Jerry stood in his dining room surrounded by his children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His step-daughters had worked for two days to create a memorable day. The dinner was beautiful and delicious. The great-grandchildren were happy and playful.
There were at least twenty-five people in the house, but Jerry felt alone. He had buried his wife last week. Both widowed when they found each other late in life, they had married and enjoyed ten wonderful years together. Each understood the pain of the other for the loss of their first mate. Neither were threatened by that grief. Instead they shared stories of their first love and celebrated the memories together. Age had taught them that love changes as the seasons of life progress. They had experienced young love with their first mate and would always feel the loss. The love they had for each other was mature bonding.
Jerry remembered the holidays after burying his first wife. The pain was unbearable. His children had been young adults at the time and they did their best to cheer him. He had muddled through the season and reminded himself to smile. He certainly didn't feel the smile, but he faked it for the sake of his children who were so worried about him.
Today the pain was different. His children and stepchildren didn't seem to be so worried about him. His children acted like he had been through this before and should know what to expect. His stepchildren were focused on their own grief at the loss of their beloved mother. They had elected to have Thanksgiving in their mother's home to honor her. Jerry wasn't sure this had been in his best interest. Part of him wanted to be somewhere else and another part of him wanted to be alone in this house to grieve for his wife.
This is different than when Juanita died, Jerry thought. What is wrong with me? I've done this before. I know what to expect. The grief will lessen with each new day. Something is definitely wrong with me. He considered going to the doctor for a complete check-up. He had taken care of Mary for so long and neglected his own health in the process. It was possible that he was sick.
"Pappy. Pappy." He heard one of his great-grandchildren calling him.
"What do you need, Pumpkin?" Jerry asked.
"I want to ask the bwessing today." Three year old Caleb told him.
"Alright, as soon as everyone gets quiet, we will let you ask the blessing."
"E'r'body be quiet. It's time for the bwessing." Caleb tried to get everyone's attention, but his little voice just couldn't be heard over the noise.
Jerry watched him try a few more times and then, using his coach's voice from earlier days, quickly quieted the rowdy bunch. "Caleb wants to ask the blessing today. Let's gather around the table and bow our heads as he prays."
"Dear Desus, tank you for our food today. Please take care of my Mammy today. She came to see you the udder day and she don't have no little children to sit on her lap like we did when she was here. Give her a kiss for me and tell her we miss her. And dear Desus, please tell me mama I don't have to eat the squash today. Amen."
Jerry felt like crying through most of Caleb's prayer, but the last sentence brought bouts of laughter from the whole family.
After the enormous dinner, the daughters and daughter-in-laws cleaned the kitchen while the men watched a football game on television. The children played outside in the cool weather, careful not to run over Mammy's fall flowers.
By 7:00 p.m. the house was empty and Jerry was alone. He sat in his recliner as was his habit in the evenings. There was nothing on television and he wasn't interested in reading. What is wrong? Jerry wondered as he looked over at Mary's chair. The tears started flowing and were still flowing at 10:00 when he went into the bedroom. He prepared the bed the way Mary liked it, but could not bring himself to lie down. He was back in his recline by 10:15. It was going to be a 'recliner night'.
Jerry flipped the television over to the Weather Channel and turned the volume down low. Sometimes the low, constant noise helped him sleep in his recliner. Lately he seemed to sleep about thirty minutes at a time. He could go back to sleep after a few minutes, but he never slept longer than thirty minutes. Why is that? I used to sleep all night.
The third time Jerry woke that night, he began to pray. "Lord what is wrong with me. I didn't do this when I lost Juanita. Why am I doing this now?" He sat quietly and waited for God to settle his heart. Suddenly he knew the difference in the pain he was experiencing. When Juanita died, sheer grief had filled his heart. This time the grief was coupled with fear. At his age, he was facing his own mortality. He knew he was ready to meet the Lord. He had been ready since the age of nine. It wasn't death that scared him. It was dying and the fear of dying alone. He had been by Juanita and Mary's side when the Lord called them home. He had held their hand and made sure they were comfortable in their last minutes on earth. Who would be by his side? Who would hold his hand? He fell asleep again and woke feeling no more at peace than he had earlier.
At daylight, he phoned his oldest son. "We need to talk."
"I'm just not doing well. I can't sleep and I really don't want to stay here alone."
"Do you want to come live with us?"
"No. That puts strain on everyone in the family. I want to find an assisted living facility that can take care of me and I can be around people my own age."
"Okay, I'll make some appointments for you to visit some facilities. I'll go with you to see them and we will make the decision together."
Jerry hung up the phone feeling at ease for the first time since Mary had died. He slept better that night, knowing that his son would pray about this decision and the Lord would lead them. He rested in the Lord.