One week later…

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 9:13 am by Libbie

Dear Friends,
What a week it has been. A week ago we were watching the sun come up after a sleepless night, surprised that Al was still with us, although he had slipped into unresponsiveness, and wondering how much longer he would have to wait to go home.

It was hard to see him suffer. In some ways it was merciful that he was no longer conscious. The previous day he had been so thirsty, and we had only been partially able to quench his thirst, because it was hard for him to swallow, and more than a drop or two of water at a time tended to make him choke. For me, that was one of the hardest things in the whole process. So I think we were relieved that around 2 a.m. on Monday he passed beyond consciously feeling that thirst.

At about 10:00 Monday morning Al began to struggle to breathe. I had the impression from books or movies that when that characteristic breathing (what used to be called the “death rattle”) began, it was a matter of just a handful of minutes before the person passed away. But for Al it went on for ten and a half hours. We kept praying that the Lord would take Al home and end his suffering right away. And we kept waiting. We sang, we prayed, we talked, sometimes we laughed, and we waited. The hours rolled by, the nurse and others came and went, and still we waited.

At the time we wondered why the Lord waited so long to take Al. I don’t mean that we were railing against his judgment, or questioning that his wisdom was best; I think the Lord granted us all peace and trust that he knew what he was doing, and that he was doing it out of love. But we were curious what purpose was being served by making Al wait so long.

The first answer to that question came when our friend Mike, the oncology nurse, came over after he got home from work. He explained that Al was a young man, and underneath the cancer, and even the fibromyalgia, he was a strong man with a strong heart, and it takes a long time for a strong heart to wear down and stop. If Al had been 99 and frail, he would not have had to linger all day. That was helpful information.
So, we waited. We took shifts so that we could eat and take care of other details, but at least two people were with Al all the time, stroking his head, his hands, his feet, moistening his dry lips, talking to him, playing or singing music.

The nurse had told us that it is common for someone to have long pauses between breaths, even pausing for up to 30 or 60 seconds and then resuming breathing again. We had seen that many times on Sunday, although never a pause longer than 7 seconds and not at all on Monday. She had also explained that sometimes the final breath happens but the heart keeps beating for while, and she described how to check for moisture on a hand mirror held near the mouth to tell when the heart has stopped as well.

Al’s breathing had been regular, though labored, all day, without any pauses between breaths. But around 8:30 p.m. the people who happened to be with Al at that time noticed that there was a long pause after a breath. After a number of seconds they called downstairs and we all bounded upstairs to Al’s bedside. Still no new breath. Alasdair had his hands on Al and could feel his heart still beating. Then it seemed to stop, although we couldn’t be sure. I was fumbling hurriedly and clumsily with a hand mirror trying to figure out how to hold it right. But by God’s providence, our friend Mike was there and was able to step to the side of the bed, ascertain with competence and quiet expertise that Al’s heart had indeed stopped, and assure us that he was gone.
Then we all broke out into tears, and smiles, and hugs, and crying, cheering Al on, shouting, “You’re home!” “Run to Jesus!” “You’re free!” “You made it!” “Go get him, Dad!” “Run!” We held each other, and sobbed through our smiles, and just let the sweet knowledge sink in that Al was set free and was seeing Jesus face to face, wrapped in the warm embrace of his savior. Then we simply had to sing something. Nothing short of a song would do to express the relief, and joy, and overwhelming turbulence of emotions swelling up out of our hearts.

So we sang, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” (lyrics are posted below under “2.5.07 Homecoming!”). We had sung that same song earlier in the day through tears of sadness and yearning, aching for Al who was still waiting patiently but eagerly on this side of the “Jordan” to cross over into the promised land. This time the emotion was entirely different. We still sang with flowing tears, but they were tears of joy and relief that Al had crossed over and safely arrived in that eternal day, where the poisonous breath he had struggled with was banished, where sickness, sorrow, pain and death were obliterated and where he was seeing his Father’s face.

There was no room at that point for sadness. Not that that was something we intellectually decided. It simply couldn’t fit in that room or in our hearts at that moment. Since then, of course, we have felt sadness, and we will continue to feel it with varying intensity for the rest of our lives, but at that moment there was only joy, deep and free.

And the more I have thought about it, the more I have begun to discern a second answer to why the Lord had Al linger so long. I think it was for us. We had such a wonderful, long few days of being with Al constantly, telling him how much we each loved and appreciated him, worshiping around his bed, and encouraging him over and over that he had our permission to go. We told him that when the Lord called him, he didn’t need to hang on here for us or even to look back, but he should jump up and run to Jesus. So once Al lost consciousness, and especially once his breathing became a battle, every one of us just longed for him to be free.
I think that when you have to wait for something you really want with all your heart, whether it’s getting your first bicycle or having children after struggling with infertility, receiving that desire is a little foretaste of the pure joy of heaven. Because we had to wait with increasing longing for Al’s release, any other emotions—like regret, or wishing to prolong the time or to hang on—were burned away, and seeing Al finally set free was a moment of nothing by the purest joy. In the midst of such great sorrow as losing our husband and dad, what more wonderful gift than to see that moment transformed into such exquisite joy?

Since Monday night, the memory of the moment of Al’s passing has been so precious. Knowing that we had all the chances we needed to say good-bye and knowing that we would not have wanted it to last any longer, has brought such peace to our hearts. The protracted time we had and the resultant joy we experienced at Al’s passing have turned out to make the subsequent days easier. I wouldn’t have anticipated that, but the Lord knew it. He asked Al to do one last thing for the benefit of his family—to wait in the valley of the shadow of death for an extended period before being able to finally come out the other side into the glorious light of heaven. Al would have chosen to do that for us. If it had been up to us, we would have chosen for the Lord to take Al quickly. If it had been up to Al, even though he was so eager to be with Jesus, he would have chosen to wait, if that would to help us. Thankfully it was neither his choice nor ours, and the Lord knew best.

His choices are sometimes hard to figure out. Some we will never understand on this side of glory. But some we see the wisdom of in retrospect, and this was one of those. As time goes on I’m sure there will be times when we ask God why he gave Al only 54 years. Not that we would wish Al back from the inexpressible glory, and health and life he is living now, but because we who are left in this world without him will miss him. It’s good to have this reminder at this moment that God’s ways and his wisdom are far above ours and are always best and always for our blessing.

I have many more thoughts to share, but I will stop now and post them another time. The blog will be kept open for some period of time. I don’t know exactly how long, but feel free to keep checking in and also leaving comments if you like. Your thoughts and prayers have been more of a blessing to us than you can know.
In Him,
Libbie for all of us


  1. Becky Wilson said,

    February 12, 2007 at 10:21 am

    As always, Libbie, thank you for the gift of time spent including your worldwide family on what’s happening in your life. Thank you for the generosity of spirit that is willing to express private thoughts and griefs. Thank you for knowing how we long to know, but hate to ask, “how it’s going”.

    The words you’ve written have reminded me how close heaven is – a breath away – and loosen the hold on the seemingly solid things that surround me this morning: desk, bills, coffee, calendar. You point me to the eternal, the hope, the future. I am so thankful for this. May God replenish your strength today. Thank you, thank you, for ministering to us all in your writing.

  2. Lizzie Oliphint said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Dear Libbie,
    We met only briefly during our time at Westminster. We are one of the 400 computers that took part in the memorial service for Al, taking in every bit of it from our home in Ft. Worth. What a rich blessing to be a part! I’m writing to express my deepest sympathy and to encourage you that God has used all of your lives to encourage my faith. There have been a few occasions in my life where I am profoundly affected by somone’s teaching or by a person’s life and witness. Your experience of loss, suffering, inexpressible joy, and eternal hope has ministered to me greatly! At this time of deep sorrow, the prayers of His people from around the world are surrounding you and the children. Our window into your hearts has allowed us to see what it means to suffer well. For that we are so grateful!

  3. Tammy said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Your blogs have more purpose than you know. You are reaching out and teaching someone that just went through a loss much like your own, how the life with Jesus is something to be happy and joyful about. I see my selfishness in missing my mom and wanting her back with me. While I never wish to see her suffer again, I do miss her and wish I could hug her once more.

    Thank you for your courage and for sharing your story.

  4. Chris said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Dear Libbie,

    We do not know one another personally, but I know you from afar from a time at Harvey Cedars. I join with the many who have expressed their gratitude for your family and the display it has been to the body of Christ.

    I write because I wonder if God did not also have another purpose to Al’s length of time in passing through to the Heavenly city… and believe truly that is was for us on the outskirts as well. In those hours of labored breathing, He was summoning His children from all over to partake in knowing, praying, resting, trusting, waiting, and thinking on the truths of His Word being displayed in the flesh.

    God drew to your website in varying forms and fashions many — maybe as life long friends, maybe as students, neighbors, acquaintances, and even some who might not have know you at all except by web, yet God had a purpose for them to be reading. To be honest, I cannot remember how God got me to you — a link from somewhere several months back, that I had recognized your name and recalled that you were the woman from Harvey Cedars. I know that was God’s hand , and He had purpose for each of us who have had the privilege to read along, to lift you in prayer, and most of all to watch our faithful God do, for His children, what He has promised He will do.

    None of us could ever know the shear impact of what God has done. I can tell you with certainty that allowing me to read, pray, long, wonder, and watch with you has left and impression that cannot be spoken out with words. God knows.

    Thank you for being His willing vessel. I thank Him for Al who was used in this way, in life for so many, and in death for so many.

    May our God be praised!

    And may this sweet fellowship you have with Him carry each of you in the days that remain before you will be united face to face to worship and praise our Lord in King for all eternity.

    With respect and gratitude, and continued prayers.

  5. Kyuboem Lee said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:35 am

    It was a great privilege for me to be at the memorial service. I feel deeply indebted to you, the Groves family, for sharing your life and Al’s life now more abundant. Especially the stories. How I loved them! They have encouraged me to follow the Lord with renewed passion, for even now Al is pointing others to Jesus. Our family’s prayers continue to be with you as you–may the Lord comfort you and strengthen you.

  6. Jennifer White said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Libby and kids,
    It is so helpful to me to hear (and learn) how you have applied God’s word and your knowledge of the savior through Al’s suffering and now death, For how you see God’s intimate loving care for each of you dispite your grief and how we can walk out great sorrow and joy at the same time. Peace and love, not bitterness and entitlement.
    From the very first day, you faced this painful journey (sp?) head on and immediatedly engaged in the delicate and difficult balance between loving and embracing Al and releasing him at the same time. So much courage, so much selfless loving care. The grace of God on display.

    I know there are many of us who are thankful you will continue sharing your thoughts on this blog as you continue to process this loss. For me, this blog has been a source of feeling connected to the body of Christ, and has ministed to me, in many ways, as we have been moving around and trying to find a new church home.
    I can remember having many conversations with you and Al about finding a way to live in “community”…I hope he’s up there finding the perfect spot (on a lake, in the mountains) for us all.
    Something else I reflect on frequently, as it has affected how I view worship, is that Al said a number of times that he loved (esp. when his fibromyalga was bad) to just stand quietly and let his eyes scan the congregation as they worshiped…how much joy, comfort and encouragement it brought him. He loved the body of Christ and took ownership in it.

    I also remember asking him at mini church one time how, as an Old Testament professor, he could sit through church messages week after week, (when I assumed the gospel would like Christianity 101 all the time). He graciously responded by saying, “You know Jen, I never tiring of hearing the gospel. In fact, I need to hear the gospel every week and every day.” It was so telling of his submission to the word, his humility in how he approached church, his acknowledgement of his depravity and desperate need for the renewing of his mind. Daily.
    There are many more little gems like these that David and I carry in our “pockets”, but these will suffice for now.
    Libby, Alastair, Becky, Eowyn, Alden you are so precious to us. Alastair, I LOVED what you said at the memorial about your parents always pulling you in to be apart of their relationships and made their friends yours. It is so true, and because of that (making you sit through all those mini-church meetings when you were in high school) we have a wonderful context for knowing you and loving you. Thank for letting us love you and grieve with you. I will pray, as you continue to press on. Love, Jennifer

  7. David said,

    February 12, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Libby, we’ve never met but I was also a student of Dr. Groves in 1992. Your reflections always bring me to tears. You must keep this blog up now for your own sake. I hope that you can take some comfort in the fact that so many of us grieving with you. Grief is the most difficult thing in the whole world. It reminds me of what’s wrong with this world, and why i need a Savior.

  8. Diane Clark said,

    February 12, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    A Little Semi-Chiastic Thought
    for Al Groves

    You stopped your car
    in the circle
    and slid the window down.
    You called me.
    I did not recognize you
    in a black suit,
    a tie, dark glasses.
    Your hair was combed,
    your Presbyterian professor goatee
    I had only seen you all messy
    at your night class,
    hair standing up,
    blue shirt wrinkled,
    jeans baggy.
    You knew my name.
    You remembered me.
    I was nothing but you were kind.
    That was a year ago or so—you held up traffic—
    so sure of yourself,
    as if talking to me were more important
    than four beginning pastors on their way
    to funeral orations
    behind you blowing horns.
    This morning you woke
    in a white suit
    and someone flung his arms
    around you
    and handed you a stone.
    He has known your name,
    your real name,
    since before the world
    was tidied up and breathed upon.
    He held up traffic in all our
    little circles
    as if talking to you were more important
    than all the blowing we can manage.
    So sure of himself,
    he called you,
    and you went.

    Feb 6, 2007

  9. Lenir and Maer Dos Santos said,

    February 12, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Dear Libbie,
    It was with happiness and sadness that we heard that Al is gone Home. Happiness because he is certainly with Jesus and what a wonderful place to be.. and sadness, because we will all miss the wonderful and gifted person that he was. Although we did not have contact with you lately, we still remember the wonderful time we had with him and you during the Mini-Church group. I remember his care for the people and several times asking me if I was doing ok, because I had just gotten here. I couldo go on, on. But I would just like to let you know that we are praying that God may be comforting you and the kids in every moment..

  10. Bill Hogan said,

    February 12, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Praise God for the hope of the Gospel. We lost our daughter, Amy, to a brain tumor nearly 11 years ago (her husband, Ed Hartman, was one of Al’s students), and we know what it is to experience the joy of the Lord in the midst of tears. May He be very real to you in your loss.

    I never really knew Al – just met him a time or two – but when I was pastor of Church of the Saviour in Wayne, I heard of him often, and always very positively. He will be missed by many.

    Be blessed!

    Bill Hogan

  11. Fred said,

    February 12, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you, Libbie, for that extended narration of Al’s last hours in this life.

    Another Al-moment:

    A few years ago, Al and I were chatting in Westminster’s parking lot–I don’t remember the occasion–and I mentioned a song by Loreena McKennitt. Al’s face split with his huge smile, and he said “Loreena! Do you like her, too!” Then we spent a few minutes talking about her music and how much we would love to see her in concert, even wondered out loud about the propriety of an evangelical seminary sponsoring or hosting a concert, then paused, looked at each other with a grin, and shook our heads. “Naaaah. That probably wouldn’t work.”

    Then when Al and I went out to lunch a few months ago, I deliberately put one of her CDs in the car player so that it would play when I started the engine. I can still hear his delighted “Loreena!” at the first note; it was so special to be able to do anything–even so truly tiny a thing–that would really please him.

    The strongest part of my memory about our mutual interest in her music (which (I believe) fits his love of fantasy and scifi that Alasdair mentioned–another passion that we shared, although never with each other) is Al’s delight in discovering that we shared something in common, perhaps a delight even greater because you would expect a couple of OT guys to enjoy Hebrew and “all that”. But a spiritual pagan Canadian Celtic-eclectic songwriter–hardly that.

    Wasn’t that was one of his great gifts? Being with Al made you feel that you were his best friend; finding that we had something [else] in common was like icing on his cake–and he wanted you to share the cake and the icing.

    We never got to a concert–her first trip to Phila in a long time will be this April–but I often wished that we could have applauded, and whooped, and been “fans” together. Now he hears music as it was created, pure and strong from the heart of his Redeemer and Friend, and someday we will all cheer, yell, applaud (and perhaps even whoop) at the song of Moses and of the Lamb; and maybe even cheer as Al sings to Christ for us.

    Blessings always.


  12. Mabel & Phillip Hui said,

    February 12, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Yes, God’s ways are the best ways!
    God is good all the time, and all the time God is good!

    You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers!

    I can imagine Al carrying our baby Mary in heaven right now!

    In His Love,
    Phillip & Mabel

  13. Elaine Douds said,

    February 12, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    thank you all, again, for sharing your thoughts and experiences through this hard time. It is such a blessing to hear and read your thoughts and God’s promises of heaven. To Know with a capital “Know” that Al is in heaven today is a comfort that goes beyond our words. “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” has become an anthem to me as well since Isaac is there, what a great picture of our hope and our trust that those we love are waiting for us.

    I love reading the stories about how Al made you feel like you were his best friend, I really only had a few times of talking with Al, but from the first I felt like he was glad to be talking to me! Little old insignificant me. I often wonder if I can come even close to that sort of genuine gracious love for other people. Al has raised the bar and shown me what “brotherly love” can look like.

    I will continue to pray for all of you, God’s grace and presence is sufficient.

    much love to all,


  14. Satish Kumar said,

    February 12, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Greetings Libbie and the Children
    I am an international student at WTS and had met Prof Al only briefly when he was the Academic Dean. But I have wished him time and again at the campus and have always seen his characteristic smile every time i have seen him. More that that even in his death he spoke volumes to me about what i as a father can and should do and also how to be a pastor who relates with all well. I really savored each moment of the memorial and came back with a sense of gratitude for Prof Al’s life and legacy and the family. The most important thing that enriched me was the repeated comment that he always pointed to Jesus his Savior and even in his death and still he cotinues to do the same. I wish that is what people should say when i die and not only me we all as christians should live up to that example. I shared about him and ur family that evening at the church where i go and i left all of them with a challenge that no matter what happens to us may christ be reflected thru our life.
    May the Lord continue to help and guide u all. Our prayers are with you all.

    In Christ Alone
    Satish Kumar

  15. John Mindy McCracken said,

    February 12, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Dear Libbie and family,

    Tears of sadness and joy flooded my eyes and face as I read of the last hours of Al’s life on this side of Jordan. Sadness because death is indeed the enemy and curse from the Fall, but joy because death is not the end of the story for those who belong to Christ. It was evident that you and your family did not grieve as those who have no hope since death, while unwanted, is but the gateway to heaven. How you must long for the day when death, the last enemy, is finally destroyed forever (1Cor.15:26)! I especially wept when I read of you all cheering Al on to Run! Run into the arms of Jesus! through your own tears. I never met Al (my husband, John, was one of his many students), but I could imagine him running like he never had before into Jesus’ embrace – where every one of his tears would be wiped away by Jesus Himself and where death would be no more (Rev.21:4).
    So while we rejoice with you that Al has entered that eternal rest, we do grieve with you and pray for you as you must continue on this side of Jordan for a time without your beloved Al. May the Lord be your Rock and your Refuge.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Mindy & John McCracken

  16. Janet A. Marney said,

    February 13, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Hello Libbie, You do not know me, but the Lord does. Your testimony of lives lived in faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ, following in His footsteps despite great loss, is precious and sweet. I learned of your husband through our Pastor Paul Wolfe at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, VA. Paul has spoken so highly of your husband, as a professor and as a servant of Christ, and of your blog which honors God in the midst of sorrow. I write a weekly devotional geared toward Christian women which I send out via email. I was wondering if you would be so kind as to allow me to copy some excerpts from your very encouraging blog and send them to the women on my list? (I will cc you as well.) I think your story could help others in similar situations. May Jesus Christ be honored and praised in all we do! Thank you. From Janet Marney

  17. Uri said,

    February 15, 2007 at 10:52 am

    May God’s peace be with your family. I rejoice over Al’s strength and peace. He has been a source of great encouragement to me.

  18. Jeff Lawson said,

    May 23, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Dear Libby,

    I have just learned today, May 23rd, of Al’s passing through the mailing that WTS sent out to all alumni. It was, as you know, a tribute to him. When I became aware of the reason for the mailing I must say that something very deep moved within my soul. There was a sense of shock as well as pain. You probably never knew me but I was a student who attended WTS from 1985-1989. I must share with you that my fondest memories of Al were not in the classroom but in the gymnasium. The years of ’85 and ’86 we had a plethora of athletes and would often play pick-up games at a local high school. There would be at least 30-40 guys who would show up to play. Al and Trempor Longman also came out to do battle against these young bucks and I loved playing against Al. He had a real knowledge of the game and that knowledge coupled with his natural talent really inspired others to play their very best. But my most memorable moment of Al was not in the gym but rather on the softball field. We had a faculty vs student game at the beginning of the year before the fall semester began, a Westminster tradition, and I was batting in the later innings with a man or two on and we were losing. I nailed a long shot to left field where Al was playing and was sure that the ball was going to sail way over his head and that I was going to relish that moment the rest of my life. To my dismay and shock, Al, in his amazing athleticism, turned and ran with full force with his back facing the infield in hot pursuit of this potential game winner. What does he do but make a Willie Mays catch to end the inning and the threat of losing face to these upstart seminarians. That catch to this day seems to encapsulate Al Groves character and talent. A man of passion and a man that was very gifted. It was a great joy for me to know Al because we really hit it off not talking about Hebrew but rather talking about the game of basketball(He was, as you know, an avid fan of the Celtics) and the Lord. I am very thankful that I knew him and was able to enjoy him as a friend and mentor. It is a great comfort to know that he is in the presence of One who has restored him wholly. May His comfort and joy sustain you in the days ahead!

    Jeff Lawson

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