By Karen Brode
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
All the attendees had filed into the small church building and the back doors were shut against the cold blustery wind and the spitting snow that was already visible on car windshields.
Winnie took her handkerchief out of her purse and blew her nose. She had never cried as much in her life, and it was for herself as much as her poor dead mother. These last few months had been so hard, and watching her mother die was maybe the hardest thing Winnie had ever done. Her father, John Hawk, sat stiffly beside her seeming to be removed from it all. He had a surprised look on his face as if each moment that ticked by he suddenly remembered what had happened, and the shock of realizing it again and again was too much.
Winnie was well-acquainted with death and dying. She was with what was left of her family around her. She cried about next week when it would be Christmas and about next summer when she might have taken some trips. She glanced at her father who seemed to have visibly shrunk since they entered the church. There would be no one to watch after him now. Just Winnie.
John heard Winnie crying but he just needed to be inside himself just then. He felt that he had given more than there was to give to Effie during her last days. He felt depleted, used up, empty.
Albert and his family sat by Winnie on the front row, and Travis sat at the very end of the row by himself. Jane had stayed home with the baby. It was such a cold blustery day, and the baby was only a little over a month old. Another tear ran down Winnie’s face as she thought of her mother picking up Travis’s baby and holding her.
Travis looked as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders as he sat with his head bowed. He was only 29 years old, but suddenly he looked like an old man. Winnie watched him and wished he was sitting by her. Someone should be sitting by her, someone who would understand what she was feeling, the great void inside her growing larger with each minute. She turned slowly around inside herself to see how far the empty spaces stretched.
Albert had his arm around Hazel who was crying a lot. Albert wasn’t crying. Albert’s oldest boy, Kenneth who was thirteen sat by his mother and tears were running down his little face. Winnie searched in her purse and handed Kenneth a tissue.
Kenneth was his grandmother’s favorite and everyone knew it. He was the only grandchild for so long. Albert’s second son, John, was so aloof. Even as a baby, he had not wanted to be held. What was wrong with a baby who didn’t want to be held? Winnie had tried to treat John the same as Kenneth, but it was just easier to love Kenneth.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
The men came down the aisle to open the casket and arrange the inner lining to look comfortable around Effie. Winnie had picked out her navy blue floral dress with tiny lace around the neckline. It had been too big, but it looked okay in the casket. Effie wore her round eyeglasses and had her hands folded on her Bible. She truly did look asleep. She looked as if she had fallen asleep while reading her Bible.
People went down to the front to pay their last respects to Effie. Winnie looked out at the gray December day, and felt so alone. It was December 17th, one week until Christmas Eve. So many of her family had died right before Christmas. Winnie felt fresh tears start as she thought of her mother during past Christmases, steaming up the kitchen and baking all day, getting ready for the relatives that would come for the holidays. Of course, these last few years, Effie had sat in a chair and directed Winnie on how long to stir the divinity. It had to be at just the right temperature or it would pour onto the wax paper like sorghum syrup; or it would harden in the pan and no one could eat it.
Sometimes, when Effie was out of sorts, she told Winnie to just throw out the divinity and they had to start over. Winnie took the divinity out to the back porch and put it in a paper sack so that she could eat it later. It didn’t look good, but it still tasted good. Sometimes Winnie sat out there by herself and licked the divinity off her fingers. It was cold, but she could be alone for a little while. She wished she could’ve had a life of her own, a life outside that house, a life.
Fresh tears streamed down Winnie’s face as she thought of him. He had wanted to marry her, had even rented a little house and bought her a ring, but Effie screamed NO, Winnie could not get married! She might as well take a gun out and shoot Effie in the head if she got married. Then Effie’s chest would begin to hurt and Winnie would have to help her mother get into bed. Now Winnie was 41 years old, too old to have children, too old to really interest anyone. Winnie thought with bitterness that she might as well be lying in that casket with her mother.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
It was time for the family to say goodbye before they closed the casket forever. Winnie gathered all her strength and held onto her father as they walked together to the casket to have one last lingering look. Travis worked his way around so that he was on the other side of Winnie sort of steadying her. Albert and Hazel and their boys stood farther away. Hazel looked distraught that her boys would no longer have their beloved grandmother.
Albert didn’t want to look at his mother in the casket. Why was it that he was the only one who could see through her? He was the only one who called her bluff. He wasn’t proud of this, but once she had threatened to have a heart attack if he moved to Durant to go to school. He told her to go ahead if that’s what she needed to do. Winnie and Travis would’ve simpered around her and held her hand and told her everything would be fine.
Albert tried to remember something funny, something happy, something positive about her. He didn’t want his last memory of her to be this lump of flesh lying in a box. Then he remembered when he had been a young boy, he had gotten in trouble at school. His mother was determined to punish him, but he had made her laugh. She sat down on the floor and grabbed him to her and together they had laughed and laughed. It happened a long time ago, but it was a good memory, and Albert felt better when he thought of it.
Back at the house after the two hours of below-freezing temperatures in the open tent, Winnie lit the oven and listened as people began to congregate in the living room. Several of the church women stuck their heads around the door and asked if Winnie needed any help.
“No. I’ve got things under control here, but thank you so much for asking,” she said. Then she stood at the stove and stirred gravy, getting lost in her thoughts of him. She couldn’t have him. He was someone else’s husband now. Did he still sometimes look out the window of his house and think of her and what it might have been like if they could’ve been together and shared their lives? Did he even think of her? She would never know, and suddenly this was the saddest moment of her life.
She sat down at the kitchen table, laid her head on her arms, and cried deep soul-wracking tears. The church women went in and finished the meal preparation while several of them sat at the table with Winnie to try to soothe her in her sorrow.
“She’s in a better place, Winnie,” one woman said. “You know how she suffered those last few weeks. She wouldn’t have wanted that, and she wouldn’t want you to be so broken up over her death!”
Winnie stared at the poor stupid woman and broke into tears again as she laid her head on her arms. Her whole body shook in sadness and regret as the women cooed to her and rubbed her back.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.