I’ve written and rewritten the opening to this article many times. No creative writing can enhance the simple fact that June 1, 2021 was a day for me to be fully present in honoring both the living and the dead.
I met Alan and Gail Hawkins for lunch because Memorial Day weekend was the last time when Alan would deliver the sermon as Senior Pastor of New Life City church. After he and Gail had led that congregation for 21 years, I wanted to do my part in sending them out with a blessing.
Over lunch we discussed everything from family to politics. We talked about our favorite hiking trails in New Mexico and some of the lessons we’d been learning over the past year. Facilitating this sweet time of conversation was my way of honoring their many years of service.
Though my husband Bob and I had been infrequent attendees of New Life City, I’d come to love this church. Our girls had spent many years in the youth group, and I will never forget how people from NLC supported our family through an outpouring of love after our daughters’ traumatic car accident three years ago. I remember sitting in the emergency room and feeling a sense of relief and appreciation when Alan Hawkins and Youth Leader Colleen Sullivan came in to offer their prayers and support.
Two others who offered us love and support after the accident were our neighbors across the street, Joe and Christine. They brought a bouquet of flowers for both girls and demonstrated what it looks like to love one’s neighbor. Over the years we’d developed a friendship, looking after each other’s houses during vacations and exchanging cards, conversation, and the occasional meal as life events impacted us in different times and seasons.
Just a few hours after my lunch with the Hawkinses, an engine noise caught my attention. From our front window I saw a fire truck, lights flashing, parked across the street. Our neighbor from the end of the block came racing up in his truck, hastily parking and running into the house.
I waited and prayed, fearing something had happened to Joe, who’d had a medical episode just a few weeks earlier. More emergency crews arrived, and neighbors began to come out of their homes, talking in small groups about what may have happened. When an empty stretcher was put back into the ambulance and police begin to arrive, my heart sank.
Finally, the news came: Christine had died. Shocked and saddened, I prayed for Joe, imagining what must be going through his head after losing his wife of 40+ years.
Between the time when the rescue vehicles departed and a medical investigator arrived, Bob and I sat with Joe, hugging him and letting him cry and talk. Any feeble words of comfort can be swallowed up in these moments of raw pain and emotion. We simply need to be present.
I went to bed sometime after 11:00, only to be awakened by a thank-you text from Alan. I dozed fitfully for a few hours, wanting to be fully awake if Joe needed company for an early morning cup of coffee.
As I think about these precious people who have impacted Bob’s and my life, I am once again reminded how important it is to give honor, never failing to bless others whenever it is in our power to do so. Let us love well and be intentional about appreciating each other in life, so that we may have no regrets when death robs us of further opportunities.