Consumed by my loss, I didn’t notice the hardness of the pew where I sat. I was at the funeral of my dearest friend – my Mother. She finally had lost her long battle with cancer. The hurt was so intense; I found it hard to breathe at times.
Always supportive, Mother clapped loudest at my football matches, held a box of tissues while listening to my first heartbreak, supported me at my father’s death, encouraged me in college, and prayed for me my entire life.
When Mother’s illness was diagnosed, my sister had a new baby and my brother had recently married his childhood sweetheart, so it fell on me, the 27-year-old middle child without entanglements, to take care of her. I counted it an honor.
“What now, Lord?” I asked sitting in church. My life stretched out before me as an empty abyss. My brother sat stoically with his face toward the cross while clutching his wife’s hand. My sister sat slumped against her husband’s shoulder, his arms around her as she cradled their child.
All so deeply grieving, no one noticed I sat alone. My place had been with our mother, preparing her meals, helping her walk, taking her to the doctor, seeing to her medication, reading the Bible together. Now she was with the Lord. My work was finished, and I was alone.
I heard a door open and slam shut at the back of the church. Quick footsteps hurried along the carpeted floor. An exasperated young woman looked around briefly and then sat next to me. She folded her hands and placed them on her lap. Her eyes were brimming with tears. Then she began to sniffle. “I’m late,” she explained, though no explanation was necessary.
After several eulogies, she leaned over and commented, “Why do they keep calling Mary by the name of ‘Margaret’?
“Because that was her name, Margaret. Never Mary. No one called her ‘Mary'”, I whispered. I wondered why this person couldn’t have sat on the other side of the church. she interrupted my grieving with her tears.
“No”, she insisted, as several people glanced over at us whispering, “Her name is Mary, Mary Peters.”
“That isn’t who this is, I replied..”
“Isn’t this the Lutheran church?”
“No, the Lutheran church is across the street.”
“I believe you’re at the wrong funeral, Miss.”
The solemnity of the occasion mixed with the realization of the girl’s mistake bubbled up inside me and came out as laughter. I cupped my hands over my face, hoping it would be interpreted as sobs. The creaking pew gave me away. Sharp looks from other mourners only made the situation seem more hilarious.
I peeked at the bewildered, misguided girl seated beside me. She was laughing too as she glanced around, deciding it was too late for an uneventful exit.
I imagined my Mother laughing.
At the final “Amen,” we darted out a door and into the parking lot. “I do believe we’ll be the talk of the town,” she smiled. She said her name was Rita and since she had missed her aunt’s funeral, asked me out for a cup of coffee.
That afternoon began a lifelong journey for me with this woman who attended the wrong funeral but was in the right place. A year after our meeting, we were married at the country church, where her father was the pastor. This time we both arrived at the same church, right on time.
In the time of deepest sorrow, God gave me laughter.
In place of loneliness, God gave me love.
This June we celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary.
Whenever anyone asks us how we met, Rita tells them, “His mother and my Aunt Mary introduced us, and it’s truly a match made in heaven.”
Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, “I will be ashamed of you before my Father.”