Alone in the Pew
Last week, he came early. Dressed well as always, though perhaps bent a little farther than before, he took a bulletin and made his way to the pew he and his wife had occupied this past year when getting up to the altar became too hard. Walking further into the church didn't seem worth the effort when speakers let him hear the sermon and the priest would bring communion to them where they sat.
Sitting there, he was soon surrounded by people coming by to say hello and to inquire after his health. When the first chords of the prelude began, the small crowd dispersed to their various seats, leaving him alone in the pew once more.
At the Peace, our congregation likes to greet each other. Sometimes it's somewhat abbreviated and other times it goes on for a while. This week it was somewhere in the middle. Long enough that I could make my way to his pew and wish him peace. As I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I could see the sadness and the new loneliness that are his new normal. I smiled a sad smile at him and he nodded. He knew I knew.
They had a special place in my heart, these two. They met at a dance and had decided to marry shortly after. Before he went off to war. When he returned, they built their life together and were rarely separated in those 70+ years of marriage. I met them soon after rejoining this church. They greeted church members and visitors at the door. Always together, always cheerful and well turned out. She had a marvelous smile and was always so happy to see everyone.
Then one day I found her purse in the bushes. She hadn't realized she'd set it down and was relieved to have it back, but it was the beginning of a slow slide. Not too long after, they asked to be excused from greeting at the church and they came in and sat like any other church member. The always well-dressed woman stopped wearing make up and started looking a little less put together. And his straight spine began to bend a bit as the weight of worry and care settled on his shoulders.
They moved to a pew further back and began taking communion in their seats when the stairs to the altar became too difficult to navigate. He would encourage her to stand, then later would have to tell her to put her hands out to receive The Body. She forgot how to take communion, then forgot why they were there. Through it all, she remained smiling and even if she couldn't remember your name, she would point at you and click her mouth - she might not know your name, but she knew she knew you and that she liked you.
And then came last week. He's back and for the first time alone in the pew. She hasn't died, but he can't take care of her anymore. She's in full-service nursing home and it's the first time they've been apart since the War. It's both a wonderful story and indescribably sad. Their happy ending is coming - one day they will both be free and I have absolutely no doubt that they will find each other again and stroll hand in hand into whatever adventure comes next.