December 15, 2017

Another Look: Pastoral Care of the Dying, Part Two

Abraham Mourning for the Death of Sarah, Chagall

By Chaplain Mike

Here is the second part of Michael Spencer’s November 17, 2009 interview with me about “Evangelicals and Pastoral Care of the Dying.” (If you are coming to this discussion late, see the introduction to yesterday’s post.)

INTERVIEW, PART TWO

4. At what point is it appropriate for a minister to talk about death when a family may be refusing to speak about it?

The subject usually comes up naturally if folks have access to the kind of support I just talked about—a calm, reasonable, caring human friend to sit with them, who is available to listen and support them. Occasionally, a compassionate minister or friend may need to help someone face reality and speak the truth plainly when it is being denied. But most of the time, it is clear that people know what’s going on, and they just need time until they can talk about it.

We have all kinds of people who come into hospice care, and they come from a variety of faith and non-faith backgrounds. Some are on-board and realistic from the beginning. Others say “Don’t mention death or use the word hospice. Hide your badge so mom won’t know you are from hospice.” Some refuse to sign “Do Not Resuscitate” orders because they can’t imagine not trying to bring dad back if possible. They put off making funeral arrangements or getting necessary documents together. Some don’t want the chaplain to visit. A friend of mine said he once had a patient who called the chaplain, “the sky-pilot,” the person you only see when you’re ready to be launched into the afterlife! Other folks struggle when grandma doesn’t want to eat anymore, and so they keep trying to force food into her. Many people refuse to give or take pain medications, especially morphine, because they view that as crossing the line and forsaking life.

So, in hospice we have to be gentle with people and respect their journey. We pretty much don’t force anything but emphasize giving good information and the kind of supportive presence that will give people permission to talk about things they’d rather not face. I’d recommend ministers and friends do the same. Again, it’s not efficient. It takes time. But it is loving, and the “small miracles” we see every day of people being helped and supported through some of the toughest experiences of their lives are worth as much as seeing Lazarus come forth.

The Tomb of Rachel, Chagall

5. You deal with many people with little or no faith resources for approaching death. What is your pastoral care strategy in that situation?

First, let me make a foundational statement about what a chaplain is and is not.

Because I am not a pastor in a local church but work for a healthcare organization, I must approach things differently than a minister would. A church pastor has a covenant relationship with his people and serves them with a whole system of theological understandings and expectations in place. A chaplain, on the other hand, must honor the spiritual and religious commitments of patients (even those that he might deem wrong), and serve them according to their own faith traditions. So, if I get a Buddhist patient, unless she wants to talk about the Christian view of God and salvation, it is not my job to force that on her. I will ask if she wants support from someone in her own religious community. Only if she asks me, or I get her permission, will I share my faith with her.

Secondly, let me lay a theological foundation for the way I approach everyone.

The doctrines that have guided me from the beginning in this work are the Bible’s teachings on creation and common grace. God created each human being in his image, and by his grace and providence he sustains us all. I meet and deal with people first based on our common humanity under God. Every person is my neighbor, and I am called, simply, to love my neighbor. Being a chaplain means involves specific ways of doing that. It’s more of a “love your neighbor” ministry than a “win the lost” ministry (though I’m not always sure about the dichotomy).

Furthermore, because I believe in common grace, I do not understand my job as bringing God to people. He is already with them, and he is already working, no matter who they are. To reference Eugene Peterson again, my duty is (1) to recognize that God has gone before me in every encounter, (2) to discover some of what God is doing in that person’s world, and (3) to figure out how to best cooperate with God in what he is trying to accomplish.

So, when I have a new patient and family without a faith background, I meet them on their turf as neighbor and friend. I do not have an agenda, other than to listen and learn how I might be of assistance. I tell them I am available as a spiritual and pastoral resource, if that is what they want and need, but my main job is simply to be there with them for support. I always offer to pray for them (and ask their permission to do so), and I try to make my prayers personal, filled with Biblical language, and focused on God’s love for people and his promises to be with us in Christ.

I find that this kind of approach often leads to more discussion about “spiritual things” than if I would try to force the matter. One joyful consequence is that I have been asked to do many funerals for un-churched folks, and at the funerals I always try to clearly present the story of Jesus, his salvation, and the hope of eternal life.

I’m not sure evangelicals in general think in these terms. We are often weak on creation and common grace. Instead we see God mainly at work within the community that is separated from the world. We also identify his work primarily with specific “spiritual” matters that we focus on. We sometimes don’t do well simply as human beings living among fellow human beings who are our neighbors, all walking together through the common experiences of life. We are often too “spiritual” for our own good, and for the good of others.

6. What sorts of things make the process of grief difficult for evangelicals?

In my first grief support group, I learned something as I listened to folks talk—It is hard to go to church after losing a loved one. I’ve heard that particularly from those who’ve lost spouses.

  • First of all, nobody knows how to relate to Joe anymore now that it’s no longer “Joe and Mary.”
  • Second, few know what to say, and this leads to many awkward and some hurtful encounters.
  • Third, you (the bereaved) don’t know what to say either, especially when the song leader keeps telling you to smile and be happy in Jesus, and all your brothers and sisters keep saying over and over again, “Remember, she’s in a better place.”
  • Fourth, you have to sit through something alone that you had always done together; and if your spouse ever sang in the choir or did something up front regularly, then it’s hard to be there and watch others take her place.
  • Fifth, the church revolves around fellowship and activism. But you would rather be alone, and you don’t have the strength to teach middle-schoolers right now. You don’t fit any longer.
  • Sixth, since the church is “focused on the family,” you feel like a fifth wheel all the time when you are around other adults.
  • Seventh, you have to sit and listen to the “7-Day Sex Challenge” sermon series and other such silly talks from the pulpit.

I have heard some incredible stories. A woman I know lost her young son in a tragic accident. Not long afterward, she went to church and stayed in the sanctuary after the service, crying there in the pew. The pastor came by and said, “Now, now, let’s not forget our witness.” That may be the cruelest sentence I have ever heard pass between one human being and another.

Elijah Taken into Heaven, Chagall

Other clichés or stupid remarks well-meaning Christians use include,

  • “She’s in a better place.” That’s right. By faith we trust that our believing loved ones are being comforted in God’s presence. But what about the bereaved? Is he in a better place?
  • “God never gives us anything more than we can bear.” Really? Then why does Paul exhort us to “bear one another’s burdens”? Some things must be too heavy for one person to carry alone. Don’t throw it off on God. He may be asking you to lend a hand.
  • “I know exactly how you feel.” No you don’t. Not even close. If you did, you wouldn’t say that, you’d probably just join the crying and give the bereaved a hug.
  • “I remember when so and so died…” Guess what? No one wants to hear your story right now. This is not about you, or someone else. This is about someone drowning in loss.
  • “Just call if I can be of any help.” Let me clue you in on something. This person does not have strength to pick up the phone and ask for help. This is time for others to take the initiative. Help or don’t help. But be quiet about it.

I tell grieving people all the time just to expect that people will say stupid things and not to take it too personally. Most folks are downright pitiful when it comes to knowing what to say at times like this. Add to that our discomfort with the whole death and dying thing, and the fact that it doesn’t fit into our paradigm of church activities, and the result is usually not a pretty picture.

The overriding issue is that we have lost all sense of the time and energy involved in the process of grief, and we have not allowed space in our lives to let people grieve the way they need to. There is usually a big rush of caring and expressions of sympathy in the first week or two after someone experiences a loss, but then, since we have to get back to our lives, we expect that the bereaved will somehow just magically “get over it” and get back to his.

Other faith communities have learned to do it better. For example, Orthodox Jews have an entire 12-month process of tradition and liturgy for the grieving, which is lived out by the bereaved and faith community alike. However, in evangelicalism the issue again becomes, “How does allowing someone the time and space to grieve fit into our paradigm of fellowship and activism?”

7. If death has come in tragedy, how can evangelical ministers acknowledge that kind of loss while also upholding hope?

As a hospice chaplain, I don’t deal with a lot of sudden deaths, accidents, and the like. I have as a pastor. In the moment, helping people in these circumstances likewise involves finding a way to serve with true human compassion. By God’s grace, I want to be that reasonable, levelheaded, quiet and supportive presence, who can walk faithfully with those going through the tragedy.

A woman in our church had a grandson who died in an automobile accident. She asked me to come to the home where all the relatives, friends, and church members were arriving to be with the family. This was a very expressive bunch, temperamentally and theologically, and the room was filled with wailing and crying and people letting out their emotions in unrestrained ways. What did I do? For most of the evening, I stood with my back to a wall, off to the side and was simply present. Every once in awhile I quietly greeted someone with a hug or pat on the shoulder, but that was about it. I literally did nothing. Yet, if you would ask that woman today what she remembers most about me being her pastor for more than 9 years, she would tell you it was all the help I gave her that night.

After a tragedy, it is important that the pastor and folks in the church realize that the bereaved who are left behind will need support that may require extraordinary attention in the short-term and consistent loving care for the long haul. Hope doesn’t come through words alone, but through a solid and reliable support group that sticks with the hurting.

Having said that, words are also important. Regular participation in the liturgy, which rehearses the fundamental truths of the Gospel over and over again, week after week, and which enables people to feed on God’s saving and sustaining presence through Word and Sacrament, can provide genuine help in reorienting those whose lives have become radically disoriented by tragedy.

God Will Have Mercy on the People of Jacob, Chagall

8. How does the Gospel inform your work as a hospice chaplain?

The Gospel is the announcement that, in Jesus, God’s new creation has broken into this fallen, dying creation. Through Jesus Christ, the promised new day of God’s rule has dawned, and because of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit, he has dealt the decisive blow to sin, evil, and death, and is creating a new people who will be with him forever in a new heavens and new earth. Until that new creation is revealed in its fullness, those made new by Jesus are called to live in this fallen world as God’s representatives. It is through his new people that God fulfills his mission of taking this Gospel to all the hidden corners of the world, announcing and creating newness everywhere.

That is a grand plan and vocation, but its outworking could not be more down-to-earth. Jesus said the Kingdom unfolds in small, hidden, subversive, often undetectable ways. A primary way it spreads is when one person made new humbles himself to serve another person in need. The Gospel doesn’t set us above other people, it sends us to kneel before them so that we might wash their feet. It doesn’t make us less human, but more fully human; doesn’t separate us from the world around us, but sends us into every part of that world to love and serve our neighbors.

And that’s why I love what I do so much. As a hospice chaplain, it is my privilege to go into places where people are hurting, crying, dying. By God’s grace, I pray that I may announce and create a bit of newness each day for those bound by sin and death. That’s Gospel ministry to me.

I wish I knew better how to translate this into counsel for every church, pastor, and Christian. In my view we need to abandon the misguided missions that intoxicate us, and come back to Gospel basics. Forget “building a great church.” Share the good news. Visit the sick. Give relief to the suffering. Sit with the dying. Comfort the bereaved. Be generous to those in need. Be hospitable. Love your neighbor. Live in fully human ways among your fellow human beings under God.

This is not a new “law,” but the Gospel lived out, the “Jesus-shaped” way that the Spirit constrains us to pursue.

Comments

  1. Clay Knick says:

    Beautiful.

  2. JoanieD says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Chaplain Mike. I enjoyed both parts of the interview.

    You wrote, “The Gospel doesn’t set us above other people, it sends us to kneel before them so that we might wash their feet. It doesn’t make us less human, but more fully human; doesn’t separate us from the world around us, but sends us into every part of that world to love and serve our neighbors.”

    Beautiful.

  3. Thank you for this, Chaplain Mike.

    It’s hard for people to know how to react; sometimes the bereaved do want help and support, but sometimes they don’t. When my parents died (first my mother, then a couple of years after, my father), there were a lot of people who expressed support and sympathy and wanted to viist, and although I appreciated that, I didn’t want company. I just couldn’t handle it, and wanted to be left alone (with my immediate family).

    So it’s tough to know what to do – where is the line between being supportive and adding more stress?

    • That is a good point, Martha. What is important is to avoid cliches, to be truly sensitive to the grieving person, and to act according to the actual situation. It is not “one size fits all.” Truly loving people never is.

  4. Strangely, the past couple of days my iPod has insisted that I listen to the song Cry (if you want to). Do you know it? It sounds like the template for your work. Here it is via YouTube: http://youtu.be/_TJkxf4qPRI

  5. dumb ox says:

    “ ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ No you don’t. Not even close. If you did, you wouldn’t say that, you’d probably just join the crying and give the bereaved a hug.”

    As I grieve the recent death of my dad, I wonder how this experience could help me help others going through the same process. What I have learned is nothing prepared me for this – not even my dad’s prolonged battle with cancer and dimentia. I have experienced a range of emotions that words cannot describe. Perhaps what I can share is humility, that I can’t possibly be an expert on the subject of grief. You are absolutely right: I can’t begin to understand, because grief has left me understanding very little. But I have found many common experiences among those who grieve. For one, grief comes in waves; just when you think you’re back to “normal”, here comes the next crest. One person shared that this went on for years. That I understood implicitly. Grief changes “normal” forever.

    The Lutheran perspective on death did help, which views death always as the great intruder. Even though death ended my dad’s suffering, it took him away from my mom. Even though death for the believer has no ultimate victory, I can’t make peace with it.

    • Hopefully, we can now refrain from all of the hurtful cliched statements that many of the faithful are so fond of. As mentioned yesterday, just be there, touching to the bereaved’s level of comfort is the best we can do.

      Also, as Ch. Mike mentioned, don’t offer to “call me if you need something.” Take over the lasange in a disposable tin and don’t stay to visit. Take the kids with yours to the pool for the afternoon. Help write the thank you notes and throw in laundry if you are family or close friends. Listen. Hand out kleenex. Listen some more.

      One of the best summations of grief I ever heard was in the form of a question, from a newly widowed husband to a much older widower. The first asked, “When do you get over this?”

      The older gentleman replied, “You NEVER get OVER it. You just learn to get ON with it.”

      And as Ox said, the waves continue to come forever, but what starts as a tsnaumi eventually becomes a rogue wave on a sunny clear day.

    • David Cornwell says:

      …death always as the great intruder. ..”

      Or as Paul says the “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.”

    • sorry to hear about your Dad, Mr.ox. There are no words to make this better, death is strange and cruel. My Dad is 91, and I find myself thinking about “that day” very often. LORD help us all to live well so that we can die well.

    • Yes to this. It’s been thirty-seven years since my grandmother died, and I still miss her. It’s been five years since my mother died, and I still walk into the kitchen and expect to see her there.

      What drives me scatty (and I don’t think, thank God, that it’s quite made its way over the Atlantic just yet) is the attitude I see that there is a six-stage grieving process that you go through neatly, ticking off the boxes as you pass through each stage, and then you ‘move on’.

      I’m not denying Dr. Kubler-Ross was wrong in her description, but I don’t think she ever meant it to be used as a check list. And I certainly don’t think there’s a set period (six weeks? six months?) and then you should be ‘over it’ and ‘moving on’ with your life. The Victorians allowed a year of full mourning. Let people have their time, even if you think they’re sunk in grief and should be getting on with things.

      You don’t get over it, you learn to get on with it.

  6. Wonderful, CM. The comments about cliche’s are particularly poignant, along with the story about a pastor telling a crying woman who had lost her son to “remember her witness”. I once did a sermon on confession, and confessed sins to the congregation…nothing overly graphic or specific, and I certainly didn’t name any co-conspirators. Later, the senior pastor told me that “We as pastors really shouldn’t talk about our struggles from the pulpit, because the people listening need to believe that we have it all together. They won’t respect us otherwise.”

    As a pastor, I’ve experienced great highs in life and ministry…and I’ve also experienced the pain of death, divorce, financial struggles, etc. Christians aren’t always “happy clappy” (Even though most contemporary worship leaders tell us we should be…) None of us as believers “have it all together”. If we weren’t drowning, why in the world would we need a Savior to rescue us? Thank God for the small, still voices that the Lord has sent my way over the years, with quiet words of encouragement, a well-timed surprise visit or call, or the persistent, but gentle invitation to live life when I felt like it was over. And thank you, CM, for being one of those voices in the lives of those you serve.

    • ” I once did a sermon on confession, and confessed sins to the congregation…nothing overly graphic or specific, and I certainly didn’t name any co-conspirators. Later, the senior pastor told me that “We as pastors really shouldn’t talk about our struggles from the pulpit, because the people listening need to believe that we have it all together. They won’t respect us otherwise.”

      Which reminds me of an anecdote the nuns told us when I was in school, about a famous 18th century French society priest, whose sermons were wildly popular and the church was always packed out when he preached (less for piety and more for the fashionable turning up to the latest fad). But anyway, one Sunday he preached a dazzling sermon as usual, but this one was a bit more daring than the congregation was used to.

      He started off about ‘a certain organ of the body, which causes all kinds of trouble’ and developed his theme about the dreadful wickedness and dire evils this organ caused. Then, as he was getting near to the high point of his oration, and the crowd didn’t know whether to be shocked or titillated, he said: “Shall I name you this organ?”

      Sensation!

      He continued: “Shall I show you this organ?”

      Greater sensation! Gentlemen blanching in the pews! Ladies fainting all over the place!

      And then he stuck out his…

      … tongue.

      🙂

  7. David Cornwell says:

    This series should be foundational reading for everyone who wants to be a pastor. Or anyone charged with caring for those who are facing death.

  8. A Jesus-shaped quote from Chaplain Mike:

    ‘It’s more of a “love your neighbor” ministry than a “win the lost” ministry (though I’m not always sure about the dichotomy).’

    • That caught me too. And the part about doing nothing (seemingly) but being remembered for all the help he gave.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Because “you’re there”. That’s enough. And anything you say will just sound stupid, so you just BE there.

  9. There was a line, in the beginning, I couldn’t take my eyes of off……

    “So, in hospice we have to be gentle with people and respect their journey.”

    I read it over and over and over again. It was a profound statement in general and it made my heart ache a little. Actually the whole post had me mesmorized and I’m not quite sure why. The pastor’s comment, “Now now, don’t forget your witness” made me literally laugh out loud. And not because it was funny.

    There is something in my soul that craves this kind of ability Chaplain Mike, I have the utmost respect for your work and God’s grace that gets you through it. To be able to be loving and kind to a Buddhist who is dying and not feel the weight of the world on your shoulders to get them saved, is a reality that’s beyond me and the place I come from. That, however, is not to say I don’t want to know it.

    I come from the evangelical world, and walked away from it too. The comment of evangelicals thinking God only works in the community that is seperate from the world was interesting as well. After my surrender to Jesus Christ after 26 years of living the prodigal life my mother asked me when I thought God began working and I replied, “He always has been!” It is my story that I hope and pray brings hope to those who have a prodigal child, spouse or family member.

    It’s a sacrifice, isn’t it? We would have to let go of all our little busy things in order to have the time to simply be with people, loving them, listening to them, etc. Dying or otherwise. It’s not just in the evangelical world, everyone is just so busy with……what are we busy with again? Imagine what the world would be like if we could relinquish the things in our life that make no difference and spend that time on people!

    Thank you Chaplain Mike. Thank you!

  10. Pam Burns says:

    You really hit on truth in the section about how hard it is to go back to church after the death of a spouse. People don’t know how to treat you and you don’t always feel the same way about whether you want conversation. Your words have great insight. This is an issue that should be addressed more in the Christian world, whether evangelical or not. Thank you for writing about this.

  11. “One joyful consequence is that I have been asked to do many funerals for un-churched folks, and at the funerals I always try to clearly present the story of Jesus, his salvation, and the hope of eternal life.”

    Michael Spencer, when he was alive, also was the founder of a group blog called the Boars Head Tavern. He tried to have diverse people on it. Many were/are pastors. After Michael was diagnosed with cancer (and had not contributed to the BHT in a long time, since the cancer had affected his ability to write), there came a time when the rest of the BHT started to grapple with the fact that Michael probably was never coming back.

    One young pastor shared how it had been Michael who had helped him put together his first funeral service and how he still had the notes from that conversation and still used them. That sparked a conversation among the pastors about doing funerals.

    I was really struck (I think they were too) that most of the pastors (again, pretty wide variety of backgrounds), despite years of church service, could count the number of funerals they had done on one hand. “That’s just not really the demographic that come to my church” was one comment, I remember. The exceptions were a couple of young Methodist pastors who had been assigned to aging churches and who did funerals frequently.

    I’m not entirely sure what to make of this situation, with the majority of pastors in that particular group doing so few funerals. I have some thoughts, but I also strongly suspect that the issue is part of a bigger, more complex phenomenon than just blaming it entirely on churches/pastors. (Although they are certainly a part of it, and I don’t disagree with any of Chaplain Mike’s comments.)

    In amongst my ponderings on this issue is an essay that Michael’s friend Josh Strodtbeck wrote after Michael died. Google “Some thoughts on the passing of Michael Spencer” to find it. The essay really needs to be read in full, but here is one paragraph (not sure how it will sound without the setting of Josh’s whole line of thought) that I keep thinking about:

    “The easiest way to kill the Gospel in your church is to drive thoughts of death out of our minds. Hurry the old and the frail out the doors of your church, so the youthful and exuberant don’t have to see them. Distract people with self-help lessons and inspirational stories. Wrap people up in the institution, in the programs, and the politics of your version of the faith. Just don’t let them think about death. Don’t let them see the dying. Be sure to do this, and regardless of how “orthodox” your church is on paper, the Gospel will be the only thing that dies in your church. Only face to face with the ugly visage of death do we learn who Jesus is.”

    • Thanks for that powerful reminder, Becky.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My writing partner pastors one aging and one dying church. He does a LOT of funerals these days. A lot of them.

      “Just don’t let them think about death. Don’t let them see the dying. Be sure to do this, and regardless of how “orthodox” your church is on paper, the Gospel will be the only thing that dies in your church. Only face to face with the ugly visage of death do we learn who Jesus is.”

      Maybe it’s because I used to be a really morbid kid in high school, but “the ugly visage of death” appears time and time again in my fiction. If not onstage, in the background. One main character (one of two protags in a just completed novel) is a serious Thanatopohobe, with a “hound of Heaven” (the other protag) pursuing her. Another (unpubbed) has never really connected with her own mortality, and when she connects, it will hit her hard. Still another is a Executioneress with 40-50 kills to her credit, one of which will have repercussions in her future. Two others (in unrelated ghost stories) have survived near-death experiences, and have come out changed. Death seems always present, and it’s not pretty. “It’s There. Deal With It.”

  12. CM: I remember commenting on this interview when it was first posted. Once again, after reading it this time, I am so profoundly encouraged by your thoughts. As I begin my day as a staff chaplain covering the intensive care unit and emergency department, I shall remember your words, “As a (hospital) chaplain, it is my privilege to go into places where people are hurting, crying, and dying.” And you are definitely correct when you say that this is what gospel ministry is for me and truly has become a Jesus shaped spiritual experience in my life. Thanks.

  13. Randy Thompson says:

    Some years ago a woman in the church I was then serving came home to find her husband lying in the yard next to their house, dead, crushed under a fallen tree. The shock and grief were profound. The next day, a friend of hers came to see her, and I’ll never forget it. She walked in, stopped, looked at the widow, and simply said, “I’m no good at this.”

    I thought at the time, and still do, that this was one of the most genuine responses to grief I’ve ever witnessed.. What mattered was her showing up and being genuine, not what she said.

    And, as I recall, she didn’t overstay her welcome, either.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The next day, a friend of hers came to see her, and I’ll never forget it. She walked in, stopped, looked at the widow, and simply said, “I’m no good at this.”

      She was honest. She was REAL. It’s rare to find someone who IS “any good at this”, and when you’re not, trying to fake it is obvious.

  14. Many thanks for this series, CM, and for the gentle wisdom throughout.

    I was especially struck by the emphasis on the need for presence versus activism. The lack of ability to simply be present and be quiet and be real and share another’splace and pain is a real problem in the church, and not just in the area of death and dying but also in the areas of suffering and pain.

    I have been on the receiving end of this mere activist approach when I had some serious medical issues last year. After two serous surgical procedures in two days and while still on heavy meds and just checking out of the hospital, the pastor’s wife calls me not to provide pastoral care but to ask how long I think it will take to recover and shoud she get someone else to head up the church activity I had signed up to do a few weeks hence. I’m pretty resilient and I did manage to do the event and it didn’t bother me at the time, but in retrospect later it got me thinking about whether I wanted to be somewhere that placed activities above pastoral care.

    A friend whose husband suffers severe long-term debilitating depression has had similar experiences, as well as general ignorance and the stigma attached to depression as a disease.

    I struggle with this myself. It’s hard to know what to say when someone is suffering and in pain. I’m not naturally expressive anyway, but I’ve found as you have that a quiet presence is usually much more appreciated than any attempt to say the right thing.

    I have to remind myself that Job’s friends were doing OK until they opened their mouths.

  15. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    When my dad died at the end of March all I could do for the first couple of days was sit and stare at the walls. I just couldn’t believe my dad was/is gone. We knew my dad was dying. It was cancer, but we thought we had a little more time. You always think there’s a little more time. You’re never ready for those words, “He’s gone.” I had just talked to him earlier on the day he died, and he said, “I’ll see you next week.” But, what was awesome was that two of my best friends came over and just stared at the walls with me. That and my 1 year old niece seemed to know I needed cheering up because she kept pulling up her shirt, pointing to her belly button, saying, “Button,” then pulling her shirt way down and laughing and laughing and laughing. It doesn’t matter how bad life sucks. That made me smile.

  16. Dana Ames says:

    Thank you, CM.

    Also greatly appreciate the choice of the several works by one artist, by two of the most spiritually aware artists of the last century. That also ministered to me.

    Dana

    • You can usually count on the fact that, if I write something intensely personal, it will be illustrated by either Chagall or Van Gogh. Glad they spoke to you.

  17. beakerj says:

    I loved this.

    I speak as someone with recent experience of Hospices etc as my Mother died of cancer last November & I was with her as she died, as were my brothers & my aunt. It was my first experience of someone dying, my Mum, as a Nurse of almost 50 yrs has encountered death her whole life, & had given terminal care to many people.

    My church has been mostly brilliant, some individuals outstanding. One thing I think the Evangelical Church is not necessarily good at is mental health problems arising from grief, & also profound spiritual questioning. I couldn’t eat or sleep hardly in the 3 weeks leading up to my Mum’s death, I was doped up to the eyeballs. I became obsessed with Calvinism & was terrified that God may be a monster. The best source of help was my Mum’s new Catholic Priest, Father Danny, who was also a Psychotherapist. It was him who first gave me the hint that I was suffering grief, not madness. My own Elders were sympathetic, but clueless, which just added to the shame of suffering such a profound emotional & spiritual reaction.

    I’m functioning again now, mostly, & am back at work after 5 months. Maybe the Church should also study care of the Grieving, there is a huge pressure (from most, not all) to be ‘over’t hings quickly & talk about what has happened in a spiritually victorious way. I can see ways in which God was very good to my Mum, & to me. But the overall effect has been a massive crack in my fragile trust in the goodness of God. It’s actually how I found this site, & these kinds of posts are why I’ve stayed.

  18. There’s been a post recently circulating around the web from an Australian hospice nurse on the top 5 most common overheard “regrets of the dying” (Google the words in quotes to find her blog post). Mike, I wonder if you have heard similar comments – – here are her top five:
    1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
    2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
    3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
    4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
    5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

  19. Some of the best parts of my ministry have come in those moments of just “being there”, sitting with the dying and their families, hearing their stories. Many times not even speaking unless asked a direct question. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of this ministry.