It has now been a year since that moment on August, 27, 2013 when I learned that Gwen had died. She was my friend. She was my pastor. She was my Panera Bread lunch date, my fellow dreamer, my encourager. And I have missed her, am missing her still.
Over the past year I have gone several times to the cemetery to “visit” her—oh, I know she isn’t there. But my heart is drawn there. In the odd mysteriousness that is grieving, I have discovered that being in the cemetery brings me comfort. There I have felt free to talk to her, to update her on our church, to share with her about the happenings in my life, and to tell her how much I miss her.
The last Saturday of June—after our Baptist Women in Ministry gathering and all of the events of General Assembly, I found myself driving to the cemetery. I hadn’t been to visit in a while, not since her grave marker had been put in place, and I was eager to see it and to “talk” to her.
I parked where I always park—and walked toward the place where her grave is. But I didn’t see her marker. I walked up and down the row—looking for it. It was nowhere to be found. I moved to the nearby rows. It was not there either. I searched the entire section. I walked to the back section, examining each grave marker, looking for her name. Not there either. Not anywhere. I knew she wasn’t up in the front section, but I went there anyway, searching for her, paying careful attention to the newest grave markers. But I couldn’t find Gwen.
And that was when I started talking to her, “Okay, Gwen, where are you? I can’t find you. Where have you gone? I know, I know where you should be. But you aren’t there. Where are you!?”
When I stopped for a moment, I heard myself saying those words, and I realized that I finally was saying out loud what I had been feeling all year. My heart has called out to her in these hard days of grieving—wanting to know where she is, where she has gone. My faith offers me assurance that she is with God, but my heart still hasn’t figured out what that means. My heart still cries out—wanting her to be here with me.
The next day at church I told my story to her husband, Charles, explaining how I had looked and looked for Gwen but couldn’t find her. He assured me that I had been right about the location. Gwen was where she was supposed to be. But the grave marker had had a mistake on it and had been removed in order to make the correction.
I now know for certain “where” Gwen is in the cemetery, but day-by-day I am learning, my heart is slowly learning, that my friend, Gwen Brown, is with the God she loved, the God she served. Gwen is in a place where she is loved, a place where she is healed and whole.
And I am here—still missing her.
Pam Durso is executive director, Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.