Dear God –
Twenty three years ago today, July 10, 1993, I stood at Your altar at Trinity Lutheran Church in Watertown, Minnesota, holding the hand of my fiancée, Shannon Reuss. Before You I pledged to be faithful to her until death parted us. I gave her a ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness. She became my wife. You witnessed and blessed the whole thing.
Every year Shannon and I celebrated our anniversary. Sometimes we’d go out for dinner. Other times we went on small trips. To celebrate our 20th anniversary we ‘pulled out all the stops’ and went to Mayo Clinic so she could have chemo (this is what happens when cancer is in your life). Some saints from my congregation heard about it and decorated the room on the chemo ward for us (I’ll never forget that day!). Last year we celebrated our anniversary with her getting prepped for radiation (did we know how to party or what??). For twenty-two years July 10th would come and I would say to Shannon, “This is my anniversary.” Not this year. The ovarian cancer finally got the best of Shannon last October. Now she celebrates something even greater before Your throne.
Last night I was with my new fiancée, Danielle (that’s a happy story for another written prayer). I commented, “Tomorrow would have been my anniversary.” Would have been. If Shannon lived…then it would be our anniversary. In this case, the ‘if’ did not happen. Shannon does not live, so it is not our anniversary.
“Would have been.” It sounded odd coming from my lips. Odd, yet harshly true. Life has changed, I can’t control that. I can control my language. On July 10th I will always say, “This would have been my anniversary.” It will be day to reflect and remember a past relationship that I deeply loved and appreciated.
God, the change in language feels significant to me.
Recently I attended a church campout with Danielle. In the midst of a conversation I found these words coming out of my mouth, “My wife Shannon and I used to…” I could sense a flicker of confusion on the listener’s face. He didn’t know me well. I doubt he knew about Shannon, her ovarian cancer, or her death. He did know that Danielle and I are engaged and that next June ‘my wife’ will be Danielle, not Shannon. I quickly explained the background so he knew what I was talking about.
It made me wonder how to refer to Shannon. For twenty two years the title ‘wife’ went with Shannon. I don’t want that to ever change. What descriptor do I put in front of it to help people understand (without having to share the whole story)? “My wife” makes it sound like she’s in the next room. “My ex-wife” sounds like we were divorced. “My first wife” can be taken in many directions. God, I’ve settled on “My late wife” to describe Shannon. It seems to fit well. It acknowledges the relationship which meant so much to me, but it also makes clear that new realities have come.
As life changes, words change. “Today would have been my anniversary.” “My late wife Shannon.” These small changes reflect the new reality that I live with. Shannon has been gone for nearly nine months. God, these words give me a way to hold to the past while living in the new life that You provide.