I do believe that the hardest work and the best work I do is centered on pastoral care at death and presiding at memorial services. For some reason, God seems to think I'm up for the task, as I've had 5 of these since the end of September. That is a bit much for any pastor and congregation, but especially when the church is only 150 members to begin with!
The longer I'm in ministry, the more I realize how complicated death and dying really are. The impact is broad and it effects much more than just the immediate family and loved ones. Grief is sneaky. Last Saturday when I got word that one of our members had died, I wasn't prepared for my own reaction. It hit me hard and fast. The timing of the news was complicated by the fact that we were in the middle of a Session (governing body of the church) retreat day. This person was known and loved by nearly everyone gathered. Pardon my flippant nature, but it was one of those "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" sort of moments. I waited until lunch time and tried to gather everyone around the table at once to share the news. It was a bit like herding cats.
This is the WORST part of my job. I really don't like to deliver what is labeled as bad news. We pastors are supposed to be in the business of GOOD news. I believe that the avoidance, the ADD nature and the inability to get everyone to settle down to the table was no accident. As much as I detest delivering an undesirable message, the people don't really want to hear one either. So people were inside, outside, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, etc etc. Finally, everyone was seated and I could do what I had to do. One of the Elders told me later that she knew, and that's why she didn't come quickly. She didn't want to hear it. And maybe if she didn't hear it, then it wouldn't be real. The news would cease to exist.
Of course, over the last week, we know that ignoring news, keeping our head in the sand, failing to know what is happening, doesn't prevent it from being real. Although I was only 5 years old in 1964, I have to imagine that a lot of people were doing the same thing with regard to Birmingham, Memphis, Washington, D.C. and the news that kept coming about a man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. People didn't want to hear about de-segregation. People stayed in the kitchen while there were marches and protests and the like. People failed to hear the news....the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We don't always get to choose our news. Probably not ever, really. But what we get to do is respond. We mourn, grieve, stand up, sit down, write, pray, keep silent, shout aloud and remember, always remember.