She finally decided to clean out his desk. He’s been gone for almost five years, and she has walked past it multiple times a day every day since then, picturing him sitting there doing his work on his computer, a device that she has never had much interest in. Yet it amazed her, the way he could maneuver the internet. The way he could keep their finances organized and keep their investments in order. The way he would bring her news of their family and friends as he discovered it on social media. The way he would print off stories he knew she would like, or would call her into the room to have her listen to him read some bit of news or some sentimental tale that he knew would make her smile. When she thinks of him in his later years, she sees him there, at his computer, just down the hall from where she bustles around the house. She remembers the secure feeling she had, knowing he was close by, knowing she was loved by a good man for more than half a century.
She often tells me stories about their young life. She talks about trials and struggles. About the wild adventure of bringing up five children, and about the great love that the two of them shared, year in and year out. She shows me pictures, always commenting on how very handsome he was. And she praises God for the time they had.
When he died on a September day, she knew she would have to grow accustomed to the silence. He would never again call her into his office to listen to some piece of news from a faraway friend. In this life, she would no longer hear his voice. They had no more opportunities for exchanging words of love, for reminiscing about a long life that they both knew by heart. On this side of Heaven, there would be no more exchange of ideas, no more checking on each other, no more walking down the hallway to find him sitting at his desk.
Maybe it was this painful reality that caused her to wait five years before she started going through the papers in his office. She told me that she sat down one day in the chair that he had so often occupied, and she began cleaning out drawers. She found things that were not important or useful. Like all desks, this one was filled with things that could easily be thrown in the trash. But she also discovered stories he had printed for her, things she had forgotten about, like song lyrics and other little items that made her laugh or cry or smile to herself. And then, tucked unassumingly in the bottom of a drawer, amid lots of papers that weren’t all that important, she found something she never expected to uncover: an unread letter from the love of her life.
He had written it at Christmas, several years before his death. Why he never gave it to her is a mystery. It seemed to have been slipped into a drawer among lots of other papers. Maybe he forgot about it. Maybe God kept it safely stowed there to give His own beloved daughter a gift that He knew she would need.
She unfolded the paper and could hardly believe the words she was seeing. Tears blurred the greeting at the top of the page, yet she could still make out his hello from some Christmas past: “Dear Bright Eyes.”
As I sat with her, she pulled the letter out, anxious to read his long lost words to me. His letter was filled with the kind of love that is built by time, by hardship and all of the “or worse” of the wedding vows. It was a love tried and tested, a love that saw sunshine and heartache, a love that got tired but kept going and grew stronger again day by day. It’s a love that goes beyond fairy tale to the place where devotion is proven and lived out and reciprocated moment by moment, choice by choice. He spoke of his utter contentment at where they wound up, at what they had done with a life of true belonging and friendship. They were words of reassurance. Words of understanding. Words of the great wisdom that often comes with experience.
They were the exact words that she needed.
After his death, she worried that she should have done more, should have served him better or made him more comfortable or made sure he knew how completely adored he was. And then, one spring day, she was gifted the answer through his own words. Words that she never thought would come her way again.
He had no idea how those words would impact her after his death, or how she would keep that letter close and read it multiple times a day as a way to feel closer to her best friend, gone on ahead. I don’t know if he hid that letter hoping she would find it one day, or if it slipped his mind and he never knew where it ended up. But I do know that God knew all along exactly where those words were waiting, and exactly when she would need to know about them, and I imagine He took great pleasure in watching her search through that old desk, knowing just what she would find there. Over and over again she has thanked her good God for such a gift.
As I sat in her sunny room and listened to the quiver in her voice while she read her husband’s words, I remembered once again the immeasurable impact of expressions of love. We don’t say what we know and feel and appreciate often enough. We assume things are understood, and we underestimate the impact of our words. Write letters. Leave notes. Drop words into the space between you, and fill the unsure hearts around you with concrete understanding of all that’s inside of you. We will never regret gifting sweet words to another.
She is well into her 80s. I suspect the piece of paper she discovered will be well-worn by the time she goes to be with the Lord. It comforts her and reassures her and reminds her of the great privilege of love, marriage, and a life lived for the glory of God. All of these things she already knew, but it has sure helped to hear it from her sweetheart. One day they will see each other as they were meant to be, and will know a love beyond anything that could be expressed in a sweet Christmas note. But until then, she has his words, she has the Word, and she has an ever-increasing excitement about what lies beyond this burdensome, beautiful life. Something greater still is coming.