A frigid wind whipped around our car as we drove south to my husband’s homeland, Yugoslavia. Newly married and living in France while he finished his theology degree, we were on our way to his oldest sister’s home for Christmas break. I looked forward to seeing his family and having more time with my spouse, except for one thing: Adventists in Yugoslavia at that time didn’t celebrate Christmas—at all. It would be a first for me to do nothing special on December 25.
My husband had told me why they didn’t observe Christmas. The Catholic and Orthodox churches dominated the religious scene in Yugoslavia, one observing December 25 as Christ’s birthday, the other January 7. In order not to be found taking sides while seeking to evangelize the people, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had chosen to make a big deal of New Year’s Eve instead. So I had resigned myself to simply enjoying the family and all their unique cultural ways.
Marija, my sister-in-law, was more like a mother toward us. She was the eldest child of 11 and my husband was the tenth, so the gap in years made her behavior understandable. I learned that she had once been engaged to a Swiss young man who was attending the Bible school in Zagreb, where she was also a student. They were both passionate about winning people to Christ. Marija was a gifted people person who drew others to her through her warm personality. I knew that from experience. She had always been generous and loving with me.
But the marriage never happened. One afternoon as she and her fiancé strolled along the sidewalk, they came upon two French-speaking men who were arguing loudly. Her fiancé spoke up: “My brothers, why are you fighting?” At that, one of the men whipped out a knife and stabbed him! Before her horror-filled eyes, Marija saw her beloved sink to the ground dead.
The tragedy pursued her until she again found love. Her husband, a successful watchmaker and businessman, had provided a comfortable home, the home we were staying in at the time. So on the evening of December 24 my husband and I lay down on the couch bed next to the coffee table and drifted off to sleep.
Hours later light filtered through the lace curtains, awakening me on Christmas morning. As I turned, I caught the glimmer of something on the table. A small clear plastic tree with tiny colored ornaments sparkled amid a few packages. I was shocked and moved. How could it be? How could my precious Marija, who had never set foot outside her country or much beyond her Adventist culture, do this for me? I cried as I opened one package to find the practical gift of stockings. Then, another package with chocolates, my favorite treat. And finally, a larger gift—a set of exquisite crystal glasses.
I still have four of those glasses today. They remind me that love knows how to cross over into the lives of others. We who have also loved and lost know something about what the grieving widows and widowers around us are experiencing. We know some of what is needed as we step over the barrier that threatens to keep the mourner alone in their emotional pain. A hug, sympathetic tears, a listening ear, a plate of food, a few words of understanding, a visit or phone call or card from time to time, help to keep the routines of life moving along while the person is temporarily paralyzed.
My neighbors did this for me more than six years ago. They had lost a brother in the mission field and understood. They came and sat quietly with me in my living room. They hugged me and played a beautiful song. They spoke peace and hope. They listened. Throughout the following months they brought me flowers, worked in my garden, rescued me from household dilemmas my husband had always cared for. Busy as they were, they spent themselves on my behalf. They showed me that I was a treasured part of their lives, and I will always love them for that.
Marija, Lois, Laurence, and a host of others populate my widowed world and give me the desire to do for others what they have done for me—cross the barrier, step into a griever’s life, and whisper, “You are not alone.”
Brenda Kiš writes from Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she happily devotes her days to whatever agenda God puts before her!