Posted tagged ‘celebration of life’

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018

                       

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

A Worship Funeral

May 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 23, 2016

                                     

In 37 years of pastoring I had never combined the Sunday morning worship service with a funeral. I’ve led a number of worship services where it felt like I died while delivering the sermon, but that’s different.

So this past Sunday was a new experience. The small congregation in the Colorado Eastern Plains community where I travel to speak twice a month saw its attendance jump from the typical twenty up to eighty as the family and friends of the dear man who departed filled the congregation.

Some may think that combining morning worship with a funeral is a little too sober and depressing, but it wasn’t. The man who had passed away, Larry, had lived a full eighty-five years of life, had been in poor health the past couple of years, and was ready to be done with the pain of this life and make that transition step into heaven He had played professional football back in the last few years of the 50’s for the Raiders and the 49er’s. Some of the aches and pains of those years of playing had taken their toll on his body, even though he had lived almost another sixty years.

I talked about living through loss, that grief is part of this journey of life, and I also talked about the hope that followers of Jesus have in the midst of this journey. What I’ve learned over the years about funeral gatherings is that the most appropriate funerals are a mixture of grieving and peaceful joy. That it’s appropriate to laugh…and to cry, to ask God questions of why and to thank him for the specialness of the person.

That’s the road we traveled on Sunday with Larry. His former pastor who came to the service donned an “Oakland Raiders” cap for a few moments. It was a few moments of humor that people appreciated. In the moments of silence and prayer the sounds of weeping could be heard. A few people shared stories of times shared with Larry, expressions he would use, his use of the name “Buckwheat” when bringing someone to understand his point of view. It was a good time of sharing memories.

And it was also a time of acknowledging the loss, the departure, the harshness of the moment of saying goodbye to the person.

I’ve learned that a gathering because of death can be a very confusing time for Christians, as well as those who don’t follow Jesus. Christians, so often, try to make it a celebration of life and detour around the grief. Other people who have no interest in the spiritual meaning gather to grieve, but have no sense of the hope.

And so, on Sunday we acknowledged the grief and the sadness, but also rejoiced in the memories and the promise.

And it was good! There was a meal served right after the service and most of the eighty stayed and spent time eating roast beef, baked beans, and macaroni salad, while sharing more stories about Larry.

And it was good. We walked with our grief and punctuated it with tearful laughter.

The Hardest Part of Ministry

May 11, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     May 11, 2015

                                     

Two weeks ago three of us from our church- my wife Carol, a woman named Kathy, and myself- went to check on a lady who hadn’t been at worship that morning…which was out of character. After finding the hidden key that Kathy knew about, we discovered her body in the house. Even though it was a difficult thing to discover, we were glad that we were the ones to discover her passing instead of her daughters.

The next Sunday afternoon we had a gathering in our sanctuary to celebrate her life. Eulogies and letters were read that honored her. The service was a mixture of laughter and tears. Death is a peculiar subject for Christians. Our faith is rooted in a death experience- the death of Jesus on the cross, and then the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The words “death”, “dead”, and “dying” are used over eight hundred times in the Bible. Death is unavoidable for each one of us, but it’s also unavoidable as you read the story of God’s people and Jesus’ followers.

And yet the hardest part of ministry is dealing with death. It’s as certain as birth, but difficult to rub elbows with. As a pastor I talk quite often about life after death, the promise of eternal life…that comes after death! We firmly believe in that promise, and yet struggle with the death part.

People say I do an exceptional job officiating at funerals, and yet I dread them with a passion. I prepare people for Glory, and yet I struggle with the releasing of the loved one. Almost all of the funerals I conduct I know the departed one deeply. I remember where they would sit each week in worship, their uniqueness, and stories that stay with me. The lady who just passed on to Glory made her own birthday cards for people, and they were always special and unique. I asked for a show of hands at her funeral of all those who had ever received a card from her. the show of hands were more numerous than the dandelions on the church’s front lawn. Those are the moments that are special.

The pastor, however, must lead the people in the journey of grief afterwards. Last week the Senior Bible Study I lead had it’s first gathering since the funeral. The dear departed woman was a part of the group. We studied the Word that morning, as we always do, but we also found comfort in being together in the midst of loss. Even as we sat in our tabled circle that day we journeyed together in our grief.

The pastor leads, but the pastor also struggles…with emotions, emptiness, adjusting to the change. The promise of Glory is a soothing embrace in the numbness of loss.

Dealing with death is the hardest part of ministry, and yet we convey the message of hope that is linked to it. Goodbyes are painful, but the certainty of their arrivals are comforting. My ministry had been blessed by preaching about eternity, and yet my ministry is burdened by the heaviness of death.

What a odd combination!