In Thanksgiving for the life of Garnett Adams
Based on Psalm 23 & Psalm 27:7-14
When I was first out of seminary, I worked with a pastor who had lost his wife to brain cancer. I remember him sharing that at some intellectual level he could understand that accidents happen, and that diseases happen, but he could not comprehend why God allow things like brain tumors or dementia or Alzheimer’s that remove our basic personhood from us. In a strange way this was a comfort to me: if a career pastor who was near to retiring did not have answers to these questions, I who was then just beginning my ministry would probably not have answers to them either. Twenty-some years later, I have no better understanding about these things.
When I met Garnett, dementia had already taken over her personality. When I would visit, Ben would talk – a lot. Garnett sat nearby and did not say much. There were a lot of reasons for that.
After Ben’s death, I listened to Garnett wail “Oh Ben, don’t leave me here. I don’t have any reason to stay. Ben, come take me to be with you.” These are not uncommon expressions for a new widow, nor are they uncommon words for someone with dementia. I heard Garnett use similar words when she was moved from her home into a care facility. More significant than the words were the tones: sorrow, heartbreak, loneliness, uncertainty, confusion. I heard all those tones in Garnett’s cry, and I heard something else.
Garnett deeply loved Ben – so deeply that her entire life was conceived around sharing life with Ben. My heart broke to see such a deep love ending, and yet my spirit was inspired to stretch for such loving devotion in my own life, with my own family and friends. (I do not expect reach the nearly seventy years of marriage that Ben and Garnett shared. I was married much later in life than they, so my wife and I would both need to reach our hundred-and-teens for that to happen.)
I cannot imagine what it means to share every day of seventy years together with someone: breakfast, sharing morning news, planning the day, checking in mid-day, reuniting in the evening, holding hands to pray. Seventy years – over 25,000 days together. “Don’t leave me here.” “You re my reason for remaining.”
If it is possible to encounter the presence of God through another person (and I believe it is possible) then it is most likely within healthy marriages, with the spouses with whom we choose to grow old, that we most closely experience God. Yes, we love our children, and we learn so much about love and how God must care for us through children, but it is our spouses whom we chose to continue loving that teach us about forgiveness and grace and hope and sincerely growing throughout our lifetimes.
Garnett’s cries, then – “Oh Ben, don’t leave me here. I don’t have any reason to stay. Ben, come take me to be with you.” – as much as they were about Garnett’s inability to imagine living without Ben were also about her desire to live with the most direct experience of God which had been part of her everyday life for those seventy years.
Garnett’s example of devotion is a testament of faith, for which we can give thanks as it leads us to affirm that ancient statement of faith:
We believe there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and we know that in everything God works for good with those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. We are sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. Amen.