By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 4, 2015
“I’m going to drop off the rental car and walk home,” said my husband—but he didn’t return home to me that day, and he never will.
The week before his death we were in Florida on a family reunion, enjoying big chaotic meals in my aunt’s condo filled to the brim with relatives, taking early morning walks on the beach—and visiting the marine science center where he was so intrigued with an octopus that we returned the next day so he could videotape it.
A few days after our return, he got up as usual and rode his trusty motorscooter—named Brego—to the theology library where he worked mornings. About noon I heard the distant sound of the scooter and then watched him pull into the driveway and park.
Sometimes you don’t know when you are experiencing the “last” things in someone’s life. I had watched him remove his helmet and come into the house countless times before. We always greeted each other lovingly, talked about the morning—and then I would write while he would get on with his art projects.
But that day he drove off in the rental car, while I stayed home to wait for a furniture delivery. A few hours later, I was rushing frantically to the emergency room, where I faced the most painful moment in my life—which was telling him goodbye.
It seems he had a heart attack on Chelsea Circle, less than a mile from our house, while he was on his way back. He and I had walked on that lovely, sun-dappled block together on our jaunts for more than 30 years—so we knew it well.
Large houses set back on sprawling, hilly lawns, many covered in ivy, many with blueberry bushes out front. The occasional red-tailed hawk soaring high and free, friendly dogs on strolls with their owners and hidden birds chittering in bushes.
A doctor called me a few days later, saying he had been driving along and had seen Jef lying on someone’s lawn—and had stopped to perform CPR and call for help. He told me that “It was a very peaceful death.”
That made sense, you see, because my husband was a gentle and kind man, one whom children were drawn to. If we were in a room filled with a crowd of adults and kids, you would find Jef sitting on the floor engaging in imaginary battles with the little ones.
When we were in Florida, I watched him in my aunt’s condo launching a pretend attack on Brody, 5, who sat there quietly and didn’t react as much as usual. Finally the little boy looked at his uncle and calmly explained, “I’m invisible.”
This, of course, meant his uncle had to change tactics, and become invisible as well, which he did without hesitation. Meanwhile, I noticed baby Jacob watching the scene with fascination, and eyeing Uncle Jef with love as he scooted closer, hoping to become part of the fun—which, of course, he did.
My husband was known for inviting neighborhood children to the park to wage battles with homemade wooden swords. He wasn’t averse to going down slides with them and ambushing them while they hooted with joy. He was the only adult I’ve ever known who could drop his serious adult facade and become a pretend child in moments.
No wonder his paintings are peopled with hobbits, elves and dwarves, and other mythical creatures of Middle-earth and Narnia. In his paintings he entered magical realms where dragons could weep, a mouse could play chess—and a lion could talk.
And that probably explains why children loved him so much—they recognized a kindred spirit, someone who called to mind Christ’s words, “Unless you change and become like a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Perhaps the kingdom of heaven resembles the Shire in Middle-earth, a peaceful place where all our hearts’ desires will be fulfilled. Maybe it is a green and flourishing realm where anything is possible, where elves sing, hobbits ramble and a wizard dreams by a stream.
When I remember what my sweetheart said that day about walking home, I realize that he kept his promise, in his own quiet way, on that green stretch of lawn. True, he didn’t come back to me, but he did go home to his loving Father awaiting him in heaven.
Lorraine Murray’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Artwork by Jef Murray.