Yesterday I drove to Ellijay, Georgia–the city of my wife’s birth, upbringing, marriage, death and burial. She died around 2:00am on April 30, 1980 while convalescing in her parent’s home from back surgery twenty days before.
Yesterday I drove to her graveside alone. I had not been there alone in some years, perhaps decades. It was time for me to sit with her, pray, reflect, and meditate.
When I arrived, I sat my portable chair near her grave. Praying, I began journaling as my counselor suggested. Journaling is often difficult for me, but this time I wrote for almost two hours.
The cemetery is a small one; it is nestled in a small depression with a country white Methodist church building rising above it. The church sits on Highway 52 which rides a blue ridge in north Georgia. One road makes a short circle within the graveyard–so short that you have to keep your hand turning the wheels as the car moves among the gravestones. The graves are well-kept. It is a serene atmosphere as the cemetery is surrounded by trees and one large fir tree rises near the center. All of this in sight of the surrounding ridges of the north Georgia mountains. It is a calm, peaceful setting.
Sheila was the first to be buried outside of the circle but today she is accompanied by aunts and uncles on her north and south side. As yet she has no immediate family lying beside her.
When I sat down, the clouds were ominous. They were dark and brooding. I anticipated rain and the forecast called for it. I wondered whether I would have to sit in the car and journal. As I began journaling I wrote that the dark clouds were a metaphor for how I felt sitting next to her. Sadness filled my soul and tears flowed.
As I was writing and thinking about that metaphor–feeling my way through it, the sky changed. The clouds were still there, but a hole had opened up among them. The hole was situated directly above the cemetery and the sun lit Sheila’s grave. It was as if the whole cemetery was engulfed by the blue sky and its bright sun. At the same time I felt a gentle, cool breeze flowing over me–a calm wind, a peaceful breath.
“God,” I wrote, “is this for me?”
The dark clouds began moving to the northeast, but the blue sky stayed directly over head. The sun was so bright at times that I could barely write. I needed sunglasses but had none. There were still plenty of clouds, but not over Sheila’s grave. The bright sunlight continued unabated.
“God,” I wrote, “are you telling me something?”
As I was driving down Highway 52 to turn into the parking lot of the Methodist church, I noticed how dark the clouds were and I thought to myself “how fitting.” It was how I always anticipated coming here–sad, depressing, upsetting. Consequently, I tended to avoid the grave.
“God,” I wrote, “are you telling me my life has been dark too long? that it is time to see the light?”
The trees whistled with a pleasant wind. The sun dispelled the darkness. The warmth of the sun and refreshing breeze renewed me. The sun’s warmth sent my heart to God’s love and the breeze felt like the breath (Spirit) of God. My father was blowing fresh grace on me–a fresh joy in that painful place with such painful memories.
“God,” I wrote, “you are here now–you are with me. There is peace. The dark clouds are moving away.”
I know not whether you believe in such experiences. But that was mine yesterday. It was as real to me as typing this sentence. I’ve had them before and this one was simply amazing, wondrous and beautiful.
Is my grieving over? I doubt it. But I think it reached a new stage yesterday. It was a moment of grace and joy when all I expected was fear and sadness.
“Is this God’s grace?” I wrote with tear-filled eyes. Yes, indeed, it was. Thank you, God.
I then visited with Sheila’s parents for a couple of hours. They are godly, good folk. They still love me and I love them.