My summer started with a long-awaited lunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends.
We wanted to get together ever since my mother died in March but, because I work at the local high school, we decided to wait until school was out so we could both relax and enjoy the day.
Work ended for me at the end of June on a Thursday. The following Tuesday found Marylou and I in a favorite restaurant chatting away.
Her mother passed away one year before my mother died. We were two grieving daughters who could not wait to meet face to face and talk about what we were both experiencing.
Because our friendship began when we were only two years old, we were like sisters and our conversation was just what each of us needed. I can’t describe the relief I felt to be sitting across the table from her.
We talked about our mothers, our sweet dads, and the new responsibilities taken on when our moms died. There was a good deal of reminiscing, laughing, venting and more than a few tears. We were famous for our marathon lunches and this one lasted until the waiters were lighting the candles for dinner!
At the end of our time together, we talked about our faith and particularly about heaven. We told each other our moms are not floating on clouds with wings and playing harps! Instead, we affirmed that they are healthy and whole, living their real lives in their real home and that one day we would see them again. It was such a sweet conversation.
We said our goodbyes and ‘I love yous’ that afternoon, not having any idea that ‘one day’ would come very soon for Marylou.
It was only three weeks later that we lost her. There was a very brief illness and then she was gone. What little color that had come back into my life after the death of my mom disappeared in an instant. I have been struggling to keep my head above the waves of grief ever since.
On our way to the hospital after receiving the call from her family, I kept saying to Pat, “It’s too much, it’s too much!” I was inconsolable.
The truth is, it really is too much for me – but it isn’t too much for Jesus.
Just as He did when I lost my mom, He has never left me, never stopped reminding me of His presence and, sad as I am, I have never lost hope.
How many lifelong best friends can say that their last conversation together contained a profession of faith, full of the hope of heaven — ending with the words “I love you”?
I was given an amazing gift that day and I didn’t even know it.
My friend Denise mentioned to me that, when someone close to you dies, you not only lose the person – you lose the relationship. That really spoke to me. A friendship built over 55 years is irreplaceable. The confidences, the silly stories, the history, the unconditional love, the ‘being known’ by someone who goes so far back with you simply cannot be replaced.
But yet, it isn’t all gone.
Our loved ones leave a legacy. Some can change the trajectory of a family and the lives around them. They leave a positive imprint long after they have gone and it can reach to future generations.
How we handle ourselves while we are here really does matter.
I’d like to share Marylou’s ‘imprint’ with all of you. The telling will help me heal and I hope it will be helpful to you too.
When I think of her, my very first thoughts go to the Fruit of the Spirit. You probably know that the nine fruits are the attributes that we, hopefully, display as we grow closer to God and as the Holy Spirit matures us in our faith.
Here is what the Scripture says in Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Our dear Marylou displayed them all. Not perfectly, of course – there is no perfection in this life — but she displayed each one consistently and intentionally. I don’t know about you, but when I look at that list I cannot say the same about myself – but I can honestly say it about Marylou.
As I thought about the imprint she left with us, the fruit of ‘peace’ kept jumping out at me. When we think of peace we tend to think of serenity, tranquility or the absence of anxiety – but I discovered that the Greek word for peace (Eirene) in Galatians 5:22 actually means ‘peace with others’.
And that was Marylou.
We were in the ICU with her family for five days. As I watched them arrive from all over the country, I saw the relationships between all of them. There was so much love – love for Marylou, love for her husband Paul, and love for each other.
Marylou built strong relationships not only with Paul, but with each of her sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren. She was devoted to her dad. Marylou never met a stranger and she stayed in touch with friends both old and new.
She treasured people and loved unconditionally. While I witnessed all this going on, I whispered to my husband, “There is so much fruit here – I can see her legacy in all of these relationships. Amazing.”
You see, Marylou was a peace-maker.
This was on my mind over all the days she was in the hospital. I kept thinking about the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9
Marylou was a peace-maker. She was not a peace ‘keeper’, which implies peace at all costs and co-dependency, but a true peace-maker.
She was a bridge builder, a reconciler, and an extreme forgiver.
She desired peace with others – and she wanted us to have it, too.
I cannot tell you how many times over the years Marylou spoke truth to me as only a close and trusted friend can do. If I was at odds with someone, she reminded me of a few things I needed to remember and then told me ‘to get over it’. She always encouraged me to make the first move, forgive first and then move on.
I loved that about her. I am going to miss her voice in my life, but thankfully Marylou’s legacy and imprint lives on.
So…What about you? What about me? What kind of an imprint will we leave behind?
Will it be one of peace with others or will we be known for throwing everyone and everything around us into a tizzy?
Will we be remembered for tossing gasoline on the fire or will our legacy be to make the first move – forgiving and moving on?
How we handle ourselves while we are here really does matter.
As for me, I want to be a bridge builder, a reconciler, and an extreme forgiver.
I want to be a peace-maker — just like our dear Marylou.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
My dearest friend, Marylou Forcey Jones
PS. I never set out to write so much about grief and loss, but here I am. I’m sharing what the Lord is teaching me along the way. If you or someone you care for is grieving a loss, you may be interested a few posts I wrote last Spring: