LOVE NOT FORGOTTEN

Only a few days out of the hospital, Stuart was pleased to be back. As the eighty-three-year-old man slowly traversed the cemetery pathway leading down to the resting place of his beloved wife, the beautiful spring morning made him grateful that he was feeling better. Reaching his favorite bench, he took a moment to look around and immediately noticed a fresh grave nearby covered in lavish floral arrangements.

Because of his health issues, it had been a month since Stuart’s last visit, the longest he had been away since losing Helen five years ago. Sadly, in his absence, someone else had joined the tens of thousands buried in the enormous cemetery.

He briefly considered going over and reading the new headstone. Always curious about whether or not an individual had been privileged to lead a long life, he decided not to do it today. He was tired from the latest medical procedure in his ongoing struggle with heart disease, so he was content to just sit and relax near his precious wife.

Stuart settled down on the bench under the leafy elms and maples and listened to the melodic songbirds who made this area their home. He preferred coming here as early as he could. There was a soothing stillness that enveloped the cemetery at this time of day that seemed to draw him closer to Helen.

Almost an hour had passed when he saw a woman approaching on the same narrow path. As she came nearer, he could see she was in her mid-forties, and from her expression and body language, it was clear the woman was in mourning. He watched as she made her way to the new grave. 

Lost in her grief, she paid no mind to the older man sitting on the nearby bench. Although she was facing away from him, it was not long before Stuart could tell she was beginning to cry. Surprised by what happened next, he was deeply touched as the woman leaned down and gently kissed the headstone of the person she had come to visit. Without ever looking in his direction, she quickly turned and walked away.

***

During the next several months, Stuart occasionally saw the woman, and they even began to engage in a few brief scraps of polite conversation but nothing of a personal nature. Neither was eager to intrude on the other’s privacy, however, over time, they began to find a small degree of comfort in seeing each other.

On a sun-drenched Monday morning, just as Stuart was getting ready to leave his customary spot, he saw the lady once again coming down the path from the parking lot. She was carrying flowers, and when she glanced at him, he nodded, and she did the same.

Fighting back tears, the grieving woman went to the grave, knelt, and arranged the fresh flowers near the headstone. Satisfied with the way they looked, she brushed her hands together and stood up.

Stuart sat quietly, debating if it would be appropriate to talk to her on more than a superficial level. Even after speaking to her a couple of times, he was still wary of making her uncomfortable with unwanted attention, but he honestly believed they shared a mutual sense of loss. After a few more seconds, he decided it was at least worth a try. If she was not interested, that was fine.

Doing his best to control his feelings of uncertainty about how she might react, he stood up and walked toward her.

The woman watched from the corner of her eye as he approached, but she said nothing. Attempting to keep a respectful distance, he stopped ten feet away. Fortunately, having him standing nearby did not seem to bother her, so after a brief silence, Stuart said softly, “I can see this is someone very important to you.”

The woman hung her head and replied, “That’s right. The center of my world.”

Not wishing to pry, Stuart waited patiently hoping she would volunteer more information.

As it turned out, the woman wanted to talk, but she was hesitant. After decades of being ridiculed, scorned, and ostracized, it was not easy to open up to a stranger, but there was something different about this man. There was a kindness about him and a gentle manner that put her at ease.

However, she still feared his reaction would be the same as all the others, and that made her reluctant to disclose too much information. But, she reasoned, the man was here all the time, so he must be familiar with the grief and heartache that was overwhelming her.

Deciding it was worth the risk, the woman’s voice broke as she pointed at the headstone. “Her name was Laurie. Laurie Walsh. She was the love of my life. We were partners for twenty-four years.”

She cringed as she anticipated the usual display of contempt and disgust that her relationship with Laurie typically provoked in this conservative part of the country – but she was surprised by his response. The man showed no sign of judgment or disapproval. Instead, he looked at her in a compassionate way that conveyed he understood her pain.

As tears began to stream down her cheeks, Stuart reached into his pocket and retrieved his handkerchief. He went to the woman and silently handed it to her. She took it, dried her eyes, and said, “It’s been more than three months. You would think by now I could say her name without crying.”

“It’s been five years since I lost my wife, and sometimes I cry.” He read the headstone and saw that Laurie had died at the age of forty-six. Turning to the woman, he said, “I know everyone says the same thing, but I truly am sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Impressed by his devotion to his spouse, she said, “And you still come here to visit your wife.”

“Yes. That’s one of the reasons.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what was her name?”

“Helen.” He pointed to her grave. “She’s buried across from the bench.” Feeling self-conscious, he speculated, “Some people might not understand, but it’s comforting to come and sit with her.”

The thought of this man still visiting his wife after all this time touched Andrea.

Still unsure if he was being a nuisance, he timidly stuck out his right hand. “My name is Stuart Winfield. It’s regrettable we have to meet under these circumstances, but please believe me when I say that I understand at least some of what you are going through.”

She shook. “Andrea Chamberlain. Despite the circumstances, it’s nice to meet you.”

“I hope you didn’t mind me coming over.”

“No. It’s okay.”

With the sun lifting higher in the sky, the temperature was quickly rising. Stuart pointed to the bench under the trees. “If you can spare a minute, you are welcome to join me and sit in the shade.”

Andrea entertained the offer for a moment and then said, “I would like that. Monday is my day off, so I’m in no particular hurry.”

Relieved that she did not feel uneasy, Stuart followed her, and they sat down. It was cool under the trees, and Andrea was glad to be out of the heat.

Slowly looking around, he said, “Despite the ever-present sadness, I never fail to be impressed by what a peaceful place this is.”

“At first I didn’t appreciate the beauty, but now I see it.” Andrea hesitated before saying, “You said you lost your wife five years ago.”

“That’s right.”

“I couldn’t help but notice you are wearing a wedding ring.”

Stuart nodded. “I wear my ring because Helen will always be my wife. Not even death can separate us.”

“That is so sweet,” Andrea said. “I like the idea of a commitment lasting forever.”

“It sounds like the commitment you had with Laurie stood the test of time.”

“Thankfully, it did. Some couples grow apart, but as time went by, we grew closer.”

“It’s beautiful how you get to know each other better and better, “ Stuart said. “Eventually, you can almost read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences.”

They sat in silence for a few seconds while Andrea considered a question that someone in his position would be able to answer. After working up her nerve, she asked softly, “Will it always hurt this much?”

Stuart answered honestly. “Yes and no.”

“What do you mean?”

“The pain evolves. It’s not as constant, but it can suddenly reappear out of the blue. Even now, something will happen, and my first reaction will be that I can’t wait to share it with Helen. And then I remember that I can’t. Sitting here and telling her is hardly the same.”

“I miss Laurie so much,” Andrea confessed. “At night I desperately wish we could hold each other. I would give anything to rest my head on her chest and hear her heartbeat. That’s how we fell asleep most nights. No matter what was going on, that was the most comforting thing in the world.”

Stuart tried to be reassuring. “This might be hard to believe, but someday in the future, your memories will bring you joy instead of tears, and you will be thankful for the time you did get to spend together.”

She knew he meant well, but Andrea’s expression showed that she was skeptical.

“Time is a great healer,” Stuart continued. “In due course, your grief will gradually ease.”

It was difficult for Andrea to believe that the memory of holding Laurie in the night would ever be bearable. After a pause, she asked, “When your wife passed away, did you feel hopelessly lost like I do?”

Stuart sighed. “Yes. It was terrible. Helen and I were inseparable. Without her, my entire existence unraveled.” His voice dropped as he asserted, “One of the truest indications of real love is if a person hopes they die first so they won’t have to go on alone. That was my wish – but here I am.”

Andrea wondered how he had managed to cope. “To have spent your entire life with a person and then have them taken from you has to be the worst anguish there is.”

“Tragically, in any long-term relationship, someone is going to be left behind. It’s inevitable, and we know that going in. When it happens, we have no choice but to deal with it. Ultimately, it’s the price we pay for living a long life.”

Knowing that didn’t make it any easier for Andrea. “Laurie meant everything to me. I still don’t know how I’m going to get past this.” And then acknowledging her anxiety regarding the future, she revealed her greatest fear. “I don’t think I can be me without her.”

Stuart appreciated the courage it took to share her deepest concerns, and his admiration for Andrea’s willingness to express something so personal made him want to help her in any way he could. “I understand what you mean. With such a life-altering change, nothing is ever exactly the same – including you.

“It will seem as if there’s a part of you missing, and that’ll leave you feeling incomplete. You will see things, hear things and do things that created the bond you had with Laurie, and it will be painful, but you’ll find ways to manage that sense of loss. However, that doesn’t mean it will ever be the same.”

It was a sobering thought that Andrea was afraid might be true. Trying to put a bleak future out of her mind, she fumbled with her purse and pulled out her phone. “Here’s a picture of her.”

Stuart took the phone and looked at the photo of an attractive woman with bright auburn hair and a smiling face covered in freckles. As he studied her features, he commented, “She is very pretty in an easy natural way.”

Andrea said, “That’s a good way to describe her. And, more importantly, her personality matched her appearance. She was relaxed and level-headed. She didn’t let little things bother her the way I do. I suppose we were opposites in many ways.”

“That is frequently the case with long-term couples,” Stuart said. “It was that way with me and Helen. Together you balance each other out, and you combine your strengths.”

Lowering her head, Andrea agreed. “That’s true. It’s one of the reasons I’m so lost. She had a calming effect when I would get upset. She was able to move on from any kind of problem. She never let anything hold her back.”

“She must have been strong and confident.”

“Yes. Laurie knew who she was, and she was comfortable with that. She didn’t pretend to be anything else. She was real and genuine.”

“How did you two meet?”

“We met in college.” Andrea unconsciously reached up and rubbed her forehead as she continued to confide in a man she did not know. “I had not come out yet, although my parents were suspicious. However, meeting Laurie gave me the support I needed to embrace my life. But, predictably, my father was horrified. My family is extremely conservative and deeply religious. The very idea that his daughter might be – ” Shaking her head, she stopped to collect herself. “It wasn’t long before my dad involved the entire church congregation in attempts to pray away my sin.”

Stuart was surprised to hear her father’s reaction. He could not comprehend how someone could turn against their own flesh and blood. “That must have been particularly hurtful.”

“More than I can explain, but Laurie was there for me. She stood by me, and that’s when we began to fall in love.”

“Did your relationship develop slowly or did you know immediately it was special?”

“It happened fast. I had never found such acceptance before, and I worried that Laurie was too good to be true. But, thankfully, she was perfect for me, and from the beginning, we made each other happy.”

“Everyone is searching for the right person. But, regrettably, many people never find them.”

“You’re right. I was very lucky to meet her – just like you were with Helen.”

“I’m so sorry that you and Laurie didn’t get to enjoy many more years with each other.”

“Thank you.” His sincere remark was far kinder than anything Andrea’s relatives had offered. “It’s heartbreaking to think of all the things we will never do as a couple.”

Based on his own experience, Stuart said, “Having someone by your side makes even the worst of times bearable. My wife and I certainly had our share of those.”

Andrea responded with a weary sadness, “There is one major difference between us. You did not have to hide your feelings for Helen. You could freely express them. But we always had to be careful of any displays of affection, and that was frustrating.”

For an instant, Stuart considered telling her the truth about his marriage, but then he thought better of it. This emotionally fragile woman deserved his undivided attention.

“Laurie and I committed ourselves completely to our relationship,” Andrea said. “We supported and encouraged each other’s hopes and dreams, and we knew we could always count on the other person to be there when it mattered. Isn’t that what love between two people is supposed to be?”

Stuart replied, “That’s a beautiful description of love. That’s why you survived all of the ups and downs.”

With an unrelenting regret that she could not shake, Andrea lamented, “Laurie’s parents welcomed me with open arms, but mine would not even acknowledge her. Most of my family, including my mom and dad, are fundamentalist Christians, and the fact that I was with a woman was more than they could tolerate. But I have to say, there’s not much they can tolerate.”

Tragically, Stuart was all too familiar with the narrow-minded prejudice of others. But, for now, he chose to keep that to himself.

Andrea explained, “Laurie lived the way she wanted. Other people’s opinions about her didn’t matter. But I was not as strong as she was…… I just don’t see how people who supposedly believe in God can turn their backs on those who don’t embrace the same beliefs.”

“I don’t either,” Stuart murmured.

“When Laurie got sick, none of my relatives visited her in the hospital. And when she died, even though we’d been together for twenty-four years, not a single member of my family attended her funeral. At my worst moment, they abandoned me and broke my heart.”

With her voice beginning to tremble, Andrea fumed, “I found out that my father was telling people behind my back how disappointed he was in me. He stated flat out that he had failed the Lord because I was in love with a woman. He constantly prayed that God would forgive him. He was convinced it was somehow his fault that I ended up ‘living in sin’.

“By then, we had almost no contact with each other, and on the rare occasions when I did get to see him, he refused to speak to me. He would only say that I was a lost soul, and he was praying for God to make me ‘normal’. But it turned out, he not only had his entire church praying for me, my dad had gone out of his way to inform the entire community that, in his opinion, I had strayed from ‘the will of God’.”

Pausing to let her anger subside, Andrea could not conceal the rawness of her pain. “It hurts so bad to know my father is ashamed of me.”

“I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this.”

“To lose the person you love more than anything while being persecuted by others is not right,” she said.

“No, it’s not.”

Wondering out loud, Andrea asked, “How can you be a Christian and reject two people who love each other? Why didn’t my father approve of us?…… And why can’t he realize how demeaning it is to constantly tell me that he is praying for me? That shows a complete lack of respect for who I am. It’s his way of making it clear that he believes I need help, that I need to be fixed. In his mind, I’m broken.”

Stuart observed, “People would be better off praying for themselves, instead of passing judgment on who needs to be prayed for.”

“I don’t understand why my dad thought that rejecting me was going to somehow make me stop being who I was.” Struggling with self-doubt, she asked, “Why couldn’t he love me just because I was his daughter? Why wasn’t that enough?”

There was no good answer, so they sat in silence until Andrea abruptly asked, “Do you believe in God?”

“No, I don’t – and I could never believe in the God you say your father embraces.”

“What do you mean?”

Stuart suggested, “When it comes to any form of religion, I think a scientific explanation for the world around us makes far more sense. But if there is a God, I can’t believe He or She would be vengeful and engage in harsh judgment just because two people fall in love. It’s inconceivable that a supreme being would be concerned with their gender.”

Andrea’s shoulders slumped. “It’s depressing the way everyone always focused strictly on our gender. It didn’t matter. My relationship with Laurie was meaningful in so many ways. I had never connected with anyone on such a deep level. She made me feel worthy and appreciated. She made me better than I thought I could be.”

“It’s too bad your family didn’t get to know her.”

“It was their loss, all right. But they honestly didn’t consider Laurie to be a person. In their eyes, she was nothing more than a sinner – just like me.” Andrea shook her head. “Why couldn’t my parents be happy that I found someone to love and who loved me? Isn’t that the most important thing?”

“There is nothing more important,” Stuart affirmed. “Although others made it difficult for you, it was a blessing that the two of you found each other.”

“We were a perfect match,” the grieving woman said wistfully. “Laurie and I were two people sharing one life.”

Stuart knew exactly what she meant, and, sadly, he also knew what it was like to be condemned by others.

Andrea added, “Regardless of how badly we were treated, being together was by far the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I couldn’t help noticing over the years that we appeared to be far happier than those who judged us.”

“In the end, your happiness was not dependent on the approval of others.”

Andrea turned and studied him. Increasingly curious about Stuart, she said, “You have been unbelievably understanding and compassionate. Where does your wisdom come from?”

The expression of grimness that swept across his face surprised her. Stuart was naturally reluctant to burden this woman with all he had gone through, on the other hand, there was a chance it might help if she knew that, just like her, he had also suffered intolerance and cruelty at the hands of others.

After a long pause, he decided to reveal the heartbreaking truth surrounding his marriage. With calm assuredness, he stated matter-of-factly, “I know exactly what it’s like to be rejected for who you love.”

“What are you talking about?”

Stuart looked over at his wife’s grave and then down at his wedding ring. Although it shouldn’t have mattered, he knew that for countless people it had been the only thing that mattered. In an even tone devoid of emotion, he said, “Helen was black. When we fell in love in 1960, it was beyond scandalous.”

Andrea instantly realized that explained everything. No wonder this man was so caring and empathetic. He and his wife had endured the same discrimination that she and Laurie had encountered.

Lowering his voice, Stuart said, “Unfortunately, in this state, just like in fifteen others, interracial marriage was illegal until 1967. So we discreetly lived together until we could get married. Helen had hoped to have a traditional wedding, but that was out of the question. As I’m sure you can appreciate, churches were the first to turn their backs on us, but, in fairness, they were far from the only ones.

“Finally, after a lengthy search, we found a justice of the peace who had the courage to officiate our marriage. By then, both of our families had disowned us. We had no friends and going out in public often meant facing pure hatred. It was overwhelming trying to contend with the viciousness of people.

“It seemed like everyone in the community was determined to demonstrate how much they despised us. But, like you and Laurie, all that adversity made me and Helen even closer. We were all we had. It frequently felt like it was us against the world – and in many respects that was true.”

Andrea shuddered to think of the abuse the couple had suffered at a time when people knew they had “the law” on their side.

Stuart rarely talked about his marriage because most people couldn’t grasp what it was like to love someone that others disapproved of – but he knew that Andrea understood. “Even though we were legally married, the hatred continued nonstop. It was infuriating the way people treated Helen. There were many occasions when I feared for her safety, but she refused to be intimidated, and, most amazingly of all, she always found the strength to forgive their racist behavior. I don’t know how she did it.”

“Helen must have been remarkable.”

“She was, and that was proven beyond all doubt when we reached the lowest point in our lives. It was such an awful time that I didn’t think we would survive, but, somehow, Helen, with sheer determination, was able to pull us through. It’s incredible that she was able to go on.”

Andrea desperately wanted to know what the lowest point was – but she felt it was up to Stuart to share something so personal. However, it was a subject so dark and disturbing that he could not bring himself to discuss it for fear that he wouldn’t be able to control his sorrow.

So they sat quietly.

As she listened to the breeze gently rustling the leaves overhead, she marveled at what a day this had turned out to be. Andrea had never met anyone so easy to talk to, and the connection she now felt with Stuart was powerful. It was hard to believe she was actually sitting next to someone who had experienced the same kind of mistreatment she had, and it made her thankful that she had developed a bond with someone who truly understood what her life had been like.

Happily, going forward, that bond would only grow stronger.

***

Throughout the summer and into the fall, Stuart and Andrea established a ritual of meeting at the cemetery every Monday morning. As they got better acquainted, their relationship took on a rich and rewarding dimension that neither could have anticipated.

The weather on November 8th was spectacular. The brilliant sunlight lit up the cloudless sky, and the temperature was unusually mild for autumn. Feeling better than she had at any time since Laurie’s death eight months earlier, Andrea made her way down the cemetery path. Glancing to her left, she saw that Stuart, instead of sitting in his customary spot on the bench, was standing near Helen’s headstone, but, strangely, he was facing away from his wife and peering at the grave next to hers. Andrea didn’t know it, but the past was, once again, about to intrude on the present.

She walked over to him, realizing that he had not noticed her. “Good morning, Stuart.”

Lost in thought, he looked up. “Oh, hello, Andrea. Sorry, my mind was elsewhere.”

“I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

He sighed and said, “No, no. That’s okay.”

Wondering why he was facing away from Helen, Andrea glanced at the headstone he shared with his wife and asked, “Is it unsettling to see your name on there?”

“It was at first,” Stuart admitted. “But it’s comforting to know I’ll be resting beside her.”

There was a long pause before he spoke nine words that left Andrea feeling shaken. Struggling to maintain his composure, a single tear rolled down his cheek as he pointed at the grave he was facing. In an unsteady voice, Stuart said, “I will also be resting next to our son.”

Stunned, Andrea wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly – but she had.

Turning and facing the headstone, she saw the last name was Winfield. Her throat tightened as she read:

William Alan Winfield

November 8, 1968   December 14, 1968

Our cherished son will remain in our hearts forever.

Andrea gasped. “Oh my God, Stuart. Oh no.” Studying the dates, she saw that their child was only five weeks old when he died and that today was his birthday.

In a whisper that could barely be heard, Stuart said, “He would have been fifty-three years old…… It was a lifetime ago.”

Not sure if she should say it – she did anyway. “This was the lowest point you were talking about.”

Under the crushing weight of his memories, the broken father said, “That’s right. Will was born with Down syndrome, but he also had a heart defect. They found it when he was ten days old. Today that condition can be corrected with surgery, but in the late sixties, it was often fatal. So, as you can see, I’ve been visiting this cemetery for more than five decades.”

Andrea was at a loss for words. Numb from her own grief, she had paid no attention to who was buried next to Helen. “Stuart, I don’t know what to say. For the longest time, I’ve wondered how you accumulated such wisdom about life and death. Sadly, now I understand.”

“It’s not a subject you want to become an expert on, but I guess you do learn from experience.”

Still in shock from finding out that Stuart had lost a child, Andrea asked, “How on earth did you and Helen manage to find a way to go on after such a tragedy?”

“There’s no great secret. Helen and I had to be strong for each other. We slowly picked up the pieces and did the best we could. It was a long agonizing road, but losing our son drove home the point that life is fragile, and it can be taken away at any moment. That realization made us more tolerant and forgiving of each other. We didn’t fight over petty things, and we didn’t let our disagreements drag out. We were too thankful to have each other to let minor issues come between us. We appreciated every day we were privileged to spend together.”

Stuart reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Opening it, he carefully retrieved a tattered photo of Helen holding their infant in her arms. His hand shook as he gave it to her. “Will was one week old when I took this.”

Andrea stared into the eyes of a proud mother with her newborn. The joy radiating from Helen’s face was particularly poignant considering how temporary it would be. She said admiringly, “He was an adorable baby.”

“Having children had been our dream. Helen was so happy when she found out she was going to be a mom. There were no issues during her pregnancy, and her delivery was uneventful, so we were caught off guard by the diagnosis. However, the fact that Will was born with a genetic disorder did not change how we felt. We were thrilled to have a son, and we loved him unconditionally. Helen and I felt completely blessed – until we lost him and then the same ugliness resurfaced.”

Andrea said cautiously, “I don’t understand.”

Shaking his head in disgust, Stuart seethed, “The week after his funeral, an anonymous letter arrived stating that Will’s death was God’s way of punishing us for our ‘mixed race’ marriage. But it was just the first of many. For months we continued to receive that type of abuse, and then one afternoon, we came to the cemetery and someone had spray-painted ‘God’s judgment is served’ on Will’s headstone. We ended up having to replace it multiple times over the years.”

Andrea felt sick at her stomach. “How could anyone possibly think that the death of an innocent child is God’s will?”

Stuart replied with hard-earned certainty, “People will believe almost anything – especially if they are convinced there is an everlasting price to pay for not believing it. The tortured fear of divine punishment often compels people to do the unthinkable.”

Knowing he was right, Andrea concluded, “The willful ignorance that men and women choose to engage in is truly astounding.”

“I wish I could disagree with you, but I can’t.”

“Stuart, I am so sorry for all of the hate and bigotry you’ve had to live through.” Standing between his wife and son, Andrea knew how fortunate she was to have met him, and now to discover he had suffered even greater emotional pain only increased her admiration for a person who had lost everything.

She turned to him and said, “Thank you.”

Confused, he asked, “For what?”

“You reached out to me when no one else made the effort.”

Embarrassed, Stuart insisted, “You shouldn’t need to thank me for being a decent human being…… It’s just that you and I both know that love is the same for everyone regardless of who they happen to be. Each person, no matter what their gender, ethnicity, age, or disability, deserves to be treated with dignity.”

Then Stuart smiled weakly and added, “On the other hand, this might just be the ramblings of a tired old man.”

Andrea reached over and squeezed his hand. “The smartest old man I’ve ever known.”

***

The following Monday, Andrea could hardly wait to share her good news with Stuart. She had received a prestigious promotion at work that would have a significant impact on the rest of her career. In fact, she was so eager to tell him, she was going to see if they could exchange phone numbers so they could talk any time they felt like it.

She strolled down the cemetery path and glanced at the bench which was already partially shaded by the elms and maples, but, surprisingly, Stuart wasn’t there. Her eyes quickly swept across the perfectly manicured grass to his wife’s grave, and when she saw the flower-covered mound of dirt next to Helen, Andrea choked in horror.

Her mind reeled in disbelief as she tried to comprehend the somber reality in front of her. After hesitating for a few seconds, she slowly walked to the headstone and read the date of Stuart’s death. The wise and thoughtful man had died on the previous Wednesday and was most likely buried on Saturday. If only she had known.

The sudden shock was devastating not only because of her sense of loss but because she had never explained to him how much he meant to her. Stuart had been more compassionate, understanding, and accepting than any of the Christians she knew. Although a stranger, he had been supportive and encouraging while her family refused to do anything but pray.

For just a moment, Andrea closed her eyes and thought about how unfair it was that death had once again taken someone important to her. But, of course, she knew all too well that losing those you care about is an inevitable part of life, and each person has to face it in their own way.

Opening her eyes, she blinked back tears and once again performed the heartfelt display of affection that Stuart had witnessed the first time he saw her. Bending down, Andrea gently kissed his headstone and whispered, “Thank you, my friend. I will never forget you and your beautiful family.”