Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer

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Thanksgiving: A Heart Healing

 Here’s a subject on which I have been taught some of life’s toughest lessons. It equates to a graduate school certificate of dependence upon God. I first wrote it years ago and revise it again today for folks who have or are faced with great loss and found solace in their faith. The words are from the deep well of personal conviction (and love) how that depending upon God can make all the difference in a grief situation.

I thought about this when standing to warble a tune or two at Jean Crowther Biddles’ recent homegoing celebration, and I know God is already healing her family.

In my 31-year pastorate amongst you I have buried (beyond ministerial duties) over 18 members of my family, and/or persons considered close friends. At each funeral God, through Christ, has given me a wonderful ability to weave that loved one into the fabric of what’s left of my life. It has provided a rich canvas upon which I view each new day.

My dad had hoped for a long retirement and a graceful aging working in his azaleas, and Grandma Rosie’s rose bushes and boxwoods. They thought to work away in their gardens until they simply worked their way off this earth. His health failed relatively early. For me, that was the saddest part of losing him. Visits to Doctors Tingle One and Two increased regularly. Eventually we were seeking medical advice from offshore physicians. First this diagnosis and then that.

Dad had always said that he did not want to languish in a nursing home. Yet, when it became apparent to him that he was becoming a physical burden on his bride, he asked to be removed from home. A desperate visit to the Pierce-Tingle Clinic and we were on our way to Rappahannock General Hospital. Our arrival resulted in a consultation and dad being sent to MCV. A few short weeks later he died back home in his bed overlooking the Corrotoman River.

During dad’s illness my first wife (previously visited with two non-related cancers) was diagnosed as terminal. She went arduously through each recommended therapy, each surgery. One of her goals was to help dad make his exit. That she did.

Dad’s wife (Rosena), Linda and I held his hand as he died. It was the most complete feeling I had ever experienced. It is hard to explain, but I felt so at ease, so relieved. His suffering was over. Within hours my grief gave way. Warm memories of happier times wrapped around me. The community sharing of his Irvington memorial service buoyed all of us. It provided inventory and gave our family a good sense of closure. Dad exists in my heart in a place far more secure than any earthly garden.

Rapidly my first wife’s health declined. Several surgeries, and round after round of chemo got us to a family reunion in west Tennessee. God gave her time to organize things and arrange her funeral (down to the last detail, even her own obituary). My heart ached to make her pain abate. Not to be. Prayer, from within and without, made life bearable. Cards, flowers, visits, calls and hugs were better medicine than the chemo. Linda’s nurse training allowed her to take charge of her medical malady.

Much of my prayer life was selfish. I eagerly prayed to be relieved of the burden of watching her departure. I even prayed to die first, or at least at the same time.

It is said that confession is good for the soul. Months before Linda’s death, I began to pray about my life after hers ended. Each time I prayed that prayer, I felt a cleansing, a healing. Prayer strengthened me. I feared being left alone. God answered day and night, not to fear, He would take care of me. It allowed me to press on, to accomplish what was ahead. At 2:20 on a fall Sunday morning she left this earth.

When Linda passed we were holding hands, praying and singing. I straightened up the house; called Currie Funeral Home. Several cups of coffee later I showered and dressed for church. It is what I do, who I am, whom Linda loved. Her death was a blessed end to suffering. Again, church and community held the preacher’s hand tight. Pastor Craig Smith travelled south with us to lead in worship. We buried her on our 24th wedding anniversary in a family plot beside her parents in Trenton, Tennessee.

A healing came from God. He gave me permission and then suggestions as to who would partner me, further down the road.

God put Hazel Shelton in my path. In time, I took her hand in marriage as a happy new lover, and a grateful Christian. God healed me, and rewarded me (poor Hazel). A teenage Fork Union Cadet named Rob Pittman walked his mom down the aisle. Son Lee Farmer stood where he previously sang at both his mom’s and grandad’s service. His strength, God given talent, and faith so blessed Hazel and I, and the entire congregation.

Not everyone will experience grief and healing the way I have. God’s not in the cookie cutter mode. What I realize is this: No matter how deep the well into which we’ve fallen, God will extract us. It is our total dependence upon Him which makes our healing possible. God can, and does heal broken hearts when we let Him. He does so by individual prescription, in a way that is appropriate to our remainder.

Be thankful.