My dad recently penned some reflections after mom passed away in June.
How did I miss it? There were signals, yet somehow I failed to pick up on them.
More than a year before her death, Hazel began talking about spending more time together—she wished I could curtail my travel and spend more time at home. We discussed this theme often during our 55 years of our marriage, but somehow I did not detect that over the past year there was a different urgency to it.
I am so thankful that over the past year, we were able to do some of the things her heart desired. We were able to take a trip with friends, following our French Association Meeting. Hazel reveled in getting to spend joyous time with the French partners, whom she loved so much. What a beautiful jaunt down memory lane as we took a motor trip through an area of France (photo above) that was her favorite, stopping in the places that she loved to revisit. And the food—we enjoyed the best fondue ever at a mountaintop restaurant in addition to a more expansive, and of course, expensive 3-star restaurant visit.
Hazel also began to insist that she wanted to spend time in California with her siblings, Charles and Charlotte. She kept pushing me to put a time on the calendar when we could do it, and finally she called my assistant, Linda, to ask for open times in my calendar! They found a date and my Hazel instructed my assistant to block the entire week and not allow me to put anything else in its place before proceeding to set up our visit to California. We spent delightful days with her brother, sister, and their spouses—laughing, eating, and reminiscing. She even got to spend time with lifelong friends who had settled in nearby Roseville.
Despite insisting that she wanted to restrict her travels, Hazel was enthusiastic about going to Italy for a youth conference in Naples where we were joined by our dear friends, the Berkeys. I had never seen her so happy fellowshipping with the Italian youth around the table, joining them in enthusiastic worship, and exclaiming that she had never heard me preach better in all my life.
In retrospect, I am now seeing how God began preparing us for Hazel’s departure. This year was Rob’s 50th birthday, and we decided to celebrate it in a big way. All the family met in Tampa with some of our closest friends and spent Friday through Sunday together, celebrating with Rob, family, and friends. Hazel was in top form, encouraging and sharing her wisdom and wit with one and all. There were memorable moments around meals and the pool that will stay with everyone there forever. She thoroughly enjoyed the contact and the time spent. It was almost as if she was saying, “goodbye.” In fact, one of Rob’s old friends from his school in France—who has grown into an incredible follower of Christ—said that there was somehow almost a finality in Hazel’s voice when she bid he and his wife goodbye the day we all departed.
I vividly remember sitting at the breakfast table two weeks before Hazel’s heart failure when out of the blue she said to me, “You know what, I don’t think I am going to live very much longer.” I was astonished and replied, “What are you talking about, Baby! You are doing great. We’ve got some really good years ahead.”
She responded, “No, I just don’t think I am going to live much longer.” At the moment, I wrote it off as simply a platitude. But in retrospect, I should have taken her comment more seriously because my Hazel never uttered empty words.
Sunday morning, June 14th, I was scheduled to join Rob and some of our lead pastors for the annual fishing trip in the Florida Keys we like to call “Mahi Massacre.” In our 50-plus years of life and ministry, travel was so frequent that there Hazel and I never lingered over goodbyes at the door. I would wheel my suitcase to the door and yell over my shoulder, “Hey, Babe, I’m out of here. I’ll see you in a week” or “I’ll see you in two weeks”. On that particular Sunday I hollered, “See you on Thursday.”
From the far side of the house, Hazel shouted, “Wait, wait, I want to give you a hug before you go.” I was startled as that was not our usual procedure, but I waited as she made her way to me. She wrapped me in a warm embrace and held me, explained how much she loved me, and told me to, “Hurry back.”
Somehow Hazel, with her deep spirituality, had been given signals over the past year that her homecoming was drawing near.
William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy fortune, chose to dedicate his life to the Kingdom. Determined to minister to the Muslims of China, he penned in his Bible the phrase, “no reserves” as he entered Yale for his missionary training. Later as he prepared to leave for China, he penned the words “no retreats.” On his way to China, he stopped in Egypt to study Arabic and contracted a fatal case of Spinal Meningitis. On his deathbed at the age of 25, he penned in his Bible beneath the two previous quotes, “no regrets.”
These 3 phrases so appropriately describe the life of my darling Hazel. And though I know she has received an abundant entrance into Eternity, I regret that I could not have had her in my life a little longer. It is as if Heaven loaned me an angel and after 56 years decided it was time to have her back. I am living with the hope that she’s waiting on the other side of Jordan, her “Hurry back” beckoning me, until we reunite and spend eternity reflecting on the amazing journey God set us on together.