Sunday morning I was relieved to have the pew to myself. I had too much on my mind to deal with small talk or pleasantries. My granddad was near death. Will today be the day? I wondered as the pastor walked in.
Mawmaw and Granddad had practically raised me, and I’d built the house next door so I could care for them in their old age. After Mawmaw died I saw Granddad every single day. I couldn’t imagine life without him.
My husband promised that he would help me through my grief, but no one could understand how I felt, not even him.
Just before the service began a man slipped into my pew. I’d never seen him before, not in church or around town, so at least I didn’t feel obligated to acknowledge him. All I could think about was losing Granddad.
“Will anyone who needs a faith prayer step forward,” the pastor announced from the altar. I loved this part of the service, when those with especially challenging circumstances received a personal prayer.
I scooted around my pew mate and walked up to the line in front. When it was my turn, a church deacon anointed me with oil.
“My granddad is very ill,” I said. We both bowed our heads as he whispered a prayer for me and Granddad.
Afterward I walked back to my pew and sat down. “Please grab hold of the hand of the person beside you and say a prayer for him or her,” the pastor said. My pew mate reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. “I have been where you are,” he said in my ear. “I know this is difficult for you.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I looked over at the stranger and smiled. It helped enormously to be reminded that others had been through what I was going through. They had outlived a debilitating grief and so would I, with my faith and my husband to lean on.
The choir started singing before I could thank my pew mate. I’ll catch him after the service, I thought. But the stranger slipped out while the choir was performing. Once the service was done he was long gone.
That afternoon, Granddad died while I was on my way to the nursing home from church. I lost myself in a whirlwind of funeral arrangements. My sister and I were driving back from finalizing some details with the florist when she suggested we go for a pedicure. “We need to relax,” she said. “Just for an hour.”
On the way, we saw a group of people standing around chatting by the side of the road. One man stood out–my pew mate from church! “Stop the car,” I said to my sister. “I know one of those men.”
I walked up to the stranger and introduced myself. “When you put your hand on my shoulder and prayed, I could not believe what came out of your mouth,” I said. “It was just what I needed to hear. As if the Lord had sent an angel down from heaven with a message meant for me.”
The man looked at me in confusion. “But I didn’t say a word to you,” he explained. “My prayer for you was silent, spoken only in my mind.”
I wasn’t alone, not in my grief, or in the pew that Sunday. A stranger sat down beside me, and an angel sat in between.
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