Jim Bishop: Bob & Tess-St. Valentine’s right-hand couple

I just attended my third funeral locally since the start of the year – with a fourth coming up on the weekend – somewhat disconcerting in itself.

Stop it, people! You loved life with a passion, so did you leave us this way, I think frequently as pay my respects to the families of these persons who influenced me in significant ways. The least I can do now is to show up, mourn their loss with them and express appreciation for what they meant to me.

It’s selfish, perhaps, to even vocalize my heart’s desire that these persons were still alive, when in some cases their release to a new and better life is a blessing because of the physical pain and suffering they experienced as they neared the end of life’s journey. That’s especially true if they were in the throes of some cruel illness.

The latest person in this particular category who strummed my heartstrings was the remarkable Tess Hueston, 79. I sat in the memorial service in the lovely chapel at Bridgewater Retirement Community and reflected on my affiliation with her and spouse Bob Hueston, 87. Together, for me they epitomized the kind of authentic, unconditional love that we focus on in special ways around Valentine’s Day but wonder if it really exists.

I doubt that Bob or Tess ever gave each other artificial valentines during their courtship and marriage. They simply gave themselves to each other in way that truly mirrored the famous line from the “Jerry McGuire” movie – when Jerry (Tom Cruise) tells Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), “You complete me.” They really did.

As I knew firsthand, and was echoed by several persons who gave tributes at the service, there was nothing fake about Tess. She was the real thing – self-assured, secure in her person, strongly opinionated, but not narrow in her viewpoints and promoted inclusiveness of all people without reservation.

Bob and Tess showed up at Community Mennonite Church and graced our congregation with their presence and contributions in the crazy 1980s. I understand that Bob read an article I wrote about our congregation’s annual retreat in the Daily News-Record and wanted to learn more about this feisty group. They visited one Sunday, and stayed for seven years. They later affiliated with Shalom Mennonite congregation in Harrisonburg.

We were members of the same small group, the Gathering module, for several years. Bob and Tess added so much to our group life. They were almost disgustingly upbeat and positive, supportive of Anna and me, transparent and candid in sharing the deepest feelings and experiences of their amazing journey, individually and together. That they loved each other, their blended family, their Creator and creation itself, was clearly evident.

At one of our church retreats on the theme, “A Festival of Leisure,” Bob and Tess led a “playshop” on planning a vacation with purpose, sharing the extensive research and pre-planning they put into their fascinating odysseys. They apparently put as much time into extensive research and other pre-planning as they actually spent on imprints made on God’s great outdoors.

“We didn’t give our children things, we tried to give them experiences that they wouldn’t soon forget,” Bob told me. They took their family on an extended rafting trip down the Colorado River, they hiked the Grand Canyon several times, they took a trip on horseback in Canada and explored England, Ireland and hiked in the Alps.

Tess was a “doula” for eight years at Rockingham Memorial Hospital. It was one of her favorite endeavors, attending more than 800 women in childbirth and giving each newborn a handmade knitted cap.

Bob and Tess found each other in midlife, and they never slowed or ended their courtship, not even when she was diagnosed nearly nine years ago with Alzheimer’s disease. Long after she no longer knew Bob or other family members, Bob stuck by her, visiting and caring for her daily as if she was fully present.

I John 4:12 reads: “For though we have never yet seen God, when we love each other God lives in us and his love within us grows ever stronger.”

Friends, that’s agape love, the divine, unreserved, self-sacrificing, active, volitional and thoughtful variety that remains even when faith and hope have taken a nasty beating. It aptly describes Bob and Tess, a story where love does mean having to say “I’m sorry” because of their boundless love for each other.

Now, she’s gone, but as Bob told me at the memorial service, Tess is “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, she’s free at last.”

Bob and Tess Hueston, thanks for the special valentine you’ve been to me and to many others.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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