families. It was never “your side” and “my side”. We embraced both as our own
- Communication was key to our marriage & we communicated a lot
- He was wise with our finances
- We were independent, yet dependent on each other
- We cared about what the other one cared about
- We were still madly in love