Paul was a wonderful husband. We spent fifty-six years together, growing closer and closer as we weathered all the typical ups and downs of married life. You would think that growing old together like this would help prepare me for the time when the Lord would call one of us to his side—but it didn’t. No matter how much you prepare yourself, grief is still a powerful emotion. So when Paul died of cancer in 2008, a part of me was still overwhelmed with sadness. I remember asking, “Where is God in this? How is he going to comfort me? Where can I go for answers?”
It may seem odd, since I am a lifelong Methodist, but it was Mary, most of all, who held me during this time and helped me adjust to being alone. You see, many years ago, a dear Catholic friend gave me a Rosary as a gift and explained how it helped her to pray. I had always admired this woman’s faith, so I decided to try it myself—and I’ve been praying the Rosary ever since! And so it was that Mary came to my aid when I became a widow like her.
I was with Paul when he passed away—he died peacefully in my arms, in fact—and at that very moment, I felt Mary’s presence, reassuring me that God was with me. I felt her holding me close, consoling me, and praying for me.
It wasn’t just that day that I felt Mary’s help. During the months after Paul’s death, there were many nights when I couldn’t sleep or when I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep. Each time that happened, I would say a decade of the Rosary, and it helped me focus on Jesus and not on my sadness or loneliness. I found great comfort remembering that Mary knew what I was feeling. She had lost a beloved husband. She knew the pain of separation. So she became my companion, always ready to give me her comfort.
A New Family. I believe, as well, that Mary helped me take the next step in my life. I definitely resonated with the way that she trusted in God and followed him, no matter where he led her. She said yes at each twist and turn, and I knew that I needed to do the same thing. Like Mary, I had a choice. I could go into hibernation, remain stuck in my sadness, and stop praying; or I could move forward along the path God wanted for me.
After Joseph died, Mary had to answer her own set of questions. She could have settled into a quiet life and become “the Widow of Nazareth.” She could have moved in with a relative or spent her remaining days alone and sad—especially after her son left home and began his public ministry. But Mary chose a different path. She became a disciple and followed Jesus. She threw off the stereotypes of widowhood and embraced a new vocation. And because she did, she had the privilege of witnessing her son perform miracles, hearing him preach to large crowds, and seeing him share God’s mercy with everyone who would listen. As she stepped onto this new path, Mary’s life expanded. At one point, all she had was her little family in Nazareth. Now, she became part of a much larger family. I imagine her heart rejoicing when she heard Jesus say, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). Yes! Here were more sons and daughters she could care for, new brothers and sisters who could be her companions. She didn’t have to be alone.
Then later, at Pentecost, Mary became mother of a much larger family. When the Holy Spirit came down on her and the apostles, she inherited the entire Church, from age to age. That’s why even today, we still look to her as our mother, our model, and our friend.
Forward in Faith. This was my story as well. Life without Paul presented me with new decisions. Where would I live? How would I spend my time? Who would I reach out to? What about my church family? I could no longer lean on my husband for help. It was up to me now. As I prayed and thought about it, I realized God wanted me to keep moving forward—not to take up some radical new work, but neither to sit still and let life pass me by.
For me, that meant continuing to be active in my church and continuing to try to reach out to people. For instance, there was a man in our Sunday-school group who shared that he had recently discovered that he had a brain tumor. So I asked everyone in the group if we could pray with him and ask God to heal him.
It was something I felt the Lord put on my heart, and even though I had never done anything like that before, I felt I had to take this step forward. It was a new beginning for me, a step of faith and obedience. From there, more opportunities arose, including teaching a whole six-week course on coming to know Jesus and opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit.
But moving forward is not just a matter of ministry or service; it’s also a matter of guarding my heart and mind so that I am able to serve in any way God asks me to. For me, moving forward means that I can’t let my circumstances or the circumstances of my friends or children overshadow my trust in the Lord. I cannot allow any trial or challenge to deprive me of the joy I should feel, the joy of being a child of God and of knowing that I’m trying my best to follow him. There are times when I feel myself so spiritually overwhelmed that I will again say a decade of Rosary, and I find my anxieties calming down. Not only that, but I find a new zeal for living that I never had. I know God has everything in his hands, and I don’t have to worry.
All Generations. In her Magnificat, Mary proclaimed, “From this day, all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). And we have certainly seen how true that statement has become! But as I’ve walked this path with Mary, I am beginning to say something similar about myself: All generations will call me blessed.
I know that can sound awfully arrogant, but I don’t mean it in some grand way. For me, this is a statement of hope—hope for my three children and their families. It’s a hope based on faith in Jesus and his promises—a confidence that the blessings God has given me will be passed down to the next generation and the one after that. It’s also a hope that whether or not I see all of these blessings in each of my children at this moment, it will happen.
I can have this hope because I see it in my life. I remember when I was a little girl, seeing my father kneeling by his bed every night and reading his Scriptures. That made a deep impression on me. I know he prayed for me every day, and I can see all the ways he taught me about the Lord. To this day, I consider my father a very blessed man, and I’m convinced that his blessings have passed down to me. So this is what I hope and believe will happen with the generations that come after me.
Full of Grace. One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace.” I especially love the line “’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” I believe that as my husband, Paul, walked the last miles of his journey, God’s grace led him and guided him. I know that he felt the prayer of many people. I know that he loved Jesus. I know that he lived his faith on a daily basis. And I know that in the end, Mary was there to take him on those final steps, even as she held me close and helped me say good-bye to him.
Every time we pray the Rosary, we proclaim that Mary is “full of grace.” But we also ask her to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death.” Through her intercession, her example, and her love for each of us, may we all be open to the same grace that has filled her. And may Mary, who is filled with God’s amazing grace, carry each one of us beautifully to the place our Father has prepared for us.
Jean Engelmann lives in Hagerstown, Maryland.