We humans are funny creatures and we are all so very different. I was reflecting on this a few days ago when I was thinking of how certain dates can become so significant in our lives as individuals. Significant things happened on a certain date and the memories, good or bad, will remain with us forever. The date that became so significant to me was the 22nd day of the month. That date became special to me way back on 22nd August 1964 when my very best friend Carole and I were driving back from seeing my sister’s family in the Qld country. We pulled up outside a small town called Esk before we drove the last stage of our trip back to our homes in Ipswich. As we admired the beauty of the hills around the township we began to talk about how wonderful it was to be able to spend some time together at last. I had said farewell to Carole in late January to go to theological college in Melbourne [1700km away] and we had not seen each other until this time in August. We shared how we had missed seeing each other even though frequent letters had kept us in touch.
The conversation deepened as we shared about what the future held for both of us. Carole had another 18 months to finish her bond with the Qld Education Department as a trained teacher and I had at least another 2 years to study in Melbourne. I had only a short time before I was due to leave her again to return to Melbourne until December. I was going to miss her terribly as I realised how kind she had been to my parents, visiting them often and sharing with me how they were going, in the many letters she faithfully wrote to me every week. I realised that my love for her had deepened during our time apart. I wondered whether this beautiful, attractive, gorgeous, highly intelligent creature sitting next to me could ever get to love and marry an ordinary guy like me. Somehow I plucked up the courage and said something like, “Carole, what would you say if, some day, I asked you to marry me?” Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for an answer as she replied immediately, “I would say ‘Yes’.” How much easier it was then to say, “Will you marry me?” and how blessed to hear the answer, “Yes!” What a joy to drive home and delight both sets of parents with the news. Just a week later our engagement was announced publicly in the papers.
I booked my return train trip back to Melbourne but shortly after my father became ill and was taken to hospital in Ipswich and transferred to Brisbane. He died of a brain tumour soon after. Carole was magnificent in helping us cope in such sad unexpected circumstances. I realised afresh that I was going to marry a real gem. Before I left by car for Melbourne taking my grieving mother with me, Carole and I had worked out that the earliest time for our wedding would be another 22nd of the month, the 22nd January 1966 just after she would complete her teaching bond and would be free to come back with me to Melbourne until I finished my external degree from the University of London.
By the grace of God Carole and I were able to share almost 54 years of a wonderful loving married life together, always celebrating with a real sense of praise to God on the 22nd of January and the 22nd of August every year. They were joyful memories etched in our minds as we praised God for bringing us together and enriching our marriage and family life over all those years. I think we were both amazed at the number of people over those 53 years who would say to us, “You two were obviously meant for each other.” We certainly believed that God in His infinite wisdom and love had brought us together from thousands of miles from each other, Carole coming as a 4 year old with her parents from Kharagpur near Calcutta in India and me from Gympie in Qld to meet in Ipswich, fall in love and serve Him together for over 50 years. What an incredible privilege for both of us. We both saw each other as being God’s gift to us individually.
The years since then have flown but the 22nd of August last year brought up the 55th anniversary of the day I proposed and Carole accepted. We did not know it at the time, but that day last year would turn out to be the last trip to another town we would have in our car together. Within a few weeks Carole would be hospitalised with fluid on the lung as her cancer increased. She was released after treatment but was readmitted back into Port Macquarie hospital on the 19th October and was transferred to Palliative care in Wauchope a couple of days later. Then came another memorable 22nd of the month. The specialist came into Carole’s room with a group of student doctors on that day and said to her, “Carole, we will try to get you home as soon as possible and we will arrange for palliative care nurses to visit you at home.” Carole thanked her and then suggested to her in her own gracious way, how the palliative care could be improved even further. But it was only a week later that the same specialist returned with another group of student doctors and said to Carole, “Carole you won’t be going home. You will die in a few days.” It appeared that Carole’s lungs were filling with fluid and draining them would not be possible. My beloved Carole did die just 2 days later.
I write this just a few hours before what would have been the 56th anniversary of the day we became engaged. It probably will mean that every 22nd of every month will be filled with memories for me as I remember our engagement and our wedding and the joys of our married life together. They will be happy memories as I praise God for giving me such a perfect [for me] life partner. But when you face a personal bereavement you remember what you once had, but then you go on to remember what you no longer have. The tears of joy turn to joys of sorrow as you know you will no longer see that loving smile or feel that loving touch or hear that beautiful eisteddfod winning voice saying softly, “Darling, I love you so much! Thank you for loving me!” And over the last year adding, “And thank you for caring for me.”
Why have I as a very private person written so personally? Simply because I wanted to and felt I had to. It is never easy to face grief when someone you love is taken from you when you had hoped you might have had perhaps another 10 or more years together. I am glad that when I began ministry and had to minister to those going through bereavement, I would tell them that there is no set pattern to follow when going through a grief process. We all have to find our own way of coping whilst being open to the well-meaning advice that our friends pass on to us. So sharing in this way is my way of coping at the moment. I hope it doesn’t embarrass anyone but I just love to praise God for His incredible goodness in allowing Carole and I to meet, fall deeply in love and have an extremely happy fulfilling life together in Him.
Many of you who read this article, may also be going through grief. I can humbly say that I find it helpful personally to reflect with thanksgiving and praise on all the good that God has brought into my life, especially the gifts of being born into a loving family, and His gracious gifts of a loving and beloved wife, dearly loved children and grandchildren. And on the days when I do feel a little bereft and a deep sense of loss chokes me up, I am finding this promise of the Lord to be wonderfully true as I seek to keep close to Him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Blog No.364 posted on Friday 21st August 2020