Morris Pettit, Sheila’s father (my first wife who died in 1980), passed from this life into the next this past Tuesday, July 14.
I am sad today. Morris, even 29 years after Sheila’s death, called me “son.” I have experienced the joy of family, the model of a good father, and the grace of sonship from this good man. He will be sorely missed.
I leave tomorrow for Ellijay, GA. I had promised Morris that I would speak at this funeral–he called me his “favorite preacher” (well, of course, though he had not heard me preach in years). Friday evening I will keep my promise.
This, I anticipate, will be a difficult moment for me. The visitation will be in the same funeral home where I sat with Sheila’s body for hours. The funeral will be in the same building where we remembered Sheila’s life. The burial will be in the same cemetery where Sheila lies. He will be laid next to her.
I have blogged previously how certain feelings surround that funeral experience in 1980. Uncontrolled grief. Embarrassment. Hurt. But….I have recently begun to see that experience with different eyes.
For years when I thought of Sheila’s funeral I could only see the embarrassment, tears, grief and pain. The fog of the great sadness colored everything grey so that I could not see the love present there. I could not see the love of the children from Potter Children’s Home who came to sing at the funeral, I could not see the love of my parents and siblings, I could not see the love the Pettit family (my in-laws) had for me as if I were their own son (and to this day they still call me “son”), I could not see the love of my best man who came at great expense from Oklahoma to stand beside me at the grave (thanks Bruce!), I could not see…. The list could go on.
Great sadness distorts the goodness and love of God. It blinds us to love. The fog creates distrust and fear. But the love of God is nevertheless present in the great sadness. God was present at Sheila’s funeral. God wept with me. God was present through the love that others showered on me–all love flows from God. I can see that love now.
Surrounded by love, God spoke a word into my heart that day that I can only now begin to hear: “You are my beloved.”
Now I go to whisper those same words into the ears of Laura and Morris’ sons (and their wives) and grandchildren. Thanks for your love, my family and friends.