Herb and Vi were able to sleep in their own bed almost to the end, even though it was on the second floor of their home. They had installed a stair lift when Vi started having trouble getting around. A baby monitor provided the connection between the bedroom and their caregiver’s base of operations downstairs at the kitchen table. Each night the monitor witnessed to the caregiver of Herb and Vi’s faith, their confidence that God would walk with them through their final valley. As they had done every night for 69 years of marriage – before they went to sleep – they held hands and prayed together Psalm 23. The caregiver heard every word – every night.
Herb completed his journey ahead of Vi. We got the call on a Wednesday night about 8:30. My pastor partner, Glenn got there before me. He was already upstairs with Vi and family when the caregiver welcomed me with a hug. Herb’s body was in the hospice bed in the family room but his soul was already in Heaven. Vi was dressed in her flannel nightgown, in bed and propped up with pillows, eyes full of tears. We mourned with her the way Christians do – with hope, the confidence of eternity, and the certainty of reunions in heaven. Together we lived out St. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
As Vi lay in her bed, Glenn and I each took a hand and declared with her the faith that she and Herb confessed every night of their marriage. We had done this together many times over the last months. Tonight it was different. As Vi spoke the psalm and emerged on the other side of the valley, an incredible thing happened. She dropped our hands and reached her arms out toward the heavens as if directing a chorus of unseen angels, as she repeated the phrase over and over again, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” her fists punctuated the heavens. With each word bony hands and arms were thrust into the sky. Words were declared with a volume that we had never heard from this gentle woman. “AND I . . . WILL DWELL . . . IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD . . . FOREVER. FOREVER! FOREVER!! Her right hand hung in the air until the ringing of her words died. And with that, this valley-walker lay back against the pillow and closed her eyes.
The silence that followed echoed across all of creation. None of us could speak as tears choked us. It was the holiest of holy moments that I have yet to experience. Vi’s Herb was in Heaven. She knew it with all her heart and she knew that she would soon follow him. She did. Viola Wilhelmina Theiss made her final journey through the valley on July 25th at 97 years old – five months and eight days after Herb. Oh, how I would have loved to be there for that heavenly reunion.
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!”