Long-distance love letters
By Ronnie Crocker
Pam and Carl Lundberg honeymooned at Niagara Falls 24 summers ago. Pam had never been and Carl, a transplanted New Englander, wanted her to experience it.
“I remember the first moment I saw it, I was overcome with the majesty of it,” Pam said. “And I remember I said – we were standing right at the falls – and I said, ‘Oh, I love you.’ And he said, ‘I love you more.’”
“Love you more” became a watchword, a term of endearment repeated countless times over the following two decades. Pam’s grown son and daughter became part of the tradition; so did the grandchildren and the grandchildren to come. As smartphones became commonplace, those words were tapped out in texts, often in call-and-response style.
Carl Lundberg made sure everyone knew where they stood.
Middle age proved to be the beginning of a grand adventure for this couple. Carl was training to become a United Methodist minister when he and Pam married in November 1997. He had owned a small business in the Houston area before moving to the Piney Woods of East Texas. He met Pam at a United Methodist church in the tiny town of Zavalla, near the Sam Rayburn Reservoir, where she’d raised her children.
In marriage, the Lundbergs logged many miles on the highways and logging roads of East Texas, serving churches in towns like Mount Enterprise, Bronson, Palestine and Cleveland. They spent more than 12 years at Liberty Springs United Methodist Church in Milam. Pam recalled a “great” six-year appointment at Wesley-McCabe United Methodist in Longview.
“I loved being a pastor’s wife,” she said.
She was active in the spouses’ association and helped launch after-school programs. Eventually, she, too, felt the tug of pastoral service. She was certified to be a lay minister, then completed local pastor’s school.
“I had a great advantage,” the Rev. Pam Lundberg said. “I had seen the ministry at work from a laity point of view, and then I got to see it up close with Carl as a pastor’s and family point of view.”
Plus, she had an elder at home she could turn to at any time for advice.
“We became a team for a while,” Pam said.
The Lundbergs wound up on a circuit, at one point dividing their time between five far-flung congregations. She would preach services in two different towns; Carl took the other three. They’d rotate occasionally.
“In East Texas, you know, there are lots of small churches and they need pastors,” Pam said. “So, we didn’t spend Sundays together any longer, you know. I went one way, and he went the other way, and we met up at lunch. It was a great experience. We got to share with each other the different churches and the diversity that we saw in different places.”
Their family life was just as active. They took the six grandkids to swim lessons and other activities. They bowled, they welcomed seven great-grandchildren, they went to “just about every movie that came out.” Her favorite photograph shows her and Carl dancing at a grandson’s wedding.
In recent years, Carl began to prepare his family for an uncertain future. He’d already undergone two open-heart surgeries, the first, a few months before he and Pam were married, to replace his faulty aortic valve. A dozen years later, doctors detected an aneurysm that had to be addressed ASAP. He recovered from both procedures and took care of himself. He didn’t smoke; he didn’t drink.
Still, it was important to Carl to buy that retirement home in Etoile to guarantee his wife would have a place to live regardless of what might happen to him.
In late 2021, Carl began having trouble breathing. This time, doctors found, his heart’s mitral valve was acting up. The prognosis wasn’t great, but he went forward with a third open-heart surgery, this time at Houston’s Methodist Hospital. The operation was a success, but he suffered a series of debilitating strokes while recovering in intensive care. He spent 19 days there before being sent to a facility in Lufkin for physical rehab.
After a month there, one of his longtime doctors looked at the charts and suggested to Pam that it was time to bring her husband home under hospice care. A hospital bed was brought in to make Carl comfortable, and his wife bought a twin bed that she pulled up adjacent so she could sleep at his side.
“He lived about a month at home,” Pam said, then paused to compose herself. “But it was a really good month. He could talk to us, and he made a lot of plans. We were able to talk about things.”
She and Carl shared memories, talked about their ministries, and marveled at how blessed they felt to have led such a rich and rewarding life. He grew closer to the youngest granddaughter and her husband, who had taken off from work to help take care of him. There were long private talks with Pam’s son.
“We had a very good quality month,” said Pam. “It was a blessing for us.”
A couple of days after Carl died on April 3 at 75, Pam stripped the twin bed to wash the linens. Tucked inside a pillowcase was a two-page letter to her that he’d written. That was followed by other notes, hidden around the house by their granddaughter with the instructions, “She’ll find them when she needs them.”
Then a furniture store called about delivering a new bedroom suite. Pam thought it was a mistake until the man on the phone read her the note her husband had dictated when he made the purchase.
“Sleep well,” it read. “Love you more.”
Pam was still reeling in July when district superintendent Richard P. “Dick” White asked her to take over for Carl as pastor of Homer United Methodist Church in Lufkin. She was still grieving, she said. So is the church, answered White.
At her first sermon, on Aug. 7, she stood before the congregants with her Bible, her iPad and a book in which she keeps prayer concerns. The latter wouldn’t fit in the lectern for all the water bottles and other detritus stuffed inside.
After the service, she asked for a plastic bag and began to clean it out. She found an envelope addressed, “To whom it may concern.” She recognized Carl’s handwriting immediately. He’d last been at the church at the end of November when he was already ill.
“I opened it up,” Pam recalled. “It was a letter that was written by Carl, about the church, for the person who was taking over. It was about how wonderful the people were. They were good as gold. It was the best place he’d ever been. They did so much for the community and so much for each other. He just wrote a wonderful letter about how great the church was.
“I sat down and read it right there,” she continued. “I started crying because it was so loving, and it sounded just like him. He had some humor in there that was just like his humor. It ended, you know, ‘God bless you, stay safe, you’ll never want to leave.’ It said, ‘Sincerely, Carl Edward Lundberg.’ He always signed something official, ‘Carl Edward Lundberg.’
“And then I almost put it down, and I saw there was a P.S.”
She paused, not for effect but to gather a bit more strength.
“It said, ‘Pam, I know you are reading this now. God has great plans for you here and you’ll do great.’ It ended with, ‘Love you more.’”