"Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half;
Trust God, see all nor be afraid!
Robert Browning's words resonate with those who choose a long-term marriage commitment. Many of us entered our marriages with the firmly planted ideal that this is the partner we would be with for our entire lives. We managed through the newlywed years. We struggled in the middle years. We balanced careers, children, uncertain finances, setbacks and heartaches. In our hearts and minds, the future pointed toward togetherness. Old age would be the "golden years" - special moments when schedules slacken, love for each other blossoms in new ways and, in an ever-changing world, we would have each other.
Then... death takes one spouse - sometimes suddenly - sometimes after extended illness. The surviving spouse is left alone, holding only memories and shared possessions.
Closets become holders of sentimental treasures. The dream of being together forever is ended. Death trumps life. Shattered pieces, along with unfulfilled future dreams, are left behind.
The phrase "grief work" becomes all too real, for the death of a committed, loving spouse is brutal. We get no more days or months or years together to work through life's challenges or to enjoy each other's constancy.
In such sorrow, the challenge now becomes how to identify and re-invent myself - to learn the unwanted role of being single after being a husband or wife for decades.
I vividly remember a few in my congregation urging me to join a singles Bible class. I refused. I remember sitting in worship, thinking of the 33 years my wife, Caryl, was always beside me. I sat alone. I remember filling out a budget pledge card that asked if my pledge was for me or for the entire family. I sadly realized I could check both boxes.
I am learning much through the process of reinventing myself. I continue to be amazed at God's gracious hands in the toughest of times - ... of His...
Let me share some reflections for those of us who are rebuilding our lives after the death of a long spousal relationship...
I once was telling the story of my marriage to a group of university students. I reflected on Caryl's last two years of protracted illness and her death. When I finished, one young woman quietly asked me, "Is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?"
I teared up a little, then firmly answered, "Absolutely."
Virgil Fry is executive director of Lifeline Chaplaincy and its companion arm, Compassionate Touch. Lifeline Chaplaincy has programs in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Central Texas. Fry has been executive director of the 32-year-old program since 1985. His wife, Caryl, died in 2007. To access articles of Lifeline Chaplaincy, go to www. lifelinechaplaincy.org.