This is my first piece since the passing of my dear wife, Heidi M. Ruiz. She passed away on 3/28/2021 at Cornell medical hospital after a roller coaster of a day of sudden medical complications. If you’re inclined to hear my recounting of the day, please feel free to check out an interview I did with my pastor some weeks later. You can listen here.
I wanted to write a piece because I think it’s time to begin sharing this journey. Though I want to write about the death of a spouse as I continue to grieve, I know others reading this will or are facing their own grief, so I am writing as a way to preach the gospel to myself (and to others).
Our ears never need to hear the gospel more urgently than in the face of death. The gospel is beautiful and powerful and the balm my soul needs; the succor to nourish my heart in the wake of grief. Despite knowing that my wife would likely pass before me in light of the several years of serving as a caregiver of a very sick and vulnerable woman, I remember thinking to myself, on my drive home from the hospital, how out of nowhere her death still felt. It was a deep punch to the gut, an assault on my heart of worse sort, a tearing of a fabric of all the emotional, mental and spiritual ties that are properly bound in a marriage union; yet now, with no recourse.
As David so aptly put in the wake of the death of his son, I can go to [her] but [she] cannot return (2 Sam 12:23). I will not hear her voice again; I will not hold her hand; I will not help in ways I used to help her; I will not deliberate on matters of the day, at least until heaven. And even then, I know things will be different. She is no longer my wife both now and in eternity. There is a terrible sharpness of pain as I contemplate this severing, a severing brought about because of the reality of sin, the fall, the curse of death. I hate death now more than ever.
About a month before her passing, I had been meditating on Acts 20:38, “What grieved them most was his statement they would never see his face again.” By all accounts, we don’t know if Paul corrected their theology because the truth is, they will see each other again in heaven. And I will see Heidi again in heaven.
However, the point of Luke’s addition here, I think, is to make us prepare our hearts for the reality of the experience of separation on this side of heaven. We need to be ready, and the subsequent pain that accompanies that separation is warranted. So Luke’s addition here helps offer a sympathetic ear to the pain that naturally arrives when we will, as long as our bodies remain in the flesh, never again see those we love once death comes our way.
This is what grieves me the most: While on this side of heaven, I will not see her face again.
The Hope of the Gospel
My hope in death is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. I sing this, I thank God for this, I recount it to mind when despair and sadness overwhelm me. I need this hope. Without this hope, my heart fails more quickly than I can say my own name.
The hope of the gospel not only sustains me in the day-to-day but serves as my buttress in the face of sin. Sin still crouches at the door of my heart, vying for attention to relieve myself of these pressures and pains. It’s a brutal battle and can take different forms depending on the day.
One particular temptation is the temptation to excessive sorrow. John Flavel helpfully describes seven different ways our sorrow can become sinful. One way, in particular, that is hard to fend off is “when we continually excite or provoke [our sorrows] by willing irritations.” He interprets this as follows:
“Grief, like a lion, loves to play with us before it destroys us. And strange it is that we should find some kind of pleasure in rousing our sorrows. It is Seneca’s observation that even sorrow itself has a kind of delight attending it.”
Indeed, there is tremendous temptation to find comfort in my tears. So much so that, like David, tears can be like food (Ps 42:3). Rousing our sorrows grants us access to tears that serve the purpose of feeding us, albeit in ways that are always, inevitably, leaving us hungry in the end. Yet, my tears cannot satisfy. No matter genuine and rightly aligned, my tears cannot support my soul and do not satisfy what I long for most.
What do I long for?
I long for heaven more than ever. I long for union with Christ. I long to be done away with this body of death. Yet, in God’s wisdom, it is more necessary to remain. So while I hate death more than ever, I see something of its necessity. Death is not good, but it is good that there is death.
You see, I don’t long for her return. She is with Jesus, and my love for her must prove that being with Jesus is not only more necessary but infinitely better than remaining in the flesh. Death was the passageway that God ordained for her union with him.
So, the hope of the gospel, by the work of the Spirit, grants sustainable peace in the meantime. Though the flesh is weak and groans along the way, I know, in my spirit, that Christ’s resurrection means our resurrection because we are in Christ now and forever.
Heidi was a physically sick woman. She needed lots of medical support. But she loved Jesus, and I delight in remembering those times we would sing together, pray together, read the Bible together. My most precious memories include me taking care of her in some way. One of my last deeds was carrying her up the stairs to bed the night before going to the hospital. She had trouble climbing the stairs in general, so that night wasn’t unusual per se. But little did I know that it would be the last time I would hold her in my arms.
Now, she is in the arms of Jesus. She is delighting in him in ways that I can only dream of. I am glad she is in his arms; I am glad she is with Jesus because Jesus has healed her. She won’t need help upstairs anymore because of what Jesus has done.
And because of what Jesus has done, if you are in Christ, then we can endure the most arduous hardship, the most difficult of suffering, the most painful of losses and sorrows, even the grief that comes in the wake of the death of a spouse.
 John Flavel, Facing Grief, Pg 32.