My husband, as is his nature, did not stand long in line but wandered off to talk to groups of people scattered throughout the funeral home, sitting and resting as often as his physical condition needed. I stood my ground, holding our places in line and speaking to those around me, or those who wandered over from their own small groups. Certainly, there were those among these mourners who held hand kerchiefs to nose and eyes, but more who smiled and nodded, even laughing as memories were shared of this woman we had come to honor.
A satisfied life. The words kept running through my brain as I looked around the room. Standing next to his wife's coffin was her husband of 54 years, greeting the assembly with a hand-shake or a hug. Next to him were all six of his children and respective spouses, with grandchildren darting in and out of the line or finding hugs within the arms of cousins and friends. It was, for Joyce, the end of her earthly road. But it was hard to feel sadness amid so much life. A satisfied life, I thought again, recalling the words from Genesis 25: 8 I had read in my morning devotions: "Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life."
At 69, Joyce had not been exceptionally old in years. In the normal span of human life, she might well have enjoyed another 20 years on earth, if God had not suddenly called her home less than a week ago. Even now, I could well imagine her in Heaven with her dear friend Pat, looking down at all of us and smiling her gentle smile.
I did not know Joyce well. I knew her in the sense that one knows another church member who occasionally serves on the same committee or sits in a nearby pew. Her two youngest and my two oldest children were of similar ages, so we would see one another at school functions or community events. She had been a homemaker, while my husband's illnesses had forced me back into the job market. My school years were spent teaching children to read, and my summers pursuing graduate studies. I would smile at Joyce while I dropped my youngest son off at the nursery and into her capable hands. Even with a roomful of crying babies or active toddlers, her smile was always the same: calm and collected. Must come of having six children, I would think to myself.
Now, though, standing here waiting to pay my respects to her husband Ray and her children, I saw evidence of a life well lived. No, she and Ray were not rich. They had lived most of their lives in a small row house in Linwood.. Ray had, for a while, been sexton at the church. They had, both of them, scrubbed floors and painted walls and done whatever else was needed to take care of our church home.
I thought back again to the words for Genesis. Abraham died satisfied. Not perfect. We know from Biblical accounts that Abraham had sinned, that he had doubted God, that he had made poor decisions in life. And I was certain, that as a human being living in a sin-filled world, Joyce had moments that were less than perfect. But none of that mattered. What had mattered was her faith in God, her assurance of Heaven, and her love of her family. I had no doubt that, from her place in Heaven, she was satisfied.
It is always difficult to know what to say to the bereaved at such a time, so I prayed for words as my husband returned to join me and we came closer and closer to Ray. I noted the wedding portrait of the young couple they had been, 54 years ago, and the more recent photo of them with all six of their children flanking them. God gave me the words as Ray stretched out his hand to me. "You are a blessed man," I told him, "to have had such a wife."
He smiled and nodded. "I still am," he said. "I am still blessed." We spoke for a few short moments, conscious of others wanting to pay their respects as well. Then my husband and I moved onto the line of offspring, shaking hands and offering a remembrance of their mother. We greeted several more people on our way out the door; people who had known and loved Joyce were still coming in.
I walked across the dark parking lot to get the car and pick up Ron at the door, thinking of something else Ray had said. "My greatest gift in life," he had said, "was that this beautiful girl let me marry her." He was, indeed, a blessed man.
As had been all of us who knew her.
Joyce Stafford Tyson