The cloud of witnesses after Joel’s death

Nancy Kauffmann is a denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA. This originally ran as a post on the Mennonite Church USA website. 

Recently a violent storm hit my life, ripping through my heart and shaking the foundation of my faith, when my husband Joel, suddenly and unexpectedly died.

I was thrust into a new reality where nothing looked familiar.

I was angry at God for taking Joel so soon and would cry out, “so now what do you want from me?”

At one point in my pain, I claimed to others that we could take classes to prepare for about anything, but there was no class for preparing for the loss of a loved one.

Then one day, I discovered a book, entitled Portrait of Jesus which Joel gave to me on our second wedding anniversary. The book contained pictures of famous paintings, poems and other writings about Jesus.

Inside the cover, Joel wrote, “May this book always remind you of what it is that we are both all about.”

Those words helped me to find my center and to hold on for dear life. My mind then went back to my first memory in my Christian formation as a little three-year-old, sitting on a chair just my size and looking at a picture of Jesus surrounded by little children and listening to the teacher tell us that Jesus love us very much.

I then remembered the many others throughout my life who gently cared for me and nurtured my faith in God.

I heard stories of God’s call on the lives of many people and of God’s care, miracles, and work in the most difficult and challenging times in people’s lives and in the church. These stories—the good and the bad—have helped to shape me. They have influenced my choices and my direction. Joel’s words helped me realize that through the faith community I have always been surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, both past and present, who continue to nurture my faith and help me be ready to face whatever would come. And because of them, I am always assured of God’s presence and mercy.

Presently it is the cloud of witnesses of close friends and the faith community across the church that are holding me up when I can barely stand, giving me a safe space to catch my breath, and who gently remind me of the truths of life that I know in my head but can’t embrace in my heart for the moment.

It is this great cloud of witnesses that is now holding the light that calls my soul from the darkness caused by Joel’s death, that calls me to sing the songs of faith when I lack the lung capacity to sing.

It is their prayers for me and my family that feel like lifelines to hang onto until I can gain my equilibrium in this new reality.

Joel’s words also helped me to remember that scripture has nurtured me in the past to face whatever is ahead.

Since I can’t, for now, listen to the music Joel and I used to go sleep to each night, I am using my iPad to have scripture read to help me sleep. Hearing the words as I go in and out of sleep assures me that death is not the end and that we are all given “a new birth into a living hope,” (I Peter 1:3).

I am grateful for some resources that Joel and I found about a year ago that help to us talk about end-of-life issues: the book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well by Glen Miller and the blog, Living Joyfully, Dying Well by Glen and Jeb Hostetler.

Also Everence provides an excellent seminar entitled, End of Life Planning, which helps families and couples prepare for the number of hard decisions that need to be made rather than waiting until the storm of intense emotional pain hits due to the death of a loved one.

God has been steadily by my side in the past even at times when I wasn’t aware of God’s presence.

God continues to be steadily by my side through Joel’s message to me, through the faith community, through memories, through scripture, prayer and in so many other ways, preparing the way to live into my new reality. Though I have been questioning God, I have been reminded over and over again, that God does not abandon, but provides all that is needed to deal with whatever comes our way.

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