Overcome with emotion as I watched my dear friend, Melanie, walk through the front door of the tiny chapel last Friday evening, the tears were flowing freely. Tears of happiness that my fellow widow was getting married again, mixed with tears of remembrance of all of the times we had wept together after our husbands died.
Those were some raw, painful days. But this was a new day. We were celebrating a resurrection.
Mel glowed radiantly as she walked up the aisle of the rustic 18th Century Baton Rouge church, where her fiancé, Bob, and her two sons—both Protestant pastors—waited in front to celebrate nuptial vows. The moment could not have been more beautiful, with eight little ivory clad granddaughters preceding the bride, and a harpist throwing ethereal sounds through open windows that welcomed the encroaching dusk. Quite the contrast to the many evenings Mel and I had spent at my home sharing stories of shattered dreams and weeping together, even as we reminded each other that we were still safe in the embrace of God, maybe being held closer than ever before.
Her story included the agonizing disappointment of failed marriage, followed by the all too brief elation of meeting and marrying a best friend, a devout Christian man with whom she was happily prepared to spend the rest of her life. They'd been married just twenty eight months when Don was struck dead late one September afternoon, hit head-on by a crystal meth-crazed driver as he toured a country road on the motorcycle he loved. The wreckage was immense on every level. I met Mel shortly thereafter, and I watched her scrape herself out of bed day after day to tend to the needs of her eleven-year-old son and meet with clients in her counseling practice. I marveled that she was able to get out of bed at all, to put one foot in front of the other and continue to walk forward—and that she trusted that God had not abandoned her. Natalie Grant’s song “Held” became her anthem, and she played it all day long to remember that God was holding her, even in the midst of her pain and darkness:
This is what it means to be held, how it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive. This is what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was that when everything fell, we'd be held.
We huddled together and held on, and we were held. And now, on another September day, a new holding was taking place. I pondered the mystery of life’s seasons as we beheld this resurrection:
Do you take this woman… to have and to hold, from this day forward…until death do you part?
Melanie was getting married, and God and Bob would hold her now.
God-incidentally, Mel’s wedding happened to be the same weekend that I was celebrating the second anniversary of marriage to my precious husband, Mark. Mark and I met two years after my late husband, Bernie, died of a massive heart attack. Having just returned from working abroad for twenty-seven years as a Catholic missionary, Mark was spending several hours a day praying in the Adoration Chapel, discerning what God had in store for him next. It was there that we met.
We struck up a friendship, centered on our faith in God and on our mutual love of Catholic theology. Walks on the lakefront discussing theology and philosophy turned into discussions about our life journeys. The reality of jarring and unexpected changes, the death of lifelong dreams and the prospect of futures uncertain all became fodder for conversation. Mark and I became closest friends over the months, and a year after we met we were engaged.
On September 29, 2012, the Feast of the Archangels, we pronounced our wedding vows at Sacred Heart Catholic Church amidst the pouring rain. Many nights since then Mark has held me close, catching tears of gratitude for my new life with him, as well as tears of still fresh grief from life’s unanticipated wounds.
All of that came rushing in as I watched a dear friend with whom I’ve shared so much walk up the aisle, her feet and face light with happiness. It would have been enough for us to be held by God, and that’s all we were hoping for, really. But to be held again in the arms of marital love was an unexpected rebirth for both of us. I give heartfelt thanks to God for the gift of new embrace, for Melanie and for me.