I received a phone call from a cousin the other day. He has been a dentist in Nashville, Tennessee for many years, but recently retired from that career to winter in a beachfront condo in Jupiter Beach, Florida. His days are spent laying on the beach and playing golf. In fact, it was his golf game that caused him to make contact with me.
Now don’t get me wrong. If I do say so myself, since moving to the Sunshine State my golf game has improved quite a bit, but not that much. Mike was not contacting me for instruction or tips or anything else to help to improve his game. No, he had a much more profound reason for the call.
It seems that some time ago he was playing golf with three other friends in their weekly match and on this day his game was going very well. But along about the sixth hole something happened that radically changed his golf game that day and every golf game he has attempted to play ever since. As the foursome approached the green on the sixth hole Bert, one of the foursome, had just hit his ball to within 10 feet or so of the cup. And as he was walking toward his ball with putter in hand, all of a sudden he collapsed right on the green.
The other men in the foursome were all medical professionals and they immediately went to work on their friend, but to no avail. As Mike related this account to me, he commented to me that Bert was done before his head hit the turf.
But then he told me, “Chuck, I have been surprised at how profoundly Bert’s death has affected me.”
Mike then related that Bert had been a pediatrician, industrious, dependable, available whenever needed, loyal to his family, faithful to his wife, and absolutely trustworthy. His sudden passing has affected Mike in ways he did not expect. Mike told me he had done all he could to comfort Bert’s widow, Mary, but he did not know her very well and he could not even come close to identifying with her pain. Mike asked me, the professional clergyman, counselor, cousin and friend, what he should have done.
I shared with Mike a story I had heard about a fellow who had gone through a very similar experience with one of his friends. His friend had passed away suddenly as well, but this fellow, devastated as he was, also had no idea of what to say or do even though he felt that he must do something. He went through a whole year and did nothing.
But one day this fellow ran into the widow of his friend in the grocery store. He had not known her well, but when he saw her his heart went out to her even though he could only barely conceive of the pain she must have felt. When he asked her the “standard” question “How are you doing?” he was surprised by her response. As her eyes began to fill with tears and she said, “I’m not doing well.” She hesitated, but then continued, “I want to talk about my grief, but my friends don’t seem to hear what I am saying. They give me the standard lines, you know, the ‘You’ll get over it. You’ll do all right.’ But I can’t get over it!’
Those words so touched the heart of this fellow that he went home, shared the encounter with his wife, and the two of them began to diligently pray for this widow, asking God to show them how they could reach out to her and help her through her sorrow. The Lord impressed upon this fellow that once a week he should write this lady a note. He didn’t have anything profound to say in those letters, but he would just give her some news, occasionally recall some incident or story that he had experienced with her husband, or even share some profound saying that her husband had once said. He would then let her know that she was in his prayers, and would say a special prayer for her each week as he dropped the letter in the mail slot.
For several weeks, this fellow never heard from the widow. But then one day his wife ran into the widow at the supermarket once again. She was looking better and the two ladies hugged as they exchanged cheerful greetings. Then she said to the fellow’s wife, “You don’t know how much your husband has comforted and helped me with those short notes each week. Please give him my heartfelt thanks!” When he heard that report, he knew the reality of what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).
I told Mike that he had probably done just the right thing when he and his wife had simply given Bert’s widow a warm hug. Sometimes just being there is all the answer we need.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at email@example.com.