As I told you in my last post, it took me two years to decide what to put on John’s marker. It wasn’t a task to rush through for the sake of “getting it done.” I wanted to be completely sure about its appearance and wording. Grave markers aren’t something you return.
Knowing that I was creating it without John’s input was intimidating. I really wanted to be confident that he would approve. That he would like it. (And I truly think he would.) But it was something we had never talked about.
As I considered my options, questions arose. Obviously, a grave marker identifies a grave, but was there another purpose? Who would come to see it? What did I want the marker to convey- in its appearance? In the wording?
Most of all, how could I express our hope in Christ, even in this hardest of all places?
I talked to the Lord about it a lot, and the answers to those questions became abundantly clear to me over time: our marker is a declaration primarily to our children, their spouses, & especially our grandchildren, of our love for each other and for God. They will only be at our graveside a few times over the years, but I want them to remember us by what they see engraved there.
The truth is that John will never be known by our children’s spouses or our grandchildren. Yes, there will be stories about him and even some videos, but there will be no firsthand experience. They won’t have seen how we loved each other so deeply. They will know of our faith but won’t have seen John’s in real time. Nor will they have ever known us as grandparents. They won’t have actual memories of him.
For me, the marker is our final statement to them after we’re gone. It is my attempt to say to those people, particularly our grandchildren, “You didn’t know us as “us” but we were given a beautiful love and we’ve been loved by an amazing God. He is the Author of our story. Our hope is forever in Him. He also loves you, and it is a bigger love than death itself. You can trust Him.” That is what I want them to truly know.
God gave me strength and courage and peace as I grappled with all of this. As I prayed and imagined, the Lord helped me put it all together. It needed to be simple, so it is. Just our story & a verse.
- Our love story is best told by our wedding bands’ inscriptions. On my ring, John had engraved Eros Phileo Agape because he said it described how he fell in love with me, and God deepened it over time. First, attraction (eros), then friendship (phileo), then selfless, unconditional love (agape).
- John’s ring is engraved with Song of Solomon 2:3-4. “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.” In a forest of young men, there was John! An apple tree in their midst. I delighted in him at 21. I still do.
- The verse that I settled on is one that I am living. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:39. Since John’s death, I return to Romans 8 frequently because it explains my faith journey so well.
- The overall look of our marker is formal because it seemed to suit John and his profession as a lawyer. The design on the edge is similar to our wedding invitations, and the dogwoods around the vase represent Virginia, where our love story mostly took place.
It took several months for them to make it. It was put in place the week of our 25th anniversary and my 46th birthday. When I received the email that it had been placed in the ground, I wept.
I wept for John. I wept for me. It is a reality check to be 46 and have your grave marker ready and waiting with your husband there. There is no illusion about death. Or about life.
Yes, sadly and ultimately, love will take each of us to a grave. And we. will. be. powerless.
But, God doesn’t take us where He didn’t go first.
Jesus’s love for His Father and for us took him to a grave too. But, death could not hold him. He promises that He won’t let it hold us either. “He who believes in me shall not die but have life everlasting.” And, that is the most important truth anyone ever needs to know.
This post was probably tough to read. It is tough to live. But, honestly, I hope that my candor moves you beyond fearing death into deeper faith.
I have been places I never thought I would have to go at this season of my life. Places I have always feared. But, I want to be a reassuring voice saying to all of you that the Bible’s promises of God’s presence in death are true. “The Lord is my Shepherd…Even though I walk through the valley of death, you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).
I have now walked in that valley. My Heavenly Father, my Good Shepherd, has gone with me. Comforted me as no one else can. I have never felt alone or forsaken by Him. Instead, He has sustained me.
May you also truly know the Good Shepherd in this life. And beyond.
Unworthy of all this love but savoring it,
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
John 10:11 – Jesus