Libbie said that in her husband’s last days she was picturing in her mind a wide river, its appearance somewhat obscured by a fog, and beyond which she was envisioning the other shore, drenched in sunlight. The moment Al ceased to inhale, she and the children broke into praise songs, in all their pain, rejoicing that he was “there.” For those of us left back on this bank of that fearful water, it’s like David said after his baby’s death: we will go to him, but he will not come to us (2 Samuel 12:23).
This is the part of the story I didn’t know until Libbie gave her testimony in church last Sunday, five years after Al’s death. At that time I had seen her at the memorial service, composed and worshipful—and every one of her children the same. I was like a voyeur after that, watching her on Sunday mornings and at other venues, watching warily for the small cracks, wondering when the numbing shock would wear off and she would “really” grieve. It never came. All those stages they tell us about—denial, anger, etc.—all bypassed by the grace of God that is beholden to no psychological templates.
Libbie says that ever since Al’s death, heaven is very present to her, as near as the person on the other side of the wall from where you are sitting now, albeit out of sight. She says this is a constant awareness she carries with her no matter where she is, and that it colors everything and makes all the difference in her perspective on all events and troubles. This life is so very, very short.
A detail we didn’t learn until the Sunday testimony (which coincided with our church’s 10-week series on heaven) is that when Libbie was cleaning out Al’s things some time after his death, she came across the little sign he used to hang on the door of his seminary office when he had to step out to the men’s room. It said “Back in five minutes.” Libbie thought that was a pretty cool artifact, so she hung it on the door of Al’s home office, where it makes her smile every time she sees it. She smiles because the words are still so true.