The frost wrapped itself around a few scattered leaves and twigs. The rising sun found the frost and a burst of color covered the ground, like a forest of wild flowers everywhere. It was a cold November morning. I had awakened early, dressed, and walked out in the back yard. As I stood under a large oak tree, I became aware of a stillness that filled space, a stillness that spoke. This is a sacred place! A refuge for my soul, a place where healing moves throughout my being. It became my sanctuary, always a source of strength.
Often I knelt at the foot of the tree. One morning I opened my eyes to tiny blades of grass that had pushed up only moments ago. Everything looked brighter, smelled sweeter. It was March. Spring has arrived. Joy broke loosely through my mind and heart.
A few weeks later my husband Bob was diagnosed with cancer, metastasized throughout his bones. That explained the recent pain in his back.
For the next four years Bob taught me how to let God’s love and joy have their way in our lives. These years became the most precious in our fifty-nine years together.
There was an aura of safety that surrounded Bob. He would sit in our yard watching and listening to whatever might be present. Rabbits would come out of nowhere and hop at his feet. Squirrels that scampered away from everyone else perched next to Bob and gently ate out of his hand. He would talk to them; they would cock their tiny heads to assure him they were listening. He listened back. He looked lovingly into their darting eyes and truly seemed to connect with these tiny creatures. Neighboring dogs stopped by to visit. One old gray cat with white spots discovered Bob and often came for conversation and petting.
Bob kept a small area of grass for his nature spot during the summer afternoons. Sometimes the temperature soared into the nineties. The heat seemed to soothe Bob’s bones. I often joined him. He taught me to watch for the breeze rather than feel the heat. I felt hope as we looked for movement of the leaves. I began to understand his need for the energy he received not only from his little squirrels but also from the grass, the plants and the trees. God spoke to Bob through huge trees in our yard in ways I could not understand.
I learned to watch the birds through Bob’s eyes. He had always loved birds and welcomed them for years with various elaborate feeders. After he became ill, he sat by the window for hours silently awaiting the cardinals’ arrival. The male always came first, followed by the female. She landed close enough to be sure no other bird could come between them. There seemed to be a sense of pride in their belonging to each other. The red wing fluttered the least bit, as his beak carefully chose a sunflower seed, the cardinal’s favorite, Bob told me.
During the morning several birds came, hoping to be the first to the feeder. Bob watched. He listened to their songs. If Mr. Blue Jay chose to feed while the other birds were still feeding, his wings spread out as if to say, “Make room!”
I often reached for one of our bird books to read the description of the bird we were watching. I noticed Bob was still watching the bird. He experienced the magic of the moment, while I was explaining to him what he was seeing.
Bob taught me to sit quietly and watch the morning light on the wing. Watch for the blink of their eyes. Watch how they listen. He listened until he could hear what the birds were hearing. He came to know when there was a cold wind coming from the north long before it was felt. Bob let the birds teach him.
One day I went outside to join Bob down near the lagoon. As I walked toward him, I noticed he was standing still with his hands cupped. I moved a little closer and could see he was holding something in his hands. A baby bird had fallen from a towering oak tree and he had caught it, he said. It actually landed in his hands. I stood waiting for Bob to move. Then there was a flutter, a soft breeze stirred, and the baby bird took flight. He waited. I watched. “All birds do not fly from the nest,” he reminded me.
Bob and I were sitting in the living room with our friend Gayle who had stopped by for a visit. A moment later our mouths fell open. What happened? Something hit the wall with a bang! Bent over and walking with great difficulty, Bob went outside to find a tiny bird on the ground. He picked it up and held it in his hands. His tenderness brought tears to our eyes. The scene was more than watching a dying man holding a dying bird; it was a dying man honoring the bird.
Bob found a protected place in the yard where he could
tenderly lay the bird to rest.
Every day I learned more about God and how God shines through nature and through Bob. Once I noticed him sitting on the porch steps with both hands open, as though he was issuing an invitation. I stopped and watched from the window. He was trying to offer a chestnut colored baby squirrel an acorn, and was beckoning the animal to come closer. I couldn’t hear him, but could feel his words. With caution, the squirrel came to him, brushed his nose across his hand, and looked up. The squirrel then scurried from Bob to bury the treasure he had just received.
One morning our daughter, Diane, and I were with Bob. As always, his mind was clear; however, he was sleeping more and talking less, which made us wonder if he was near to making the transition. Diane wanted to spend the night with me. I told her I wanted to be alone with Bob. I promised I would call when there was any change in his breathing. About 5:30 the next morning he began to breathe with some difficulty. I called Diane. She was with us in ten minutes. She sat on one side of Bob’s bed, and I sat on the other side. We held his hands and rubbed his arms. I said, “You’re doing great.” Diane reminded him that he was almost there and offered other encouraging phrases. I told him that the bridge we had built was finished, and he could walk over when he was ready. He smiled.
As his breathing became more difficult, Diane and I continued to rub his arms and whisper to him how well he was doing. At 6:30 he called us by name, lifted his eyes, took a soft breath and ascended. His passing was so gentle and loving it was as though he was carried away on angel wings. Diane and I shared a sacred moment in the Presence of the Holy Spirit.
Quietly I walked to the oak tree and knelt on the green moss. A squirrel scurried by. I gave thanks and turned to meet the day.
Louise and her husband, Bob, began Virginia Beach Friends Meeting in their home many years ago. Their two children grew up in the meeting. Bob passed away a few years ago. Louise continues to be an active member of her meeting, and she states — with great pride — she will be 92 on her next birthday.