October 19, 2017

Some friends I’d like you to meet

16999678628_47ffd99dc5_z

Last week I attended the death of a man who had been a police officer and then an investigator for a major corporation. Sometimes he was asked by the company’s HR department to deal with employees who were being dismissed. He would go to that person’s desk or office, watch as they cleaned it out, and then accompany them out of the building to make sure no equipment or proprietary information was stolen and to provide security in case there was an incident. His wife told me that HR liked to have him do this because he was so good at it. In fact, she said that one time, after having escorted a fired employee out, that employee actually sent him a “thank you” note for his kindness and consideration while doing a difficult job. “What is desirable in a man is his kindness…” (Proverbs 19:22, NASB).

• • •

One of the best funerals I’ve attended recently (actually I officiated this one) was of a man who had been non-religious most of his life, but was one of the gentlest and kindest people you’ll ever meet. He was also a musician, and had played saxophone for years in various clubs around the region. For some reason, he and I hit it off on our first visit, and you might have thought we were lifelong friends, the way we enjoyed being together and swapping stories. He eventually went into the hospital and on my last visit was unresponsive. So I took out my phone and played some Billie Holiday for him as I sat at the bedside. At the funeral I was surprised to hear his daughter express thanks that he told her in his final weeks he had come to believe in God. Later, his wife said meeting someone like me, who didn’t fit his image of a “religious person” was one of the key factors in helping him come to faith. At the cemetery the family scattered his ashes in a wooded garden while a sax player from a well-known local jazz club played. One of the saints went marching in while he did.

• • •

14719894274_46ef986059_zSeveral years ago, I had one of my favorite patients. Dick and his wife were also not very devout, unless you count golf. But his terminal illness humbled him and he soon looked forward to my visits and to having me pray for him. They were a funny pair. They had a little dog that got so excited when visitors came it peed all over the floor, and she used to get so embarrassed and make the funniest remarks. They were both pretty hard of hearing, especially Dick, and so she bought him one of those wireless headphone sets so he could watch TV and understand what was being said. Well, she didn’t quite have the concept, because she thought in order for him to hear through the headphones, she had to turn the volume on the TV all the way up. I could hear it at the end of their block. Dick decided he wanted to be baptized and so we set it up. His son and family came to witness and were moved to ask for baptism themselves. As did his wife. It was a “household salvation” moment. Jack died and I did his funeral and a couple of years later his wife succumbed to dementia and died as well. They asked me to do her service also. Just this week I saw their son and his family, and we embraced like our time together had been only yesterday. Jack also had a daughter, with whom I became close. When I saw Jack’s son this week, he told me her husband, a fun, likable guy, has been fighting cancer since January. I called him immediately. “Mike,” he said, “I’m gonna beat this.” I know he’ll give it his best shot and I told him so. So much sadness, and yet so much grace and love. It makes your heart fairly break.

• • •

In late spring I visited a woman who had been a genuine “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II. In her factory, they made one of the main troop carriers that was used in the Pacific theater. She loved to talk about her work and was proud to have contributed to the war effort. Right after hearing her stories, I visited a World War II veteran who had served near the end of the war in the Pacific and Japan. He specifically mentioned the ship he was on. It was one of the carriers my “Rosie” had helped build. Now they lived within five miles of one another, and I had the privilege of meeting them both. It’s life’s little epiphanies like that that make me smile.

• • •

One patient who had been on our hospice service longest (3-4 years) died a couple of weeks ago. Josephine had Alzheimer’s disease and her family had cared for her for nearly a decade before she was admitted to hospice. Her son had been adopted, and now he and his wife and their two young children became her caregivers. She came to them at the beginning of their marriage, survived a move from the east coast to the Midwest, and bounced back from every conceivable infection and medical problem over the years to remain a fixture in their home and in our lives as clinicians. When I heard she died, I wasn’t able to go to the house because of another emergency, but I went on my way home that evening. I had to. I just had to see them, to express not only my condolences but also my deep admiration for this young family. I told them their children will never be the same, having witnessed true devotion and service in their own home. As I prepared to leave, the husband pointed to his wife, who I suddenly noticed had a bit of a protruding belly. “We’re expecting in October,” he said. Josephine’s room will have a new occupant, and the world will be better because this family continues to choose life.

• • •

Two of the kindest, most encouraging people I’ve ever known, a husband and wife, both died this summer. They were members in one of the congregations where I served, they were good friends, helpful with our children, and they were true lights in our community. I deal with death all the time — impending and actual — and go to funeral homes every week to pay my respects or officiate services. But this is different. This kind of loss touches something that sucks the breath out of me and doubles me over. This hurts.

Comments

  1. Thanks for an uplifting post. Hopefully this reply of mine won’t be deleted, like happened Sunday, apparently. I admire the work you do, I can imagine that it is often very difficult, though rewarding. I spent 25 years in maximum security prisons, and now 12 working with special needs children, youth, and adults, UT I imagine there’s a special set of stresses from knowing that 100% of your clients will soon be dead and gone.
    Blessings…

    • Walt, I don’t usually delete posts and when I do, I put up a notice. If you comment and it doesn’t appear, drop me a note. It may have been captured by the spam filter.

  2. CM, it’s always humbling and thought-provoking to read about the work you do. Thanks so much for sharing these experiences with us.

  3. Mike, truly you are a man who loves his neighbors, and an example to us all. Thanks for this post today.

  4. Chaplain Mike, thank you for introducing us to some members of your “congregation.” Just as you were blessed by them, they were also blessed by having you walk beside them on their homebound journey. Your reflections make me realize that we are all companions to one another. And more often than not, we don’t know when death will separate us from those we love; it hurts. Death hasn’t lost its sting – yet.

    I love the comforting words of Peter Marshall: “Those we love are with the LORD and the LORD has promised to be with us. If they are with Him and He is with us, they cannot be far away.”

    Indeed, we do not grieve as those who have no Hope! (The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to what God has prepared for those who love Him. Don’t you think if we truly believed this, we would all tattoo DNR somewhere on our bodies?!)

    Thanks for reminding us we have today and that Day. (Luther)

    Death is truly tragic for those who pass from this life without Jesus. What do you say in this instance to those who remain?

    • First of all, I do not presume that Jesus does not know them. I leave that to him. I express the Christian hope, and pray that they will know that. But another thing I’ve learned is that it is a tremendous accomplishment simply to make it through this life alive. And if someone has done that for many years, and has people who love them, this is something worth celebrating and giving thanks to God for.

      • “I leave that to him.”

        Amen. I don’t know how Jesus saves, when he saves, who he saves, why he saves; I just know he saves.

      • Yes, amen to that. Only the LORD knows; I can trust Him with what I don’t know!

  5. May their memory be eternal!

  6. In a broken and messy world, thank you for sharing the truest things.

  7. Yours is a ministry of presence and hope. Thank you for sharing these stories with us.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    Mike, I want to thank you once again for your good work.

    To me it is important that when I die, someone who known me, ministered to me, loved me; someone that I have loved back– is present to commend me to the Lord, and to pass on the hope of resurrection of the dead to my family and friends. You are a rare gift to the Church in an age when so much “ministry” is about the ego inflation of a pastor and the expense of the people.

    I also never presumed that someone did not know the Lord. There is so much we do not know. But our mission is to pass along hope and not despair.

  9. Thanks for sharing these friends and these stories with us, CM.

    Here’s one of my friends: a man in his 50s who’s been living with MS for about 20 years. I didn’t know him well years ago, when he was getting around with arm-crutches, but I’ve gotten to know him more as I’ve the deterioration has worn his body down to the point he gets around in a wheelchair and struggles in and out of his car. Part of what drew me to this man was his cheerfulness in spite of his predicament. I never heard him complain. Even as we participated in prayer groups praying for OTHER people’s healing and health, not once did he pray for himself or his MS. I now consider him one of my best Christian friends. He’s a model for joyful living in the midst of a chronic condition that sucks.

    Three months ago, this man was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Yep. As if 20 years with MS wasn’t enough, his body decided to throw cancer at him, and the worst kind, the kind that once it’s discovered it’s too late to do anything about.So his already rail-thin body is thinner; at this point, I could probably pick him up and throw him across the room. His in the hospital with an infection now, semi-delirious because of medications, yet when I see him all he talks about is how he’s praying for his wife and kids and other people.

    We had our weekly prayer group last night, one which this man would attend regularly. I missed seeing him roll up to join us. I hate when good souls are trapped in crappy bodies. Soon he’ll be all healed up, miraculously, either here on Earth or post-death.

  10. Clay Crouch says:

    I hope more of these stories and others like these will be in your book. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Christiane says:

    ” . . . God be at my end, and my departing ” the closing line from an Anglican burial hymn

    Chaplain Mike, God bless you for the work that you do . . . your ministry extends not only to the dying but also to those who are grieving:
    you bring hope and blessing to these people in crisis . . . the mercy of this kind of ministry has no equal in Christian service, because of the intensity of the need for peace of those who are suffering

  12. These are wonderful stories of wonderful people, Chaplain Mike. The work you do is very holy and blessed and, I imagine or rather, I can see, it is very difficult.

    I attended a memorial service of the sister of a friend a week or so ago. The sister had been an alcoholic drug addict for years, and had died of a drug overdose. The service was held in a small Freewill Baptist church, and I didn’t quite know what to expect (shouting and praying in tongues?), but it was lovely and the preacher was kind, and spoke of her childhood, her “coming to Christ” as a teenager, and her walking in heaven now with her friends and family there.What a wonderful belief it is. What else do we have to hold on to?

  13. When my mother died, I asked my friend, a deacon in the Episcopal Church, to drive me down to the nursing home because I felt shaky about driving. When we got to the bed where mom still lay, my deacon friend anointed her with oil and said over her these words from the Book of Common Prayer, which are so beautiful:

    Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your
    servant Irene. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of
    your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your
    own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy,
    into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the
    glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

    May her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the
    mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Yes.

    • I have had the honor of conducting a few funeral services and, though I’m not Episcopalian, I’ve recited this prayer and others from the Book of Common Prayer. They are, indeed, beautiful.

      • Christiane says:

        it’s a beautiful prayer

        . . . actually, I think the whole Anglican burial service itself is one of the most triumphant services of proclamation of the Resurrection

        The Catholic Church has quite a treasury of prayers for the dying, also. This one is shown on a film most people have seen. Caveat: please know it is a bit graphic, but the prayer presented is meaningful and powerful.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZND53eM-Ks

        “‘Let the fire of the Holy Spirit descend
        that this being may be awakened in the world beyond the life of this Earth
        and infused with the power of the Holy Spirit.
        Lord Jesus Christ, I ask that You receive this child (name) into Your loving arms,
        that (he/she) may pass in safety from this crisis as YOU have taught us with infinite passion.
        By this sign, you are anointed with the grace of the Atonement of Our Lord Jesus Christ
        and absolved of all past error and free to take your place in the world He has prepared for us.
        In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
        AMEN

  14. These are beautiful stories about beautiful people. Thank you for sharing them with us, Chaplain Mike. It sounds like the loss of the couple in the last story has hit you harder than the other ones. May the God of comfort you console you in your grief.

  15. Love these stories. Looking forward to your book release.

  16. A dear elderly friend has been in the hospital for quite some time. It has been a roller coaster of emotions for him, his wife, and his family. I have come to believe the most important thing we can do as believers is to encourage and remind one another of the promises we have in and through Jesus Christ as we face the inevitability of death; it’s really hard to get all worked up about our differences in doctrine and the cultural issues of the day in light of this certainty. Everything else pales in comparison.

    Thank you, Chaplain Mike, for being there to comfort others with the love and grace of Jesus and for helping to bear their burdens and may you, also, know the peace and comfort of Christ even in the midst of grief and sorrow.

  17. CM (and all), a very close relative of mine is just this side of death as i type. She has bone cancer and has suffered greatly. If it’s OK, i would like to ask for prayer for her, and for her immediate family, who are with her. (She is at home.)

    I wish she had a chaplain like you available, for her and for her family as well.

    To all who quoted from the BCP, thank you. It means more than you know.

    • Robert F says:

      Prayers, for you and her, numo.

    • Danielle says:

      Praying for your relative, you, and all your family.

      • Thanks to all who have prayed and commented. This has been expected for some time, but it is always hard.

        • Thank you for letting us know this, numo. We are never far away from those who are hurting, mourning. Prayers for you and yours.

          • CM, thanks for this. You guys are all very supportive, and it is appreciated more than words can easily express.

            H. Lee and Christiane, special thanks for the liturgical prayers you posted. They have given comfort. I prayed the ones from the BCP out loud with my mom last evening. It really helped to be able to do that.

    • Prayers for you and the family.

      How’s everyone holding up?

      • Well, i am ok, and my mom is hanging in there, but i don’t know what is going on with the family members in question. It has been a long, hard road for all of them.

  18. Robert F says:

    I stopped keeping track of the losses a long time ago. Lord, have mercy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LV3JcbJ8SoE

    • Robert, I completely passed Jackson Browne by on my passage here. During the 70’s I was living out in the woods with no electricity, and if I had a chance to listen to music and had my druthers, it would have been jazz and r&b, tho both had passed their golden age by then.

      I still listen to jazz and blues today along with classical, mostly don’t understand the musical tastes of most iMonkers, just write it off as different strokes. I wanted you to know that I listened to your track, which turned into a full album, which turned into another. Cranked it up high, poured some Winking Owl, and listened.

      Not a conversion, I’m not going to go out and buy up all of Jackson Browne’s albums, may not listen to him again this lifetime, but maybe I understand you a little better. I’ll still go with Horace Silver, Grant Green, Nina Simone, Solomon Burke, and Bobby Bland, but this has been a communion of sorts, and I thank you.

      • Charles, I’m glad you enjoyed the track and the albums, even if only this one time. And I’m glad for the communion.

        Remember the immortal words of Ian Anderson:

        “…you’re never too old to rock n’ roll,
        if you’re too young to die…”

        One more from Jackson Browne, which nods both in the direction of the subject of this post, and also in the direction of rock n’ roll:

  19. Dana Ames says:

    I simply want to add my thanks, Chaplain Mike, for all the good and holy work you do, and for writing these stories to share. They remind me that the Lord cares for all these particular Persons, as he cares for each one of us. May our Lord grand them – and Numo’s relative as well – repose in a place of verdure and light.

    Dana

  20. Dana, thank you.