The best day of my life (apart from becoming a Christian) was 22 July 1978, when I married Maureen Margaret Ann Taylor at Cosheston in Pembrokeshire. The worst day of my life was 25 November 2014 when Maureen, my wife for 36 years, died peacefully at home.
Earlier that day, a district nurse had told me that she had only five or six hours to live. I prayed, ‘Oh God, I don’t want to be alone when she dies’. That evening the phone rang. It was Nigel, ‘Would you like some company?’ We were playing chess when she slipped away. My grief was mixed with relief, as her years of suffering were finally over.
Shortly after we moved to Potton in 1986, Maureen was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, which began with the dragging of the left leg and eventually left her with restricted mobility. She was in constant pain with the MS. She also suffered two bouts of cancer, and the radiotherapy caused scarring.
In summer 2014 my wife was admitted to Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, with a bowel infection. This was the first of four periods in hospital during that year. The infection overflowed into other parts of the body; she was in intense pain and distress.
‘I don’t want any more treatment’, she told the doctors. ‘He will look after me’, she told me as she pointed upwards. I quoted 1 Peter 5:7, ‘Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you’.
I was often in tears in the hospital chapel after discussions with Maureen and the doctors. I prayed that God would take her.
She was sent home, provided with a hospital bed, carers four times a day and regular visits from district nurses. I was given a 24-hour palliative care phone number. A week later, she entered the presence of the Saviour she loved.
As we walked away from the grave, my son Wayne said, ‘That was hard, dad’. I replied, ‘Yes it was, and I was almost in tears’. We drove to the chapel for the thanksgiving service. If I’d been alone in the car, I would have burst into tears. We were being brave for one another.
I was encouraged to see the chapel full with family and friends; some had travelled miles to attend. One recently bereaved man hugged me with tears pouring out of his eyes. It was difficult not to cry with him.
Soon after Maureen’s death, doubts disturbed me. How do I know that heaven really exists? I want to believe that she is at peace with God, because I need comfort. I gradually overcame these doubts by reminding myself of the biblical texts relating to life beyond death from which I’d often preached — texts such as John 14 and 1 Corinthians 15.
I’ve struggled to pray and read the Scriptures because of problems with concentration. Often, all I could manage was a few verses of favourite psalms.
It is now over a year since Maureen’s death. I thank God for the care of the Potton Baptist Church (I was pastor there for 25 years), my neighbours, people in the town and the members of the churches where I preach.
How did people react to my grief? Some did not know what to say. Others threw at me Bible texts, for example, Romans 8:28; and pious platitudes such as, ‘Time will heal’, and, ‘Have a good cry and get over it’.
Those who helped me most said very little. A warm hug and the words, ‘I am praying’ spoke volumes. I’ve received comfort by believers inviting me to their homes and allowing me to talk about Maureen. Those who are bereaved welcome conversations about their wives/husbands.
Some believers are judgmental and expect that into the second year after Maureen’s death I should have ‘got over it’. I will never ‘get over’ the loss, but I am learning to adjust. There are no rules about how to grieve or how long to grieve. But it is essential to take time to grieve.
On the first anniversary of Maureen’s death, I wrote in my diary: ‘Last night the loss of Maureen hit me again like a steamroller. I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness and of being alone. I felt so lonely. I was restless in the night. I longed to take her in my arms, to feel her next to me in bed’.
I have drawn comfort from many Scriptures, such as Psalm 23, which I read on the morning of the funeral, especially verse 4: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me’.
‘Shadow of death’ means ‘valley of deep gloom’. I’ve walked in that deep and dark valley with a breaking heart, but God has walked in the darkness with me. Sometimes, even now, I have times of intense sadness. Only those who have walked in the valley understand the grief of the person bereaved of a wife or husband.
I find encouragement from Christ’s words, ‘I hold the keys of death’ (Revelation 1:18). Maureen died in the time wisely appointed by the risen Saviour.
Is visiting Maureen’s grave comforting? It was months after the burial before I went to the cemetery. Arranging for the erection of a stone was stressful, but the receptionist at the stonemasons was sympathetic and efficient.
I’ve shed tears and thanked God for Maureen’s life as I’ve stood by her grave. The words inscribed on her stone read, ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord’ — words taken from 2 Corinthians 5:8.
Since Maureen’s death I am learning to cook (I am still a novice!), joined the committee of the local history society, and become a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Sandy. I bought a new camera to photograph wild life.
I am preaching most Sundays and enjoying caring hospitality. Then, I return to an empty house. No cheerful Maureen to share news of my day. Sunday evenings, I often feel sad and lonely.
While looking for harvest hymns, Praise! hymnbook fell open at a hymn I’d not seen before (no. 910). I quote two of its verses:
O Christ, you wept when grief was raw,
and felt for those who mourned their friend:
come close to where we would not be,
and hold us, numbed by this life’s end.
We try to hold what is not here
and fear for what we do not know;
O, take our hands in yours, good Lord,
and free us to let our friend go.
Stan K. Evers was pastor of Potton Baptist Church, Bedfordshire, from 1986 until retirement in 2011. He has authored several books and was editor of Grace Magazine.