On February 18, 2019, I received a text message at 12:48 PM from Leigh Ann Fort while I was in a lunch meeting with Scott Logsdon, a colleague. Three simple words began to unfold my unwanted journey:
“Come home immediately”
Scott and I had finished lunch and were about to get a cup of coffee across the parking lot at Willow Lawn Shopping Center to continue our discussion. Concerned, I told him I needed to call Leigh Ann. Leigh Ann answered and was crying, and I was told Kim had collapsed and paramedics were at my house. She told me to come home. Scott prayed for me, and I rushed home.
Honestly, the full weight and severity of what I was facing was prevented from caving in on me. It was as if, now in retrospect, I was partitioned off from reality. There was a sense of alarm, and there was a heavy weight to the moment, of course. I had to get home and now.
I drove in silence for the next twenty-plus minutes. I did not know what to think and, in fact, I was prevented from thinking much. It was as if a loving, caring God—in protective grace—put a bubble of protection around me. I do remember two fleeting thoughts that passed quickly through my mind. Neither lodged. The first was about what sort of long-term care was going to be needed for my wife if something serious was wrong with her. The second thought, “Why haven’t they called me to tell me where they are taking her?,” was pushed aside.
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8
I arrived at my house to be escorted to my den and immediately to my couch. Leigh Ann sat to my left. Without any delay, a police officer or paramedic announced to me, “We are sorry to have to inform you that your wife has passed away.” I fell on Leigh Ann’s shoulder and began to cry in disbelief.
After some minutes—I have no idea how long—I sat up. Everyone else had left the room, and Leigh Ann told me later that I exclaimed out loud, “Is this real?”
A journey had begun. It was unwanted, but it was unavoidable. Eventually, calls were made to my children. I cannot believe I had to make such calls to inform them that we lost their mom. I called Kim’s parents, another horrible call to make. No parent should lose a child, definitely not two. Harry and Katrena have lost their two eldest children prematurely. It’s just not natural.
I made the decision—with my children and with Kim’s parents—to ask for an autopsy. This was a difficult decision. But it was the right thing to do. We needed to know as much as possible about the cause of Kim’s death. It was necessary, but it was a decision no man should have to make about the body of his beloved wife. Painful.
The next week was a steady stream of friends and family paying their respects and offering their support. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support at the visitation that led up to the funeral.
At the funeral, I read portions of Proverbs 31 surrounded by our children. It was painfully difficult but necessary to honor Kim in that way. As my children supported me, I stood to share excerpts of some eleven verses. Here’s one excerpt of what I read:
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” Proverbs 31:10-12
After reading the whole passage, I continued my comments:
“These words, and so many more, describe my wife. She, however, would want you to know why. She became a Proverbs 31 woman only because He became flesh and dwelt among us, paid a debt she owed, redeemed her, made her a new creation. A beautiful new creation. His gospel—his story—made a claim on her life, and she believed it. She would say to me today, ‘Make so much more of Him and not so much of me.’”
The most meaningful line to me was how she became the woman she was because Christ became flesh. She would have approved. Selfless and pointing to Christ.
We also had Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 read, among other passages. For context, I include two verses:
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:1-2
This passage always riveted Kim and me. It can only be true if the gospel is true. How can the day of death be better than the day of birth? It’s a paradox it would seem. We’ll talk more about this passage later in this journey.
Finally, I asked Gordon Fort to share a eulogy, and he honored Kim so well. I told him later that I had a new goal in life: to die before he dies so he can share my eulogy, also. My pastor, Cliff Jordan, shared a strong gospel message about the resurrection. I had many comments as to how the funeral was uplifting and celebratory. We literally wanted to celebrate Kim’s life and her Lord. I felt we did so.
As people returned to their normal routines, I settled into a severe shock and a confusing numbness. I was having trouble making sense of it all. I began taking initial steps on my long and unwanted journey through loss.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6