Roberta, My Beloved Wife
Written by her loving husband, Norman Herr (audio)
Delivered at her memorial service, November 6, 2010
Valley Presbyterian Church, North Hills, CA
On behalf of all of her family, I wish to express our deepest gratitude to you for sharing in our loss, and for supporting us this past four weeks through your kind thoughts, prayers, cards, emails, notes, meals, and help at these services and the reception to follow.
Through these difficult days, many of you have asked “how are you doing?” This has been a difficult question to answer, because it is multi-dimensional. In one sense, we have never before felt so loved and cared for by so many friends. The outpouring of sentiment, concern, and assistance has brought deep joy and comfort to our hearts. In another dimension, however, we have never felt so much pain and sorrow. The immeasurable loss of my beloved wife and the dear mother of our children has left a hole in our lives that will never be filled. Nor do we want it filled, because her loss keeps us longing for that day when we will be reunited in heaven, enjoying and glorifying God together with her. In yet a third dimension, we are experiencing peace amidst a raging storm. It is understandable to be at peace when things are going well, but peace amidst the anguish of life and death is true peace. I saw this peace in Roberta’s heart this past month, and indeed, this peace was characteristic of her life. Observing her peace amidst the ravages of terminal cancer has left an indelible impression for all who were privileged to witness it.
Although cancer was a new and unexpected challenge for Roberta, it was certainly not the first. As you may know, audiologists classified Roberta as profoundly deaf. Her audiology reports showed that she had greater than 90 decibel hearing loss in all frequencies. Ignoring the official audiology reports, Roberta simply told people she was “hearing impaired”, and then, only when there was an obvious miscommunication. Throughout our 29 years of marriage, I never heard Roberta complain about her inability to hear. Although she had the poorest of hearing, she had best of listening skills. Roberta worked hard to understand not only what you said, but also what you meant. God took her weakness and made it a strength.
Throughout our married life, I was Roberta’s ears, and she was my heart. We normally spent two or more hours each evening, just talking about our children, the events of the day, and, yes, at times, probably about everyone of you gathered here today. Roberta wanted to make sure she lip-read every conversation accurately, and taught me to be attentive and observant so I could relay to her that what she did not hear. Roberta had a tender heart for people, and expressed it through gentle words, acts of kindness, and prayers on their behalf. Roberta never let her hearing loss stop her from serving those around her.
Roberta and I had a wonderful marriage and family life together. She blessed her children and me every day of her life, and now, as she has gone to be with the Lord, we are sustained by wonderful memories of our years together. As many of you know, I have written a number of books and papers on my academic specialties, but now, I have a much better book to write, the story of Roberta and our family life together. Yesterday I made a new blog where you can share specific memories of your friend, and they will be used in a book that I intend to write for our children. The address is in your bulletin: robertaherr.com. Today, I want to share just a few excerpts from what will be the last chapter of that book.
On October 10, 2010, I took Roberta to the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City for a sudden and severe abdominal pain. Within two hours the radiologist returned to our room, looking at the floor and shaking his head. With trembling hands he fumbled with the computer, trying in vain to show us the CT scan of Roberta’s liver. Eventually he gave up and looked at Roberta in the eyes. My tear-stained notes record what he said: Her situation was “much worse than anyone could have expected”. It was "very advanced", and "encompassed the entire liver" so much so that it looked "like a sponge". He shook his head and said, "It is quite possible nothing can be done". Roberta’s liver had innumerable lesions, and although Dr. Lewis could not say for sure that it was cancer, we knew there was no other viable possbility.
As my inner being was torn asunder with this devastating news, I gazed at my wife and saw that familiar sweet serenity in her countenance. Roberta politely thanked Dr. Lewis for his analysis, and calmly said that she fully understood the implications, and that she was not afraid of death, and would continue to trust in God both now and in eternity. She told Dr. Lewis that she was a Christian, trusted in her savior Jesus Christ, and was ready to go home to be with God if this was her time. Roberta wanted to cry, but the pain in her side was so excruciating, I had to cry for both of us.
We spent six days in the hospital. When I wasn’t holding her hand, I was generally sleeping on the couch by her side. I watched as she calmly submitted to test after test. Sonograms, CT scans, liver biopsies, MRIs, bone scans, innumerable blood tests… the list went on an on. With each test she got weaker and weaker, but remained determined to do everything necessary to make sure we had an accurate diagnosis. The final diagnosis came on October 15: Poorly differentiated small cell cancer with neuroendocrine differentiation occurring in the liver. The source of the cancer was unknown, but likely the pancreas or lungs. The cancer was aggressive, had already metastasized, and it was determined that her treatment plan would be palliative or hospice care. We were grateful that Roberta would be able to come home to spend her final days surrounded by her family.
From the moment of her first communication with the radiologist, Roberta knew that her time on Earth was short. She was never angry nor did she question nor complain. She was at peace with her terrible diagnosis because, as she said, she was at peace with God and with everyone she knew. I rarely left Roberta’s side, and then only when others were there to hold her hand. One time, when Roberta’s sister Jessica and mother Alice arrived, I took John out for dinner at the hospital cafeteria. John told the story of a close friend of his who had endured a chaotic and agonizing childhood. John wondered why he and his siblings had been so blessed to grow up in such a loving home rather than a painful environment like his friend. I realized at that moment that the real question was not why our family had to endure the ravages of cancer, but why we had been so blessed by an abundance of love. This was Roberta’s attitude as she continued bless us and every nurse, doctor and technician with her kind and reassuring words.
On October 12, 2010, Roberta and I were in the pre-operative room. Roberta had just signed papers authorizing a liver biopsy, recognizing that in some instances such surgery could be “catastrophic”. Roberta was very peaceful. She knew that she was dying, but did not know the time frame. John had been with her the past two days, but was running some errands and did not know which room she was in. Stephen was in the middle of an extensive trek in the Himalayas, the world's most massive mountain range, and had not yet received my email. Christiana and Marten were in Rwanda, having just worked on a water project in Burundi, the lowest per capita income country in the world. Roberta did not know if she would get to see her children or any of her family again, and asked me to write down a few thoughts while she waited for the surgeon. I recorded her words verbatim and have transcribed them to share with family. I would like to share a few excerpts now.
Speaking to her extended family, Roberta said:
I also want you to know that I feel my family’s love and support, both collectively and individually through each of you. Knowing the love of family and the love of God has made it possible for me to bear this illness.
It is a little hard to explain the peace which surpasses all understanding and the eternal hope that I have in Christ, but this all began many years ago when I became interested in finding out who Jesus was, and why mankind was interested in a man who lived 2000 years ago. In reading the gospels and having questions answered in Bible study, I found out about a God who was the Creator of the heavens and the Earth, and who created me, and had a personal interest and plan for my life, and that he is interested in each one of us, and He is patient for us to return His love and acknowledge Him as God.
I found out that I did not have to do anything to get God’s attention, or to be good so that a prayer was answered, but found out that He already knew everything about me and loved me, and wanted even better things for me than I was thinking, as a young believer learning to understand God better.
Some of the words she spoke to her children were:
I just want to say I love each of you with all of my heart. My joy is full, knowing that you love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind. Being a mother was the best career I ever could have had, and I did it 24/7 for free… but no…. I got paid over and over again with butterfly kisses and hugs and little kids’ cards that said, “I love you Mommy!”, and as you got older, to see your eyes and to know that it was genuine. Then of course your acts of service, and hugs were all a bonus affirmation of your love.
Every day of family life, the beautiful woven blanket or tapestry that includes everything from rainy days to emergency room visits, picnics in the park, family outings and vacations, doing activities together, to family chores and hosting Thanksgiving together as a family. Every story, and thought, and recollection brings a warm chuckle -- even the bumpy ones, because all of these experiences made you more independent.
I know that you will be fine and that God will watch over you, and I will have a front seat on everything going on.
Pray for one another regularly and help even before you are asked. Encourage one another to stay strong in your service for the Lord. Sharpen one another “as iron sharpens iron”. Have spontaneous times of worship with prayer and praise and petition together.
Roberta survived the biopsy and had the joy of seeing her children reunited from three continents. Together we provided Roberta with hospice care for the remainder of her days. Roberta was surround with love. She requested minimum doses of pain medication so she could visit as much as possible. She so much wanted to meet with each of you and bless you, but her body would not permit her to do so. In the days ahead I want to share with you things that she was unable to. Some will be shared through photographs and writings on the website, and others through emails, phone calls or talks. When you talk with us, please talk about your memories of Roberta. They will be a great blessing to us in the days ahead.
Although Roberta’s decline was rapid and unexpected, she always knew that some day she would go home to be with God. She was prepared to go, and although she had hoped to remain longer with us, knew that her separation from us would not be permanent. During one of his many visits, Pastor Svendsen shared 2 Corinthians 4:14 with us: “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” This is what Roberta and our family believes, and this will be inscribed on Roberta’s and my grave marker at Mountain View Cemetery in my hometown of Altadena.
During the last week of her life it became diffictult for Roberta to talk. Eventually she did not have the breath even to whisper, and we had to lip-read, just as she had done her entire life. To children I saw her say “I love you with all my heart. God will be with you.” To me, some of her last words were “I love you with all my heart, Norman. Thank you for taking care of me.” Friday night our family gathered to praise God and commit Roberta to the Lord's care. Our family took turns holding her hand throughout the night, and it was my privilege to hold her hand at the moment she took her last breath and transitioned from this life to glory. Her departure was peaceful, as was the rest of her life. Her life has not ended. It has only begun, and we shall ever praise God just as she is now able to do in His presence.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Lord God, I thank you for giving me the awesome privilege of being Roberta’s husband and for providing us the opportunity to raise a family together.
Thank you for blessing us with a wonderful marriage and family.
Thank you that Roberta was a woman after your own heart, and that her soul is now in your presence where she may behold your face in light and glory.
Almighty God, we thank you that Roberta’s goal was to love you with all of her heart, soul, strength, and mind. May that be our goal as well.
We thank you in the matchless name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen.