“19 years on the 19th”. That phrase has been echoing in my mind for the past several weeks as yet another anniversary of my husband’s sudden death approached. Shortly after lunch 19 years ago today I told Ray goodbye for the last time . . .
In 1997 the 19th fell on a Saturday. It was a beautiful, warm day, much like today. Life was proceeding normally – Ray left for his job at The Home Depot, I and my young daughters (ages 10 and 7 at the time) went shopping for summer attire. Mary, Jessie and I returned home around 7pm. We weren’t in the house 10 minutes when the phone rang. Chris, a patient care specialist from Kennestone Hospital was calling to tell me Ray had been brought to the emergency room from work and I needed to get there as soon as possible. No other details. It wasn’t until we were in a private room at the hospital that I got the devastating, life-changing news.
After a few questions about Ray’s health, Chris said a doctor would be in to talk to me. I pleaded, “Can’t you at least tell me if he’s alive?” For a moment she just looked at me. I asked more urgently, “Is he alive?” And then came the awful reply, “No, honey, he isn’t.” That scene, her words and the gasp of disbelief that simultaneously escaped me and my little girls will be forever etched in my mind.
But oh how God has comforted, upheld and sustained us across all the years since that fateful night. Over and over again He’s proved himself as a protector of this widow and a Father to my fatherless girls. 
Our pastor recently began a sermon series on Philippians. The past two weeks he’s reminded us that Biblically-based joy is not dependent on circumstances. It’s grounded in the assurances of God regarding the past, present and future found in His Word. Our faith won’t exempt us from hardship. Believers will face trials and troubles of various kinds. Jesus told us as much, but He didn’t stop there. He encouraged us to take heart because He’s overcome the world. 
We know the end of the story. Even now He’s preparing a place for us. So we grieve, but not as those who have no hope.  There will be times when we’re hurt and disappointed, times when we may cry out, “Why, Lord?”, but we won’t be alone for He’s promised to never leave us. In our humanity we’ll experience a full range of emotions associated with the events of our lives – Jesus, fully man, wept over Lazarus’ death even though being fully God, He knew He’d raise him – yet the Truth will allow us to not be controlled by our feelings.
Soon after hearing Chris’s answer, it was as if a giant door slammed shut in my mind. Looking back, I realize I couldn’t have taken in the enormity of it all at one time without crumbling. Instead, the Lord provided a protective, albeit primarily subconscious, bubble of denial and disbelief. It allowed the reality of Ray’s death to drip into my soul bit by bit over weeks and months as I was ready to accept it. In the days immediately after, I was in a state of shock, yet the Lord enabled me to make difficult decisions regarding the visitation, service and Ray’s final resting place. Most amazing, He gave me the strength to speak for a few minutes at the end of his funeral. I’ll close this post with the sentiments I expressed when concluding my remarks that day.
None of us knows when the last goodbye will be said. Keep current in your relationships. Tell your family you love them. Thank your friends. Hug people who are dear to you. Let them know you care. And let us leave today rejoicing because we know Ray is in the presence of God. I believe he’s planting flowers right now and I look forward to joining him in God’s garden one day.
 Psalm 68:5
 John 16:33
 John 14:2-3
 1 Thessalonians 4:13
 Deuteronomy 31:6, 8