The Dark Goodbye

My husband’s mother, Margaret, had died. Now I was driving my husband — her youngest son — through the early morning darkness to the airport, 95 miles away. The two-lane road winds deep through piney woods, it feels like we are driving through a tunnel of grief in a dark starless night.

A handful of lights open up the tiny blink-and-miss towns we pass through. Otherwise, I am grateful for the mostly empty roads. My eyes burn from sleepless hours, deep deadlines, and salty tears.

Her Love Shined Brightly

Margaret was the oldest of six kids and was born in Ijuhy, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where her father was a missionary. She lived her first eleven years there, attending mission school and church, learning German, Portuguese, and English, tending to younger siblings, learning to cook.

Later, she married, had children, kept a tidy, simple house. When my husband was five, she became his kindergarten teacher,  realizing her dream to became a parochial school teacher.  She was born to teach little ones about Jesus — as she did for the next  35 years. We saw her love shine brightly as she gently shared Bible stories with the children we served in rural Mississippi.

Her last years were tough. Some falls and broken bones. Heart trouble. A horrible bout with shingles. She went blind in one eye and was nearly deaf. She was too weak to walk.

The dark tunnel of grief was no stranger to my sweet mother-in-law. Decades earlier, before daybreak on June 6, 1952, she got a phone call that forced her into a grief so deep and terrible she never completely escaped. Her parents, sister, and youngest brother were returning home from high school graduation in St. Paul. They were driving back roads of rural Minnesota in the dead dark starless night — to Long Prairie where her father was pastor. At midnight, they crossed a railroad track. They never saw the train. They were all killed instantly.

Margaret lost half her family that night. But she was the oldest, and she had work to do. Her two younger brothers were busy with college and married life. Her only remaining sister was in Papua New Guinea, a missionary’s wife. She had to plan a funeral for four in the church where her father had been pastor. Her grandmother had been living with her parents, and she had to find a place for her to live. Her sister’s youngest, two-year-old Timmy, needed a mom, so she took him in to raise with her children. She had to clear out the house — all from 275 miles away in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Keeping busy kept her sane. But grief didn’t stop. A few years later, Timmy — now back with his father — died of a brain tumor.

The Sky Lightens

My mother-in-law had told me the only way she survived the phone call that terrible morning was looking out the window. At that moment, the sun was rising in its glorious colors of red, pink, orange. God still rules, she thought.

As we near the airport, the sky lightens to gray. Then the sun rises and  the sky before us blossoms in glorious colors.

 

Christine S. Weerts, a Lutheran, is based in Selma and works in Christian ministry. She is the author of Rosa Young (Hero of Faith).

 

Ddio’s Sunrise at Chi-Tou, Taiwan, is used under a Creative Commons license.

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