It all started on a Wednesday. A few people from my church and I were at a community center—playing games, spending time with kids, telling them about Jesus. One of the women in our group had spent the entire morning telling little kids to trust in God, even when life is scary. As a mother of three kids, she was in her element.
A few hours into the day, she left with her kids to go see her husband, who had gone home from work sick that day. We stayed behind to hang out with the kids at the community center for a bit longer. A few minutes later, she texted: “He called 911. I’m on my way to him now.”
We wondered if she was exaggerating or if he had literally called 911.
A little bit later, we left the community center, and I went to the grocery store to pick up something for lunch. While I was there, she texted again: “Pray. He’s not breathing.” I didn’t know what to think about that. I wandered aimlessly through the store, my appetite gone. I called my wife, letting her know what was going on.
I eventually picked a meal from the frozen aisle and made my way back to my office after also picking up some iced coffee. Our youth group was supposed to go to a baseball game that evening three hours away.
And then, ten minutes later: “Meet me at the hospital. It’s bad.”
I left my lunch and drove back to the community center to let our pastor know what was going on, and then I booked it for the hospital. I had not been to the Emergency Room at this hospital before. I drove around, trying to find a parking spot and looking for a familiar car. I found a spot and rushed toward the ER. The automatic sliding doors let in heat from the Texas sun. Sitting in the ER were a few people from my church, praying.
There was a Women’s World Cup game on the TV. The clock ever ticking upwards as soccer time does. It counted the minutes forward from the moment this whole ordeal began. That a game in France was happening seemed disrespectful. Our world had stopped, why did the whole world not stop with us? Instead, the clock kept ticking upward, a second at a time.
It was agony waiting at the hospital for the ambulance to arrive—they lived about a half hour south of town. The hospital even got the helicopter ready in case they had to fly him to a bigger hospital. We were supposed to leave for the baseball game in a matter of minutes. My brain was not working properly. “We shouldn’t go tonight, right?” I asked, already clad in my baseball hat for that evening’s game. “No, we need to cancel.” I sent out text messages to our students, simply saying there was a medical emergency with a church member and that we would be unable to attend the game.
We continued watching, pacing back and forth in the waiting room like caged animals. There were three of us there at first, but soon more gathered, having heard of what was going on. We spoke as little as possible. The only words were whispered silently, as though a loud voice would shatter the world.
When the ambulance finally arrived, the paramedics were not rushing. They moved slowly and deliberately. That was not a good sign. We moved from the chilly air of the waiting room to try and catch a glimpse, maybe a thumbs up, that he was alright. They were still giving him chest compressions. In the bright sunshine, shadows. In the heat, ice and cold. But still we hoped and prayed and waited for the miracle that would never come.
When his wife arrived, she did not want to come inside. She cautiously approached the building, her whole countenance screaming disbelief. She paced like an agitated lioness. They left the kids behind with a friend. They had no idea what was going on.
I put my arm around her shoulders and I walked her into the building where she found out her husband was gone. I ushered her toward the bad news.
Inside, she went into a smaller room, a room set aside for immediate family. She and her closest friends, along with the pastor, waited there. The rest of us waited outside, waiting as the soccer game clock continued to tick upward, a second at a time. Whenever the double door to the ER opened, we looked up expectantly.
The first we heard is that he had not breathed since back at the house. It had been an hour. But still we hoped for a miracle. God can raise the dead after all.
Then, “He’s gone.” It was official. A forty-year-old man with three children had passed away.
The cold air blowing on us had no reason to do with the fact that we were all sitting there, numb. We wanted to do something, anything to fix this. All we could do was silently keep watch over the waiting room and call friends and let them know the news.
When she came out into the waiting room, we hugged. I maybe murmured “I am so sorry,” but I honestly do not remember. The memory is distant, as though viewed through the wrong end of a telescope.
“There is no moving on from this, but we will move forward.”
These words have stuck with me for the past two months after she uttered them at the funeral. She was strong. Somehow she held herself together just feet away from his body.
How do you move forward when the memory of the waiting room has left scars? How do you move forward when you ushered her toward the bad news? And how do you move forward when you have lost your husband and the father of three kids at the age of forty?
There was a traffic jam going out to the burial. It seemed like the whole county was driving to the graveyard. Other cars stopped and some drivers even stepped out of their cars and stood vigil over our dark parade. This time it felt like the world did stop for us, as if this funeral and our grief were important.
Our tears sprinkled on the grass at the cemetery, providing life-giving moisture. Prayers and hymns swirled together in the air around the tombstones. Standing beneath the summer Texas sun, sweat and tears mingled. Sorrow and love flowed down.
We laid him to rest and got back in our cars and we moved forward from that place. We left behind pieces of ourselves, there in that valley of the shadow of death. We moved forward in faith, knowing—or maybe hoping—that we could trust in God, even when life is scary.
Cover photo by Mayron Oliveira.