How do you celebrate a wedding anniversary with only half of a couple? Today, November 29, Nate and I would have been married 40 years, but we were short 26 days.
We met on a blind date back in 1966. Although it was winter in Chicago, I was wearing only underwear beneath my coat – risky attire for a good first impression. My girlfriend had promised to set me up with a good-looking college senior she knew (at a different school than mine). She called late one night, after I’d stuffed most of my wardrobe into the washer and was sitting in my flannels, reading on the bed. “We ran into Nate at the ice cream parlor,” she said, “and he wants to meet you…now!”
I complained about her poor timing but pulled on my navy “dress coat” and buttoned it up to the chin. As I met the man of my dreams, his first words were, “May I take your coat?” He asked three more times during the evening, but I resisted as we ate our chocolate sundaes.
My friend later told me I’d been unfriendly and cold. “You wouldn’t even let him take your coat.”
“Actually,” I said while unbuttoning, “here’s the reason.” She looked at my underwear and burst out laughing.
Forty years and seven children later, Nate had also learned the truth about our blind date. He never forgot it and always got nervous when he asked me, “May I take your coat?”
That funny beginning set the tone for our marriage. Even on serious days, there was always something to smile about. Today was no different. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was a note slipped under our bedroom door. Louisa had penned encouragement around a picture of the two of us. “I want to re-state what you always encouraged me with: ‘The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ (Psalm 147:3) Like you said, Mom, ‘It’s a promise!’ I miss Papa like crazy, too…” Smiling through tears, I felt a twinge of healing.
Just to be safe, though, I tucked several Kleenex between the pages of my Bible for tears during church and got ready for another difficult “first” without Nate. Much to my surprise, though, I never needed the Kleenex. Instead I sat in the service thinking of the great blessing of our 40 year marriage. Nate and I had only six weeks of warning before our earthly partnership ended, but what a tragedy it would be to dwell on the sadness of those 42 days rather than the fullness of the other 14,584.
Nate’s desire was to be with me today to celebrate our anniversary together, and if he’d had a choice, he wouldn’t have “left”. I remember him telling the Hospice aide, Lori, that our anniversary was coming. She asked how we usually celebrated, and he told her, “Dinner at a fancy restaurant for a big slab of prime rib.” She must have known by his condition he wouldn’t make it to November 29, so, unbeknownst to us, she went to work that day planning an anniversary surprise. But Nate surprised us first and went to heaven less than a week later.
The day after he died, Lori stopped by our house to pick up some Hospice things and give me a hug. She told me then that after she’d left us the week before, she’d contacted Nate’s favorite local restaurant telling them our story and asking if they would deliver two prime rib dinners with all the trimmings to our house the next week. The restaurant, never having delivered a meal anywhere but to their own dining room, agreed to do it, also volunteering to absorb the cost. The surprise was scheduled for that Friday, but Nate died on Tuesday. Just the thought of such kindness (Lori’s) and generosity (the restaurant’s) has been a blessing.
My best anniversary gift, however, came directly from God, in two parts. The first was his complete healing of Nate by taking him to heaven and releasing him from all his pain. The second was the promise he made to me during this morning’s worship service:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness. I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you.” (Isaiah 42:6a)