I recently met up with an old friend who lost his wife several years ago. Like me, he had the responsibility for her care. He used a phrase which I have been mulling over since that encounter. He said that he had the "privilege of serving" his wife in that way. It caused me to ponder how I viewed the last six years of our lives together. The opening words of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" seems to describe best: It was the best of times; it was the worst of time.
It was the best of times because it caused Stephanie and I to grow closer together than I had ever imagined. Her illness forced us to speak openly about our future. We honestly grappled with questions of faith and healing. It also caused us to take pleasure in the small things: a trip to Lake Waramaug or Bantam Lake, an occasional trip to Hammonasset Beach. Sometimes it was just eating pizza while watching the latest Netflix arrival. Our lives were stripped down to the basics, and we relished each special moment as best as we could.
It was the worst of times because I had to watch the woman I love slowly die. But in that I was allowed the "privilege of serving" her. It allowed me to show Stephanie my love in action by serving her and taking care of her. More than once I thought about giving up on the dialysis treatments at home and asking her to return to the dialysis center, but I knew that would be difficult for her, and given the amount of snow we had last winter, not easy for me either.
Both of us developed a greater dependence on God than we had ever experienced. Daily prayers before the treatment became a way for us to connect with each other and cry out to God for His help. As Stephanie was nearing the end of her life, we had significant, honest conversations about our faith and our destiny. These were challenging but rich conversations that were only necessary because of our situation.
In the last hours of her life, I sat by her bed and whispered in her ear, assuring her of my love for her and my gratitude for her love. One of the nurses told me that a dying person can still hear what is going on around them, so I wanted her last memories to be precious and sweet. I hope that it meant something to her.
My friend also said that he wouldn't have traded his experience of caring for his dying wife for anything, but now that it was over, he would never want to have to do it again. I completely understand those sentiments. I know that what we went through together deepened our love for each other as well as increasing our faith in God, but now that it's over, I am relieved - for both of us.
So the last six years were the best of times; and the worst of time. In looking back, I can see that it was a privilege serving Stephanie, but it was only possible because of the faithfulness of my Heavenly Father. It was a privilege because God used me to care for Stephanie.
The lyrics of this old hymn became a good companion on my journey. "He Giveth More Grace" by Annie Johnson Flint.
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.