I received some good news recently. My mother's best friend has died. She was 91. You may be thinking, "Why would someone's death be good news?" Good question. But before I answer, let me tell you about "Ms Alma" as I called her, and why their friendship was so special. Ms. Alma and Florence have been friends for about 60 years I guess.
In their younger years, these two beautiful women were social butterflies attracting the attention of the most eligible men in their circle. Alma and Florence belonged to several well known social clubs of the day, and loved to throw fancy parties for their other friends. Family life for Alma and Florence included their husbands, children, church every Sunday and large family dinners, especially at holiday time.
Throughout their long friendship, Alma and Florence were always there for each other through good times and bad, sickness and health. The day came when Florence suffered a major health crisis. Diagnosed in her late fifties with multiple sclerosis, Florence lost her ability to walk. This didn't stop Alma from coming to see her friend. Alma kept Florence's spirits up with stories about the good old days, frequently punctuating the air between them with fits of laughter.
When she came Alma always bought Florence's favorites — corned beef sandwiches or crab cakes. I loved watching those two feast on good food and good conversation. Before leaving Alma always gave me what she called "a little piece of change," usually five or ten dollars. I think it was her way of letting me know how much she appreciated me for taking good care of her friend.
The time would come when Alma developed health problems of her own, limiting her ability to get around independently. No longer could she keep up her regular visits to see Florence, but that didn't stop her. She still managed to call every week to check in with her friend. When Florence was blessed to buy a used wheelchair van, one of the first trips we made in it was to see Alma.
This time, we bought the food. One beautiful summer afternoon, we surprised Alma with an impromptu outdoor picnic. Because her house was not accessible for Florence's wheelchair, Alma's daughter helped set up a folding table with tablecloth on the sidewalk out front. We sat down to a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and sweet tea. We had fun that day, laughing and joking as Alma's neighbors glanced back at us with disapproving looks as they walked by. Obviously, they had no idea of the longstanding history between these two women, and why this was perfectly normal behavior for the two of them. Later that day, as Alma and Florence said their "goodbyes," I knew somehow that these two friends had probably seen the last of their best days on earth together.
Not long afterwards, Alma's health declined to the extent that her daughters could no longer care for her at home. Alma was placed in a nursing home conveniently within five minutes driving distance from our house. Florence and I visited Alma there often to play dominoes and eat lunch with her. It was almost like old times, except that both women were now in wheelchairs.
Later that year, Florence passed away at age 83. Alma's daughter brought her to the funeral. I will never forget the heartfelt tribute Alma made to her friend:
When they told me that Florence had died, I had to come. Florence and I were the best of friends. I really will miss her.
After Florence's death, I continued to visit Alma. She was always glad to see me. Our shared grief over the lost of our mutual best friend brought us closer together. The time came when I decided to move away from the area. I struggled with how to tell Alma I would be leaving. The night before my last visit with her, I had a dream. In the dream, I was instructed to share the gospel with Alma and lead her in a prayer for salvation, just as I had done with Florence some years before. The next day, when I arrived at the nursing home, Alma seemed especially glad to see me. It was as if she had been expecting me to come that day. With few words from me, Alma prayed to receive Jesus Christ, as her Lord and Savior. The look of pure joy on her aging face was both priceless and precious.
I never saw Alma again after that day. Some ten years later, I came across one of Florence's old phone books. Leafing through its pages, I came across a phone number for one of Alma's daughters, so I called her. When she answered, I found myself blurting out the words, "Is your mother still alive?" After she confirmed who I was, she said that her mother had died a year earlier. My call had come on the one year anniversary of her death. Alma was 91 when she died. I hung up the phone thinking:
What a joyful reunion Alma and Florence must be having in heaven right now.
I was glad to hear that Alma had died because I knew these two lifelong friends would be reunited once more. In life, they shared a special friendship. And now, in death, they share an eternity in the presence of God.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them.' Revelation 14:13
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:1-2