By David A. Beck
It was Thursday morning and my wife, Marti, and I were at the bus station waiting for her bus to come and carry her to her mother’s house in Florida. I really didn’t want her to take the bus, but it was spring break week and there were no available flights that we could afford.
I was trying to be upbeat knowing that Marti always worried about me while she was gone. We had been married for over 33 years and had always been best friends. We cherished every moment we could be together and couldn’t stand to be apart. We made small talk until finally we saw the bus coming. I kissed her good-bye another time and watched her get on and the bus pull away. I sighed deeply. This was going to be a long week.
Marti had been hinting for a new refrigerator. The only thing wrong with the yellow one was . . . well, it was yellow. We had bought a new white stove a couple of years ago, and she wanted matching appliances. She knew it was an extravagance, however, and wouldn’t really press for a new one. While she was away I was going to get her that new refrigerator. By midweek I found just the buy . . . last year’s model (it was really marked down!); 25 cu. ft. side-by-side, and it was white. I had it delivered Friday morning.
Marti and I talked every day while she was away. I kept reassuring her that I was doing OK. She told me of an ear ache that started sometime Wednesday. I told her that if she was feeling bad to go ahead and try to get a flight out of Florida instead of taking the bus back. No . . . she knew we really couldn’t afford it. And besides, could you imagine how an ear ache would feel as the cabin of the plane pressurized? I left it up to her.
It’s Friday and the new refrigerator came. She was going to love it! I couldn’t wait for her to see it. It was all that I could do not to pick up the phone and tell her. We never kept secrets from each other. I was so anxious to see her face when she saw it. I got all of my work done and came home a little earlier Friday to make sure everything was ready for Marti’s re- turn. I had left quite a bit of housework for the last minute. I also wanted to hang that light fixture that my sister had given to us that had now sat in the garage for the last year. Everything was going to be just perfect.
Then the phone rang. Marti had left Florida that morning to come home. It was probably her calling as the bus stopped for supper.
It was not Marti. “Mr. Beck?” (Oh, no . . . it must be a sales call.) “Yes,” I replied in a cool tone. “Are you related to a Martha Beck?” “Yes.” Then the words that caused my heart to leap into my throat, “This is the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where your wife is a patient, hold on while I put the doctor on.” The doctor explained that Marti had collapsed at the bus station and was in a coma. The ear infection had invaded her brain . . . it was very unusual but, if they didn’t operate and remove part of her skull she would be dead within the hour. I gave carte blanche authority to do whatever they needed. Then the words, “Mr. Beck, you need to understand that at best she is working against small odds of survival.” I couldn’t believe it! This can’t be true!
I called my sister who was about four hours away. We have always been so close. She said she was on her way.
This article, however, is not about my grief. It is not about me at all. It is about what happens from this moment on. It is about my brethren in Christ.
I called the elders where I worship. Before I hung up the phone it seemed, my house was full of the people who loved Marti and me more than anyone, my brethren. One was taking all of my calls; the word had spread like wildfire and the phone was ringing endlessly. Another was checking all the airlines for any flights out that night. The ladies were finishing up the cleaning of the house. Some were upstairs packing my bags. If you knew these folks, you would expect nothing less.
There were no flights out and my sister and I headed out driving all night to get to Tallahassee from Peoria, Illinois. I called every hour on my cell phone. She remained stable through the night. I was by her bedside by Saturday after- noon. She would remain in a coma, I was told, for several days. It was best for her. My heart was broken.
It is Sunday morning. I awoke early and for the first time in over thirty years I questioned whether I was going to church services or not. I wanted to go to the hospital and be by Marti’s side; but I knew where she would want me to be. And I knew where I should be. Knowing how badly I needed the Lord’s help, how could I forsake him today? I went to worship services.
I went to the Centerville Road church. I was glad to be there among brethren. After services people were very friendly. There was a couple there that Marti and I knew about 20 years ago. Everyone was being so friendly, I hated to just rush out so I let them be hospitable. “What brings you to Tallahassee?” I told them of my reason to be there. Before I knew it people were offering all sorts of help. I explained that I didn’t really need anything. Oh, yeah, there is one thing. “Marti would probably have to go through many weeks or months of therapy before she could come home,” I explained, “Do you know of any apartments that rented month to month so I wouldn’t have to sign a lease?” They said one of the members there had some apartments and that they would check.
Like I said, this article is not about me. It is really about how my grief was taken on by a congregation of God’s people and shared. It is about how pain of the worst sort can be diminished when it is smothered by God’s love as it is poured out through caring brethren.
The family who owned the apartments graciously provided a very nice apartment for me and the many family members who joined me. What I couldn’t believe is how that empty apartment was filled with such love by Monday night. Many brethren participated in moving in appliances, couches, chairs, tables, sleeping facilities for all of my family, food, linens, etc. Nothing was overlooked.
I kept trying to put into words my gratitude. It was impossible. They kept telling me that I was helping them! They told of those who were moved by my experiences who had not previously been party to this type of endeavor who joined in. They kept assuring me that they were glad to do it. And I know that they were. These brethren, though their hearts were broken for me, were experiencing joy because they were serving Christ, whom they loved most of all.
I was a grown-up man, I thought, at nineteen;
Though so much of this life was yet to be seen.
She was a year younger and “naive,” they said,
The day we were married and shared the same bed.
I vowed to take care of her and be her man.
I, being all we needed, was not God’s plan.
She vowed to submit and “Goest where I go;”
But she led me into the life I would know.
You see, she raised this small boy of trembling heart;
Teaching me to follow Jesus from the start.
She never scolded, belittled, or preached;
Through humility and love my soul she reached.
Headship of our home was never in question;
The Lord came first, me next, was her concession.
At times I was tempted to step from the track.
She gently took my hand and guided me back.
Thirty-three years I thought I was leading her.
As I look back now, I should have known better.
She let me think I was the family’s guide;
The truth is now clear, without her by my side.
In where to go, what to do, and what to say;
And the mundane decisions of every day.
She made me look like a true man of wisdom.
Behind the scenes she helped me make decisions.
Don’t think that she wasn’t a submissive wife;
I just loved her so much I’d give her my life.
She lived the example of Ephesians five
Where love and submission, balanced, come alive.
I have matured in life since the day we met;
She taught me to live and love without regret.
She’s gone now and in this life I’m left alone;
But with her memory to guide me, I’ll go on.
My life will be different, I’ll hurt for awhile;
I’ll learn how to survive as I paste on this smile.
I always thought I had control of my life;
I know now I was nothing without my wife.
Don’t feel sorry for me, or shed any tears;
I’ve had the best life in those thirty-three years.
With her strength and courage now, I’ll get along.
Until we’re back together in our new home.
In the darkest hour of my life I was not alone. Members of the Centerville church came every day. They didn’t hover, they came and expressed their affection and their care. Two of the elders and their wives from the Paris Avenue church, where I regularly worship in Peoria, came and stayed with me through the week. The Paris Avenue church held special prayer meetings for me and Marti, with many from neighboring churches coming as well.
The week that I was in Tallahassee, that ended in my wife’s death, will be remembered with fond memories all of my life. That week could have been remembered only with pain and anguish.
The purpose for my writing this article is to make sure you know, from one who was on the receiving end, brethren, when we serve those who are in trouble, we can truly make a difference in their lives. Don’t ever think that your efforts are wasted. My life has been changed because of the brethren in Tallahassee and my home congregation.
Brethren, we do make a difference in each other’s lives. I expected the church where I worship regularly to do all they can. They knew Marti and me well. It is easy to help those with whom you already have a loving relationship.
I never expected what the brethren did for me and my family while I was in Tallahassee. And I am disappointed in myself for that. I should have thought more highly of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I write this article for the purpose of letting the “light” shine from the Centerville Road church, not for their glory, but for his. Follow their example as they follow him.