Friday, May 30, 2014


        This is the fourth in a series of articles on my experience of grieving. Scroll down to see the others.  


        Ruth Kuhnle was the very capable secretary at my first church, the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. She and her husband were special friends of ours, and we continued to stay in touch after our move to Princeton, then out to Indianapolis, then back to Princeton.
        I had not been long on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary when Ruth called with the sad news that Bud had died. They had been retired only a short while and were living outside of Philadelphia. She asked me if I would conduct Bud’s funeral and burial service, and of course I said I would. Bud was not a church member.
        During my pastoral visit with Ruth and her two grown children, as we were planning the services, we had an opportunity to reminisce a bit about our Oak Lane days. I remember thinking at the time how well Ruth seemed to be dealing with her loss, as she laughed about some of the funny things that happened in the church. I know now how much she must have been grieving inwardly, as a line from a once-popular song put it, “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.”
        In the weeks and months that followed we talked on the phone a few times, and Margie and I paid a call on Ruth one Sunday afternoon. It had been about seven months since Bud died, when I received a heart-wrenching letter from Ruth describing the immense grief and loneliness she was experiencing. She implored me to tell my students, who were preparing for ministry, to be aware that those who have lost a beloved spouse will still be grieving after the flurry of support they received in the first days following the death of their loved one has tapered off. “I’m missing Bud now more than ever, and I have no one around with whom to share my grief. I had lots of support in the beginning but now I feel so all alone.”

Monday, May 26, 2014


        This is the third in a series of articles on my experience of grieving the death of my wife Margie. Scroll down to see the other two articles, entitled Living in Two Worlds and Anticipatory Grief.

Andy, Ricky, and Ellen

Savoring love is the only term I could come up with to describe a phenomenon I discovered many years ago and have been experiencing ever since. Let me briefly describe the events leading up to that discovery.
The day before the van arrived to move my family and me from our house in suburban Philadelphia to our new home in Baltimore, our children’s pediatrician, Dr. Harold Medoff, felt it necessary to admit our son Ricky to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital for tests. Ricky had been extremely weak and pale following a severe case of chicken pox, from which his older sister Ellen and younger brother Andy had recovered in normal fashion.
While I was in Baltimore awaiting the movers, my wife Margie stayed overnight with friends back in Havertown, so she could spend the day at the hospital with Ricky. In the midst of that hectic moving operation, there came a telephone call from Dr. Medoff to inform me that Ricky had been diagnosed with leukemia, which was at that time a death sentence. There was no hope of a cure.
My first question upon hearing that devastating news was “How long. . .?”
“We can’t know for sure —maybe months, maybe weeks,” was the reply. “It depends upon how he responds to the treatments.”

Friday, May 2, 2014


        This is the second article in my series of posts on my experience of grieving the recent loss of my wife Margie. My next article will be entitled "Savoring Love."

Like most pastors I have read many books and articles about grief. In her first classic text, On Death and Dying (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone, 1969) Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief (1. denial and isolation, 2. anger, 3. bargaining, 4. depression, 5. acceptance).
The girl I married . . .
Some still want to impose those five stages on the grieving process and have applied them even to what has been called “anticipatory grief.” More recent writings have moved away from such a linear approach, with which I was never comfortable. I have never felt any anger about my wife Margie’s death. Perhaps I would if it had been the result of someone’s incompetence, or negligence, or violence, or failure in some manner.
Nor have I felt any sense of denial or isolation, and I certainly wasn’t trying to bargain with God. I was always hoping that some new miracle drug or medical process might be found in time to cure her or at least prolong her life, but from the first moment we received the diagnosis of her fatal disease, we both accepted it. We were in “stage 5" from the start, if you want to call it that.
As for stage 4, I am sad but not dysfunctionally depressed. Sadness can cause one to feel depressed at times. It’s the periodic realization of the never-again aspect of a precious relationship, the ever-present absence and the ever-absent presence of one’s beloved spouse, that causes a sinking feeling in one’s heart. I’ve had moments of feeling depressed, but I certainly haven’t gone through any stage of depression. Counting my blessings dispels my momentary depression, but not my abiding sadness.
I mention these things because some people might want to think of anticipatory grief as a “stage.” It is a stage only in that it obviously occurs before one’s loss. I want to talk about it not as a stage but as recurring emotional experience, and not theoretically but experientially.