Posted tagged ‘mourning’

The Grief of Living Long

August 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 5, 2017

                              

Long life seems to be congratulated, celebrated, and strived for. It is tacked up on the bulletin board as a goal, a destination.

The dark side of long life is when everyone has dropped out of the race of life and you become the last one still running. That is, when your spouse for the life journey, all of your friends, and anyone else who used to come to your high school class reunion has passed on. All of those people you’d pick up the phone on a Sunday night to call, or would call you, and check on are now checked off. It is the harsh truth of the long-living.

I didn’t quite understand it in all of my years of pastoring the flocks of different congregations. I can remember the words of a number of elderly folk whose spouses had passed on. There was a longing for God to move them on as well. They were ready for this journey to be over and the next eternal journey to begin. I misunderstood that to be a longing to be in heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, but that longing was disguising the pain that comes with the loss of a special relationship.

My dad’s best friend, Bill Ball, passed away this week at the age of 92. The loss wasn’t unexpected, and yet sometimes we procrastinate coming to terms with its arrival. My dad is 89 and wherever he goes he is now usually befriended by either a cane, a walker, or motorized scooter. Having Bill Ball pass on was a wound to his spirit. About three years or so ago there was Dad, Bill Ball, and Ralph Carrico. Ralph passed away, a victim of cancer, and I saw how that grieved my father, but he had Bill Ball to grieve with alongside him. They supported one another through the loss of their friend. This time around he’s having to struggle through the journey by himself. Yes, his family is comforting him in the midst of the sorrow, but the reality of the situation is that the “long-living” experience a profound form of grief that grows out of the longevity.

My sister and I took Dad to the “viewing” of his friend on Wednesday night. There is something necessary for the living to view the deceased, and something painfully revealing. As my dad stood there beside the casket staring down at his old friend he wept. His body trembled as the tears found their way down his face. He knows that he is in the winter of his own life, but outliving your friends is a weight that he must drag with him for the rest of his days.

And there’s really nothing that his family…his three kids, seven grandkids, and eleven great-grandkids can do for him to make it okay.

I remember a song by Charlie Peacock from twenty-five years ago. It was entitled “Now Is the Time for Tears”, and it begins with the words “Now is the time for tears. Don’t speak! Say no words! There is nothing you could say to take this pain away!” Dad’s grief is not to be fixed, but simply to be present with.

We often talk about life as being a journey. The other part of that, however, is that life is to be journeyed with others. I can see the loss etched into Dad’s wounded face. He just finished another round of radiation treatments this week for another skin cancer episode on his nose. His nose and ears have been cut on and radiated so many times that his face has often looked like a battlefield, but this pain that I can see is not connected to any cancerous growth, or demanding treatment plan. It’s simply the look of loss, the mask of long-lived sorrow!

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017

                               

Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.

When Your Friend Passes On

October 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 23, 2016

                               

Yesterday I officiated at the funeral service for my friend, Greg Davis. “Officiated” is an interesting word to use in this context since Greg and I have been basketball officials for years. In fact, I think that’s how we first met…being a part of the same high school basketball officials’ group.

Then we discovered that he was teaching at the same middle school that my youngest daughter attended…then we discovered that he had been on the summer staff at Black Forest Baptist Camp…then I discovered that he had been raised in the First Baptist Church of Sterling, Colorado, another American Baptist Church! It was a series of discoveries that forged a deeper relationship.

Then the cancer was discovered!

Then I became his pastor!

Greg and Jordan had exited the church they were a part of and, to put it bluntly, they were done with church…an organized church, that is! I noticed that they still had a support group of friends who had exited the church scene along with them, and this group was on an unusual faith journey together.

Then about a month after his brain tumor was discovered I entered our sanctuary one Sunday to begin the worship service and was surprised to see them sitting in a pew on the right side about four rows from the back. Cancer has a way of putting things in perspective for a person. The church I pastored became a safe place for them to ask God the hard questions, a place where they could ask for prayer and have the congregation gather around them…literally!…lay hands on them and pray! They relocated as time went on to the left side of the sanctuary about five rows from the front and many Sundays Jordan would share the latest news of Greg’s MRI or oncologist appointment. I would see Greg sitting beside her and weeping. When I retired from the pastorate at the end of 2015 it was gratifying to see my former church continue to journey with Greg and Jordan through many difficult days, and they will continue to be a support system for Jordan and Kayleigh in the days ahead. She knows that she is not alone.

Yesterday was an emotional day for many people. The sanctuary was full of family, friends, teaching colleagues, and church folk. I found myself riding the roller coaster of emotions as I sat on the platform and then while I was speaking. I’ve presided over probably 150 funerals in my years of ministry and I rarely get emotional during them, but yesterday was different. As I thought about it last night it occurred to me that my flood of emotions may have been connected to the six year journey I had traveled with Greg, a road that was filled with as many praise-filled occasions as gut-wrenching test results.

The funeral was two hours of laughter and tears. One person commented to Greg’s parents that he had never laughed so much at a funeral. That’s good! Laughter is the sugar cube in a cup of tears. People laughed at the sharing of some of Greg’s old sarcastic comments and his brothers’ sharing of past stories, and people cried as his nine year old daughter read the letter she had written to her dad after he passed.

Death is harsh. It will hold hands with each one of us whether we are willing or reluctant. As I told those at the service yesterday, for the follower of Christ it is a confusing blend of grief and joy. There is deep sorrow over the physical departure of the person and a simmering joy because of his eternal relocation.

I miss my friend, and I’ll continue to miss him. In a very weird way one of the blessings of friendship is the sorrow of loss.

Missing Mom Three Years Now!

September 2, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 2, 2016

                           

Today is the third anniversary of my mom’s passing. Three years since she slipped from the incredible care of my dad and sister and marched into Glory.

Her death was hardly a shock. In fact, we had prayed that it would come sooner than later. The Parkinson’s had taken a tremendous toll on her body. Long before her death she has lost the functioning of her arms and legs. More devastating than that, however, was the lost of speech. My mom was always the verbal one. She would begin a scolding or an opinion with an introduction like, “Buddy, let me tell you something!”, and then proceed to tell you three or four “somethings.” Even though there were many times when we wished…silently, if you will…that she would be quiet, the loss of her voice was a lonely stretch for our family on the journey of grief.

My mom’s voice defined her! She had that Eastern Kentucky accent that was just a bit north of Jed Clampett and the other Beverly Hillbillies. When she visited us in Michigan one time and had a woman compliment her on her accent she was a bit insulted by the idea that she talked a little different than others of the area.

“That lady said I had an accent! I don’t have an accent!” We tried not to laugh outwardly, but inwardly our spirits were shedding tears of laughter.

My dad has always been the one who has thought about what he was going to say. Mom just put it out there! Often her words brought direction for someone who was drifting in the streams of uncertainty. Someone grieving a loss was helped along the way by her words and actions. My best friends Mike and Dave were brought under her wing like two additional sons. Even though they had solid family systems, she gave them a bit more guidance, offered food to them, and told them that they were doing well.

When she stopped talking it was frustrating and humiliating to her, and painful for us as a family. What do you do when the person laying there in that bed is not the person you’ve known all your life? When I would call on Sunday evening and talk to Dad he would place the phone receiver next to Mom’s ear for brief times of conversation with her. I would do the best that I could, but she had always been the one who guided our conversations. I was like a sheep without the shepherd.

Three years ago I got the call that she was gone, and I rejoiced. Now each time I go back home to see my dad and sister we take a day to travel an hour and a half to the cemetery where she, as well as the rest of my relatives, is buried. I feel close to her as I stand beside her grave. I can hear her voice and I replay some of the memories as I stand there.

Towncraft underwear and socks every Christmas!

Sitting beside her in church.

Seeing her do her crossword puzzles.

Making me write a sentence 500 times that I would not do whatever sin I had committed again, with her goal of improving my handwriting. It didn’t work!

Seeing her head bob all over the place as she would fall asleep in car rides of more than thirty minutes.

Feasting on amazing meals!

I have been extremely blessed to have had her as my mother, and I miss her greatly!

The Two Davis’s

August 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 12, 2016

                                      

I made two visits this week. Both of them were to men whose last name is Davis. One of them celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. The other is 95! Neither of them has a lick of hair on top of their head- one because his dad paved the way for that hairstyle, which has been followed by all three sons, and the other because…he’s 95, and the top of his head looks like a telescope view of the moon’s surface!

One of the Davis’s is the Sultan of Sarcasm, the other is content to get settled in to telling the listener a story.

The younger Davis has taught middle school social studies for fifteen years…perhaps being the reason why sarcasm rises to the surface for him so often. The older Davis was a postman, familiar with the lives of those that he delivered important letters from loved ones to.

I was the pastor to both of them and their families. Since I retired from being a pastor a few months ago now I am a friend to both of them.

I refer to the older Davis as my “Colorado Dad.” He possesses many of the same great qualities as my father has. The younger Davis could be my son, but I prefer to see him as one of  my peers. We have shared many a lunch together in his school classroom, talking about this and that.

Both of them are dear to my heart.

Both of them have cancer.

The older Davis is in his final days. I sat by his bed yesterday, probably for the last time. He drifted in and out of sleep. I held his hand, he told me how much he loved me. My heart ached to see his frail figure. The two of us had golfed together a number of times over the years. I would drive long and to the right, and he would drive short but right down the middle of the fairway. He would be putting it in for a bogie, and I’d hope for a bogie putt. At the end of our nine holes he would be about a 46 and I would be a 48. BUT he was 90 and I was 57! We enjoyed each other’s company so much. Every time he greeted me we would embrace and he would whisper to me “Love ya!”

About five years ago I officiated the funeral service of his only son, who had died in a motorcycle accident. I grieved with my Colorado dad as the sorrow overwhelmed him. A parent should never have to bury one of their children. It was a confusing time for him, and I mostly listened to his questions about why things happen. It was also at that time that he started asking me more questions about heaven, what it would be like and whether he would be reunited with his son there?

I held his hand for one last prayer by his bedside, and then he dropped into a medicated slumber again.

The younger Davis was discovered to have a tumor in his brain six years ago. He had just done a state high school championship game in basketball and a month later had a seizure. When a second seizure happened shortly after that he was checked out at the hospital. The test revealed the tumor. Three months later surgery was performed to get as much of it as possible. Ninety-five percent was removed and the follow-up treatments took care of the rest.

But cancer is like the neighbor’s dog who keeps coming into your yard and pooping. You clean up one mess and the lawn looks pristine again for a while, and then you look out the window to see the canine leaving his mark again. Cancer is kind of like that. It is a time in a person’s life that is filled with crap! The crap of dealing with insurance companies…the crap of scheduling appointments…and the crap of never-ending anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

My friend’s cancer came back. We continue to pray for healing, but hope too often is getting shoved into the back seat. On Wednesday his family had a birthday celebration for him at the rehabilitation facility he is a patient at. Hopefully he will be able to return home next week with some skills that will enable him to better function in his home. The future is uncertain, and he knows it.

My visits with him are often punctuated with quiet moments as each of us deals with where we are in the journey. I brought him a totally inappropriate birthday card that I knew would bring a deep chuckle to him. One of the comforts of our friendship is that we can be a little off-color with one another and not be embarrassed. In fact, we expect a little political incorrectness in our conversations.

Our journey has gone into the deep valleys of new tumor growth, but also ascended some high mountains of clear MRI results.

Bottom line! I have been extremely blessed to be a part of the journeys of the two Davis’s! The depth of a friendship is discovered by the bruisings of life.

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.

Drawing Close to Death

March 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              March 18, 2016

                                      

The Passion Week of Jesus is about to begin. In many ways it’s an unsettling time. One day Jesus gets paraded through town with cheers and singing, and a few days later he gets paraded towards a hill of death with jeers and mocking. It is a lonely week, a week of being deserted, betrayed, and tortured.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday experiences are solemn and reflective…and avoided! Many of us are ready to get to the celebration of Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus’ tomb was open and the body was no longer there, and by-pass the days of suffering and death.We often even see this in our funeral services. The tendency is to rush by the grieving and embrace the rejoicing. If the departed had a close walk with God people sometimes feel guilty about being sad, about mourning the loss of a loved one. “Well, he’s with the Lord now, so we shouldn’t be sad!”

Yes, he is with the Lord, but he is no longer with us in the same way he has always been with us, and for that I’m grieving. Ben Dickerson, a good friend and ministry colleague of mine, passed away suddenly a few years ago. Ben was man of prayer and depth, a mentor and confidant. His death set me back. I struggled with the nonsensical nature of it.

I could not get to the celebration! Hear me on that! I could not get to the celebration. I was still dealing with the Good Friday grief! Just as cancer patients deal with the loss of health, and anxiety about the future moves into the room that has been occupied by future hopes and aspirations, I must deal with the closeness of death in my life.

Perhaps it seems silly, but I’ve grieved the loss of every one of our five cats: Tickles, Prince Charming Kisses, Duke, Katie Katie CoCo Puffs, and Princess Mailbu. Don’t mock me! My daughters named them all. Even as I write this I’m getting a little teary-eyed thinking about them.

Death is hard, and important to draw close to. When Moses died Deuteronomy 34:8 says “The people of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab for thirty days. then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.”

Thirty days! In our culture it is more likely that the memorial service can’t be scheduled for thirty days due to schedule complications.

There is a time for celebration, but there is also a time for grieving and remembrance. Death precedes eternal life…profoundly!

Good Friday needed to occur for a rolled away stone to signal that something significant had just happened.

Our culture has a hard time dealing with death. The pull is to just move past it and get on with life.

And so Good Friday services that bring us to scenes of Golgotha will be slightly attended, unless the pilgrim comes from a traditional that mandates attendance; and Resurrection Sunday will see pancake breakfasts, and balloons, and chocolate crosses…and crowded sanctuaries.

My belief…you don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to…my belief is that we can not fully appreciate and understand the incredible news of the resurrection unless we draw close to the death of Jesus’ crucifixion.