Four White Doves

Jesus wept. ~ John 11:35

Thursday, I went to visit a friend at the Valley Inn Long-term Care Facility. Ruth (not her real name) is an eighty-eight-year-old bundle of contagious joy. She smiles, laughs easily, and has a never-ending sparkle in her eyes. She might be 4’ 10” but her spirit soars above the clouds. And, yes, Ruth has sad days, but they do not define her.

“Ruth, where does your joy come from?”

“Joy? Do I have joy?” Ruth asks with a twinkle in her eye. “You’re pretty happy, Ruth.” “I guess so.”

“Pastor, let me tell you what I tell my children. When I die you can cry for a little bit but not too long. I’m eighty-eight now. I raised my children. Had a good husband. I tell my children, when your mother dies, she will no longer have to suffer. I will be with God and loved ones, so don’t cry too long.”

“Did you really tell your kids that Ruth?”

“Yes. I told them that. And I told them to release four white doves at my funeral.”

“Why four?”

Ruth looked at me from a deep place within her. “When I came to this country, I couldn’t speak any English. I worked in a sewing factory.”

“In New York?” “Yes, New York. I didn’t have to speak to sew. My husband came later, and he worked in a factory until he got accepted to Columbia Medical School.”

“We wanted children, but we have nothing to offer them. No money to feed them or support them. When my husband started working as a doctor, we bought a house and had three children. Now we can afford to educate our children.”

“All of them get their education. I love them so much. What more can I ask for?”

“I have three children. Six grandchildren and one great. All my children are doing well. I tell them, ‘Release four white doves when I die.’” “Why four doves, Ruth?” I asked again.

Ruth went to a faraway place. Finally, she spoke. “I had two grandchildren die instantly in a car wreck. It was horrible.”

“I can’t imagine that pain Ruth.” “It was horrible, so bad,” Ruth said. She clasped her hands together as if she were praying.

“Who was driving Ruth?” “My husband.” “Your husband was driving Ruth?” “Yes.” “Did he die in the wreck as well?”

“A car hit his car head on. My grandchildren died immediately. My husband spent thirty days in the hospital and then he died too.” Ruth dabbed the tear in her eye.

“I just can’t imagine that kind of pain Ruth. The loss. How did you get through it?”

Ruth put her hands beneath her eyes and made the motion of tears flowing down over and over. “Years and years,” she said.

Alan Jones in Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality writes that deep heartfelt “tears are agents of resurrection and transformation. Sincere tears have a “liberating and cathartic effect.”

Jesus wept and at his command Lazarus rose from the grave. “Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus said. What unbinds us and helps us let go of our pain and sorrow? Does grace slowly mend our broken hearts through tears? Through time? Through a listening ear?

Ruth said, “I cried for years and still do sometimes.” Alan Jones says, “Tears are a gift, and their fruit is always joy.”

Sooner or later all of us will have to face the issues of pain, suffering, misfortune, death, or loss. The Good News though is that our crosses to bear can lead to resurrection and new life if we let them says Richard Rohr. Tears are part of the process of transformation.

“I told my children, Pastor, release four white doves when I die. One for my husband. One for me. Two for my grandchildren who died,” said Ruth as she wiped a tear from her eye and smiled at me. I held her small-wrinkled hand as we prayed for them and gave thanks for the gift of healing.”

Quite often, grace enters at the place of our deepest wound and joy springs forth over time.

Blessings and peace,


Posted in Meditations.