On the morning of Dec 26, my husband and I returned from morning mass to find a voicemail from the daughter of Phyllis, my closest friend. She had died at midnight at the rehab center where she was recuperating from heart problems.
Phyllis and I were allies in raising our children more than 35 years ago. We prayed together about everything, supported each other in family weddings and celebrated our grandchildren. She was just what I needed at every stage of my life, including a month earlier when she last prayed with me.
I was at her side a few years ago as she made decisions on her husband’s funeral service, so I knew what she wanted for her own. I promised her I would help the family with her services if she died before me.
Now, I didn’t know whether to keep packing for our family trip that morning or start unpacking. I cried out to God for guidance and comfort. So I called Phyllis’ daughter to express my love and consolation. I offered to help the family with the services. They were planning her mother’s services in a different way from their father’s. I gave her the number of the music coordinator for all the funerals for our covenant community, including that of Phyllis’ husband. I promised we would attend the services. With a heavy heart, I drove away to our four-day Christmas gathering at the lake, wondering how much of it I could enjoy as I grieved for my friend.
But God knew exactly what I needed before I needed it. He filled those four days on the shore of Lake Palestine with more joy than sorrow. With two of our four children and their families we cooked together and shared our mealtimes and prayer times. We made S’mores around the fire pit and laughed at family stories. There were walks and talks and late-night card and board games.
An email came from the music coordinator. Phyllis would not have a rosary, Catholic mass or graveside service. Anger welled up within me as I remembered all the talks and prayers Phyllis and I shared about life and death, especially her husband’s funeral and her preferences for hers. When I called the music coordinator she told me the decision split Phyllis’ seven children, with one not coming for the funeral because the others agreed not to give their mother a Catholic mass. With this shocking news, all we could do was to show up, love and support them, knowing I could not keep my promise to Phyllis.
Animals surrounded us as we drove through a safari park when the call came from Phyllis’ daughter. She expressed her love for me as a friend of her mother, and then told me about the service at the crematorium. I knew what to say before she called. I told her the community wanted to provide music and anything she needed. She didn’t know the family could have the music without a mass! I assured her we would be there singing. From the Safari park we headed to evening mass, just when I needed it the most.
The morning we left the lake house we formed a prayer circle. My prayer was one of gratitude to the Lord who knew months ago just how much I would need the family trip to console me.
On the drive home I focused on the funeral the next day, a short service at a crematorium chapel. With the help of my daughter, I wrote a tribute to Phyllis based on Proverbs 31. I wanted everyone there to know about this wise and holy woman of God, a true friend who prayed with me about anything, anytime.
You see, the friends we can pray with like that are our best friends forever. God plans those friendships before we know we need them.
Do you have a forever friend that God gave you before you needed that friend?
(© 2014 Nancy H C Ward)