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Posts Tagged ‘caring’

The 5th of December is a date that will remain with me forever. It has for the past 25 years. All day I’ve been irritable, uneasy, scattered, and generally miserable. Oh, and I think I have a chest cold.

On the 5th of December 1988 my husband of 99 days left me. It’s true. Twenty-five years ago I was adjusting to being newly married, only to switch to newly separated and finally to newly divorced. I had spent the day with my sister-in-law and had left feeling much better than when I arrived. She was married to my husband’s brother, so I asked her advice. She gave it and I was positive and excited about how things were going to be between K and myself.

I walked through the door to the apartment with a huge smile on my face. Then I saw two suitcases packed. “Where are we going?” I asked.

“Not we. Just me” he said.

“Pardon?” said I.

“I’ve decided this isn’t working for me, so I’m leaving”.

“Scuze me?”

“Yep, this isn’t what I thought it was going to be”.

“We’ve been married five minutes”.

“No, it’s been longer than that. But I made a mistake. I should have married you. Can I have the car keys please? I’ll be back in a couple of days to pick up the rest of my stuff. I called the landlord and you have to be out of the apartment by the end of December”.

And with that, he was gone.

At roughly 4:30 pm on the 5th of December 1988 my world was turned upside down.

Every year since, on the 5th of December, I have a physical memory of that day.

This year, 2013, just after 6:00 pm, I learned that Nelson Mandela had died.

A great man who leaves an amazing legacy. Nelson Mandela changed the world. And the majority of the planning and teaching for that change happened within the walls of his cell on Robben Island. Prisoner 46664 was initially tormented and humiliated. He rose above this and forgave. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (overseen by Archbishop Desmond Tutu) he was able to put a face on the inhumanity to which he had been subject.

He is a man of tremendous integrity, faith and grace. There is someone in my life that I need to forgive for abuse that was suffered from the ages of 3 – 6. I am closer now then I have ever been to forgiving him. And I believe that due to Madiba’s teaching, I may be able to actually forgive. Not this minute. Not this day. But soon. I may finally able to let go of that to which I cling. I cannot describe what “that” is, but cling to it I must. For now.

Over the past few days I’ve been cleaning and arranging rooms in the rectory. I have reclaimed a room upstairs as my Sanctuary, where I can meditate, stretch, pray, read, write, etc. It is a peaceful and lovely room.

I scoured the upstairs bathroom last night after both dogs had baths. Today I took down the curtains and washed them. I washed the curtains on all main floor windows, washed the windows and sills, and put the curtains back up. The house feels cleaner. It certainly smells cleaner. And my calm is returning.

This morning I reclaimed a small table in the dining room that had papers and other detritus strewn on it. A mess. Chaos. I don’t like that. It is now orderly. I know where everything is and most of the papers from that pile have been recycled or filed away. Order. Calm.

When I heard the news on the radio tonight I stopped what I was doing to listen carefully. Then I sat down and stayed perfectly still. Then I prayed. I gave thanks for Madiba’s life. I gave thanks to G-d for making Apartheid a memory instead of a reality. I promised to be more optimistic and to be more understanding. I prayed for guidance and strength. Then I sat, in silence and stillness for what seemed like a long while.

Then I slowly got up, made some tea and continued with what I was doing.

This week has been a physically and emotionally productive week. I’ve not slept nearly enough and I suspect that, combined with the dust and grime that’s been unearthed, is part of the reason I am having respiratory issues.

This weekend will be a very hectic weekend. And it will be draining, emotionally, spiritually and physically. But it will be worth it.

Mr. Mandela, you changed the world. You have inspired generations to learn from you and to do their part to change the world. I pray, one day, to make you proud of the changes that you have inspired in me, in my small corner of the world.

May you rest in peace and rise in glory. Well done, good and faithful servant.

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The past few days have been extremely emotional – on the verge of horrendous.

Last Thursday the Church was packed to overflowing as we gathered to celebrate the life of R. A man well-loved and never forgotten. He was 85 years old and died from ALS. He had a full and rich life, serving his country, his community. Marrying his sweetheart for 48 years and raising two sons. He was, as the Bible says, “old and filled with days”.

His Celebration of Life was, indeed, a Celebration. The Church was filled with gales of laughter as we remembered what a practical joker R was, and how he always found a way to make us laugh.

When the Church service ended, I went to the Cemetery while some folks from the Church tidied up. By the time I returned from the Cemetery the Church was locked up tight…with my keys and cell phone inside. It was one more practical joke from R. For the record, I did get back in the Church, about three hours later. And it is a story I will remember and will always laugh as I tell it.

Sunday was our Remembrance Sunday service at the Church. There was a wreath that had stayed from R’s Celebration of Life. We have a white styrofoam cross that we pin poppies to after Communion to change an instrument of hate and destruction into an instrument of peace and love.

During my homily I told the story of my Grand-dad whom I have never met. He was wounded in the First World War and suffered for the rest of his life from neurological issues. He married his sweetheart and had three children, one of whom became my Mam. But he was always a broken man.

I also told the story of two friends of mine. A clergy couple out on the East Coast of this Country. She is a priest in Halifax, and he serves as Chaplain aboard HMCS Toronto. Theirs is a love-story for the ages; a testament to their faith, love and commitment to each other, and to God.

Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to Baby H. The Church was filled with young people in shock, sobbing uncontrollably and looking for answers. A few members of the Congregation came to offer their prayers and support to the family; as well as to seek peace and comfort themselves. In short, there was a Church filled with people looking for answers.

It felt like they were all looking at me.

I had nothing.

No words. I tried my hardest to write an authentic homily, but everything I tried sounded hollow and unconvincing. “He’s in the arms of Jesus”. Yes, but he should be in his mother’s arms.
“He’s gone home to be with the One who Created him.” Yes, but he should have gone home to his brother.

For the love of God, he was 28 DAYS OLD. Not enough time to learn to speak, never mind have a full life and die “old and filled with days”. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. It’s not fair. It’s not right.

And then it struck me.

I didn’t have to say anything. My words would not be the salve that would soothe. The Community would extend their heartfelt support to each other.

At Baby H’s baptism I brought a candle, the intention of which was to light it when he got better and went home. He didn’t get better so the candle remains unlit. As I began the service on Sunday I lit a new baptism candle from the paschal candle (which signifies new life) and let it burn through the service and during the reception.

The readings were all chosen because they dealt with children, commissioning and being still in the silence. God wasn’t making an appearance in the machinery beeping and chiming. God wasn’t making an appearance in my raging against the wind and the pain. God was in the stillness, where God always is; and I needed to remind myself, as well as the Congregation; that sometimes we need to simply ‘be still’ and be in the presence of the Sacred.

As usual I wasn’t wearing shoes. I had intended to mention why before the service began, but forgot. Several people asked me about it afterwards and I told them why. They nodded as though they understood.

Today was Remembrance Day, one day after Baby H’s funeral.

The weather was horrible, it was cold, wet and sleeting. The crowd huddled together, comprised of men and women, young and old, children and seniors. Umbrellas covered strangers and friends, and we united to Remember those who laid down their lives, those who returned wounded, those who served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces.

We laid a wreath at our small town service for LGBT Members of the Armed Forces, past and present. The wreath had a rainbow ribbon on it and the purple sash said “Lest We Forget”. Poignant words indeed.

So much loss over the past while.

So much pain.

So much emptiness.

So much fatigue.

And so tonight, as I work far too late, I look out the window at the snow that is gently falling. I have just eaten something that I know I will feel badly about in the morning, but right now I need comfort.

Tomorrow is going to be a quiet day. I will return the house to order. I will do some computer work. I will nap. I may not even get dressed. And let today be a snow day. A Sabbath Day.

The title of this post is When Words Fail, but I’ve written nearly 1,000 of them.

I think, what it all boils down to, is being brave enough to be authentic. Of being caring enough to be vulnerable. Of being human enough to feel and to show those whom you serve all of these things.

We may not have the magic words. We likely have the same questions as you.

We may not have the answers. But we do have each other.

Thanks be to God.

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Nearly three weeks ago a friend of mine had a baby boy. The day of his birth was an amazing and awesome thing. Her labour lasted a long time and she was exhausted by the time he made his wide-eyed appearance into the world. Not long after his arrival he began showing signs of infection…especially through an elevated temperature.

At the time there wasn’t enough pieces to put together to solve the puzzle, and so he was sent home, with instructions for his mother, in case things started to change.

And they did.

He has been in hospital since he was 3 days old. He was transferred from Children’s Hospital in the city near where I live, to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. His heart is strong, as is his spirit, but his flesh is so very weak. His mother was told that he will likely not survive his ordeal. The life support machines that monitor his breathing and support his tiny body will be effective for only three weeks. After that, the machines will be discontinued and he will pass away. There is a 10% chance that he will survive the machine being removed.

So we pray.

I was talking with his mother today and I asked her, gently, about baptism. She thinks it would be a good idea, so I am going to go there on Sunday afternoon with my husband and baptise this baby (who will then be 23 days old) and continue to pray for a miracle.

Today I was visiting with the father of a parishioner who is 77 years old, palliative and who likely has 48 hours or less to live. While he is, by no means, an old man – he has lived a life. Grown up, gone to school, got married, raised a family. He buried his eldest daughter three years ago, and only two months after his daughter died, so did his wife.

Tomorrow I will go and visit a man who was diagnosed with ALS a few months ago. Last weekend he was transferred to a rehabilitative facility, but to the palliative unit. The disease is getting the best of him and he’s not got long to live. He was, only two years ago, actively teaching line dancing, participating in parades and marches and generally giving everyone guff. And now he has lost the ability to wipe his own nose or tie his own shoe. Slowly, he is turning to stone.

At times like this I want to be angry with God. And I do rage against the One who Created me. I rage that it is not fair. I rage that I feel helpless. I rage that I wish I could do more. And then I realise I am only human.

My husband is driving me to Toronto and will be present as I baptise this beautiful 23 day old baby. I will stay with him and his mother until Wednesday and then I will come back home to prepare for our All Souls Service for the 2nd of November.

In life we have death. We are told not to fear death because in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection we will find eternal life.

I believe this, with every fibre of my being.

But how can I help make sense of something that doesn’t make sense to me?

I KNOW I should give this up to God and let God decide. And yet I can’t do that. I am not finished asking for a miracle. I am not finished expecting a miracle. And if the baby dies, it will not be because I didn’t pray hard enough. It will not be because I didn’t have enough faith. It will not be “God’s will” that he dies. It will be because the infection got ahead of him faster than the doctors could diagnose and treat him.

Sometimes its simply not fair…and that is simply life.

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I have a parishioner in hospital who is 92. His circulation is poor and he’s in a great deal of pain. A well-meaning friend of his insisted he go into hospital and has taken over deciding what he needs and what he doesn’t. I went to visit him yesterday and he was sleeping. I gently woke him and we spent some time together.

With his permission, I anointed him with oil, we prayed, and shared communion. The entire time he was crying because he doesn’t want to live this way anymore. His wife of 72 years died nearly two years ago and he’s been bereft since. My heart aches for him because he wants to die. He’s not suicidal, he’s simply had enough of life and wants to be with his beloved.

When I was getting ready to go, I asked if he wanted a final prayer and he said yes. So we prayed for God to comfort him, to bring him peace and, if it be His will, to call this man home. H cried harder and said “please” over and over again. I held his hand, I kissed his forehead and I said I would be back later in the week to see him.

I pray that he will slip peacefully away and rejoin his beloved. That he will be called soon into the arms of God and be free of pain and suffering.

On Wednesday we will gather at the Church to celebrate the life of R. She was a feisty lady who was a school teacher, raised four children and looked after her husband when he had a debilitating accident. She cared for him at home for as long as she could, and when he died, she threw herself into the volunteer world in our community, receiving a Volunteer of the Year award about five years ago.

The last two years of her life have not been good, as she’s been struggling with health issues. She died in hospital and that would have bothered her greatly as she would have preferred to die at home, the retirement residence she moved to a year or so ago.

On Saturday I will be baptising a two month old baby boy at his grandparents home. Traditionally baptisms are done in a Church setting, but his grandmother has ALS and is confined to her home. Her daughter and son-in-law were married two years ago in the backyard, so that is where we will baptise her grandson. It will be a beautiful and poignant day as we will gather for the beginning of her grandson’s spiritual life, as she faces the premature end of her life.

There are times when I get angry with God for letting people suffer. And while I shouldn’t likely be angry with God because there is always a plan, I WILL get angry when people suffer needlessly.

I will miss H, I do miss R and I will miss C. And while it will be difficult, and has been difficult to let them go, I know I must, as it is God’s turn to hold them safe and comfort them.

And as for me, I, thankfully have many who hold me safe. So while I will be emotionally fragile for the next little while, I know that God is with me, every step of the way, bringing hope with every tear that is shed; love with every hug that is exchanged; and peace with every bought of laughter.

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Life has been a series of struggles lately, physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. Lately there has been a great deal of loss in the community and in our small parish family. I am reaching the place where I have gone from burying parishioners, to burying friends and sometimes to burying family. It hurts. But it is my job and I have to function well to be able to care for the congregation.

On the fourth of July a parishioner died who had been in and out of hospital for the past few months. She was 89. She was ready to die and at peace with the world. Another parishioner who is 97 was admitted to hospital this evening. He’s got some serious circulation issues, and may need to have a toe amputated. Two years ago his wife of 73 years died. He was devastated and has wept for her every day since. His family is telling him to “get over it” and the truth is, he doesn’t want to. I don’t blame him. He is not suicidal, he is simply ready for this life to be over so he can join his bride in the next life.

I’m feeling torn between the friend who is trying to get him “better” so he can go back to his life in a retirement residence, and the desire he has to die. I tend toward his want. He isn’t afraid to die. He is ready to go. But his heart is strong, thanks in part, to an operation he had 4 years ago to repair a faulty valve. He had the surgery so he could live longer and care for his wife whom he was losing every day to Alzheimer’s disease.

When I go and visit, we often sit in silence and I will hold his hand while he cries. I encourage him to talk about his wife, and watch his smile come from his heart and light up his face. We share communion from the traditional Book of Common Prayer and he knows every, single word by rote…even the priestly parts.

Quite often he weeps only while we go through the Eucharistic Rite, and he apologises profusely. I remind him that it is not a bad thing to weep, and often I feel like weeping at the sheer volume of the gift that Jesus and God gave us. He nods understanding and we wait, in silence, until we continue again.

I don’t expect he will see another birthday or another Christmas. He is really and truly ready to leave this life. And in my humble and non-medical opinion, I believe his wishes should be honoured. Lead him out of pain, and let his life come to an end. No more medical procedures, other than for pain relief. No more surgeries.

We have talked often about his wishes for his funeral. He wants a traditional Requiem Mass, the same as we did for his beloved wife. I received a couple of comments that the service was very somber, but that was his choice and that choice needs to be honoured. He and his wife had talked about their wishes while she was still well enough to understand. The service has been written, the readings selected and even the hymns have been chosen. And when his time comes he will be honoured with a Requiem Mass. We will honour his legacy, celebrate his life and do it soberly, with honour and tradition. And there will be laughter. I have promised him, that there will be laughter, as there was for his beloved bride.

So tomorrow I will go and visit him in hospital. I will bring communion and oil for anointing. And we will pray together that if it is God’s will that he should heal, then that will be done. And if it is God’s will that he be called home, then that will be done. I will miss him terribly, as I miss his wife terribly, but I know that he will be in a place where he is no more pain; only joy and love as he his reunited with his wife, his parents and siblings.

I find myself struggling with the ongoing significant loss in the parish and how I process it all. I know I was created with a large heart, but it’s also a delicate surface that is easily hurt, bruised and battered. There are times when I wish I had a harder heart, but then I wouldn’t be me. And the only person I can be is the person that God created. For better or for worse.

So as the darkness descends on another day and we approach another weekend, I pray for restorative sleep, for me and for my congregation. I pray for laughter and time with good friends. I pray for old friends and new ones. I pray for enjoyable time with my family. I pray for peace. And I pray for hope. I pray for hope and I pray for love.

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Recently there seems to have been a lot of negative energy spent towards the LGBT+ community. As an ally to the community it saddens me to read articles where people are being cruel, mean and horrible with one another.

Recently a friend of mine who is a member of the trans* community, mentioned that she was having a difficult time, due in part to some hateful words and jealousy that was rearing up and taking over. I have only ever her known her as female and cannot understand why anyone would see her as something other than female. I guess I’m naive as I tend to take people as they come; and I tend to treat everyone the same.

Today I had breakfast with four of my friends, two of which are part of the trans* community. One of them has been so upset at the slow process and information shortage that she was contemplating hurting herself. Thanks be to God her fiance was able to help her through, but how horrible that she felt so marginalised that she couldn’t find a way forward?

I cry bitter tears of anger when I think of my friends being mistreated because of something as innocuous as sexuality and gender. What people need to remember is that sexuality is not about what is between your legs, but between your ears.

One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is Love. No greater gift has ever been given then when Jesus knowingly and lovingly died for us. To tell one person that they don’t deserve that love is fallacy, is wrong and is infuriating.

it is time for the hatred to end. It is time for us to come together as the human race and accept everyone just as they are.

We are all God’s children; created in the image and likeness of God. For some of us that means we look in the mirror and see that shining face of God looking back at us. For others it means looking in the mirror and seeing something or someone else reflected. And in order for us to feel that we truly are God’s Children we need to have surgery in order that our outer bodies reflect our inner selves.

God doesn’t make mistakes. God creates from Love and we are all born from Love. Some of us know who we are meant to be, and others of us spend our lives trying to figure that out. I have been blessed in knowing that the gender I was born is the one I was meant to have. I don’t know how it would feel to be born in the opposite gender to what I am now.

My trans* friends who have found the support and strength to make their transition often describe a peace that comes to them once the decision is made to transition. It’s not something that is ever done lightly, but with much thought, prayer, tears and consideration. Every one of the trans* friends I have has come into themselves once they’ve begun the transition. It’s not easy. But it is what is necessary to live an authentic life and be an authentic presence.

I truly believe that the only way to rise above the hate that, at times, seems overwhelming, is to choose to love. It’s one of the two commandments Jesus gave us. Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. Why do we have to complicate so simple an idea?

Rise above the hate with Love. Choose to live in a place where love governs your actions. Teach your children and your grandchildren to live in Love.

And most importantly, speak out when there is hatred and prejudice. Gay rights are human rights. And we are all the same in our humanity; are we not?

It’s time for us to get up, get out, and get lost in the abounding love of God. For God’s sake, and for each other’s sake.

It’s time. Let’s do it. Together.

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Here in the small Southwestern Ontario community in which I reside, there have been thunderstorm warnings all week. And yet, aside from a brief 10 minute shower yesterday, we have not had one clap of thunder; one bolt of lightning; one stiff breeze.

I have been “blessed” with headaches since puberty. Most recently they were pinpointed as primarily stress-related headaches due to clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. I wear a guard at night (which is INCREDIBLY sexy) so I don’t clench while I sleep, and yet there are times, especially when I am driving, that I catch myself clenching my teeth. Then I end up with jaw pain and headache.

Also, I was recently diagnosed with barometric pressure-related migraines. Nothing will make them stop until the storm comes. So for five days I’ve been in increasing amounts of pain and for five days I’ve been disappointed. I just stopped typing to stretch my arms and jaw and realised I’d been clenching. Again.

There is a lot of work to be done on the outside of the rectory. Two dogs have more or less killed the lawn by the front porch. The pup has decided he likes to eat flowers, so we have to be careful where, and if, they are planted. I’ve decided to move the gravel path we have in the front, which is not particularly usable, and replace the gravel with organic mulch. It will still have cement stones, sort of “stepping-stones” but there will be a softer place to walk, and it will be much better for the dogs.

Our female has decided she doesn’t like gravel, and she will do a complicated dance to step around the gravel and onto the hard packed dirt rather than step easily from the gravel to the steps. She’s also had a couple of infections in the pads of her front paws, so we need to make the path more dog friendly. The pup seems to have stopped eating the gravel, which is also good.

So the past few days, in the middle of the night, actually; while I’ve been waiting for the storm to come that doesn’t; I’ve been thinking of what I want to do to change the appearance of the outside of the rectory, using the resources we have (repurposing them) and purchasing a minimum of new resources.

It’s one of those projects that will awesome when its done, but will take some time to get there; as one thing depends on another to get finished. While I want the rain to come, I also want to get the projects started, but I don’t really have the time to start them until Friday.

SO, with my luck the rain will come as my spade hits the ground, and providing there’s no lightning, I may solider on. I’ve worked in the rain before, why not now?

I pray for the rains to come, the earth to cool and the humidity to leave. I also pray for the people of Alberta; who have had the rains come and forget to stop. We live in a world filled with oxymoron and while we may get frustrated we still soldier on.

I have had the lyrics to a song that the counsellors at the Diocesan Church Camp sing during communion. “Let it rain, let it rain, open the floodgates of heaven, and let it rain”. Its hypnotic when the song starts and often someone will rap “Jesus loves me” over top of the chorus. I am due to be there next week and am very much looking forward to hearing that song…

And in the meantime, I’ll get some more sparkling water, and draw yet another diagram of the proposed “after” picture of the side yard.

“Open the floodgates of heaven, and LET IT RAIN!!!”

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It seems that over the past year I’ve been in a process of change. It seems that everything around me is changing. And while some of the changes are difficult and some are downright awful, there are some that are uplifting in nature.

Our congregation has been in a great state of change for the past year. We have had four significant losses to the community and there’s another one that will be happening sooner, rather than later. To be completely honest, hospital visiting is not something I enjoy. I am grateful for a long walk from the parking lot to the hospital room as it gives me a chance to psych myself up for conversation. I don’t do small talk very well.

Most often I sit in silence if it’s the parishioner and me. If there is family present I will chat with them. And then turn my attention to the parishioner. There is always prayer, and the family as well as medical team are invited to participate. Sometimes there is anointing or communion. And at the very centre of it is God.

Lately there has been a great deal of pastoral care needed in the congregation. On Tuesday alone I did four pastoral calls, usually I do one or at the most two in a day. But Tuesday it ended up being four. By the end of the day I was absolutely wiped out. And I have been having difficulty sleeping since then, most likely because I’m not decompressing properly. I know I need to focus more on my yoga. And as soon as I get busy, my self-care takes a back seat. And that has to stop.

I am determined, this summer, to make healthier choices for myself. Healthier choices in what I eat, what I do, how I move my body, how I care for my body. And it will be awesome. I need to move myself up on the list, because right now, I sit on the bottom of the list.

The struggle I often have is whether or not I “deserve” to take the time for a massage, a pedicure or highlighting my hair. And while I know it’s appropriate and necessary to do those things, there are times when I think I should be spending that time caring for others.

*sigh* Just when I think I’ve got my perspective back, it changes. And it means that I need to change and be gentler with myself.

It is true that I am my own worst enemy and harshest critic. And that’s okay, I guess? I think what I need to do is to silence the criticism, and stop beating on myself. I am in a process of reinvention of myself, my home, and my life.

This afternoon I’m going to spend some time outside, doing some clearing up, moving some planters, filling them with soil and getting ready to do some planting, which I plan to do tomorrow afternoon.

I work hard and I am good at what I do. God has given me strength that I never knew existed, to care for people, to love them (even the difficult ones) and to connect with them.

There will always be one more email to send, one more phone call to make, one more floor to sweep, one more person to visit. So I need to be militant with myself, that I deserve to have this time as much as anyone else.

And I need to give myself permission to say no to things that are not life-giving or necessary. I need time for me. And that’s okay.

It’s almost time to tidy up my desk, put things away for my next office day and get ready to have lunch with a colleague. Today is going to be an easier day then the first part of the week. And that is truly awesome.

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Lately in the parish and community there have been several significant losses. It seems I’m spending more time with the grieving then any other group. What I’ve learned with time is that there is nothing useful to say to someone who is experiencing a great loss.

There are, however, many things that are NOT helpful when in crisis or grieving. This hit home with me after my dad died. Every one of these phrases was said to me. And they all made me angry. So here they are, in no particular order…

I know how you feel.
Been there, done that.
S/he’s in the arms of Jesus.
They’ve gone to a better place.
You’ll get over this.
You have to stay strong for your mother.
You must be used to this, given what you do for a living.
God now has a new angel in heaven.
OMG, this reminds me of when…
Chin up, s/he’s not in pain anymore.
I’m sorry for your loss.
What happened, exactly? How did s/he pass on?

Now, while these may be true sayings, they are NOT helpful when someone you love has died. So I’ve taken to letting congregations know that the phrase “I’m sorry” is perfectly acceptable, with nothing else added.

Yes, I am a religious person, but it brings me no comfort to be told that my agnostic father is in the arms of Jesus. He wouldn’t like it there. Too many people try to appropriate someone else’s grief by telling their story. With time that may be an appropriate way to share how you’re coping, but not at the funeral home or the church. The person who is mourning is a combination of exhausted, hyperactive, frightened, nervous, and numb. They are not there to comfort you. You’re supposed to comfort them.

Something we seem to be so frightened about is silence between two people. More and more often, when I’m sitting with a family I will deliberately not speak for several minutes, and let the silence wash over the room. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and there’s chatter about weather, sports, etc. But sometimes it’s comforting to be still in the silence, especially of the parishioner is finally sleeping.

Everyone reacts to death and illness differently. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only your way. I stress with families that if they feel the need to be angry, they should express that, especially if they are angry with God. As much as we are prepared mentally for a person to die, when it actually happens we realised just how UNprepared we are. It hurts like hell. And it will for a long time.

It’s not helpful to tell someone to “get over” their loss. The death of a loved one is not something that you ever “get over”. But with time, love and grace, you will get through it. You will be affected for the rest of your life. There will be times when you burst into tears because of a song on the radio. Or collapse in a fit of giggles because of a remembered phrase of joke. And both are absolutely okay.

At some point in the future I will post about stupid euphemisms people use for death. But not today.

Today is about the gift of silence. About the gift of presence. I remembered when my dad died, what I needed was someone to hold me and say nothing. My husband is awesome with that. Not a single word is exchanged, but I can feel the strength of his arms around me, hear the beating of his heart, and know, for this moment, I am safe.

True ministry, I’m discovering, comes from the heart, not from the mouth. There are times when it is appropriate and necessary to speak. But more often, especially when in crisis; it is more important to be wholly present with the person, and to save the words for another time.

With permission, take their hand, give them a hug, but say nothing. The strength you will feel from that experience will be life changing.

Don’t be afraid of silence. Don’t be afraid of anger, tears or laughter. Don’t be afraid of numbness. All are appropriate emotions when mourning.

So the next time you are at the funeral home, or greeting someone in the community who has sustained a significant loss, resist the urge to say “So, how are you?” because that’s not a fair question. A better statement is “I’m sorry.” And offer a hug or handshake, and be still in the silence.

I truly believe that God appears to us, not in the eloquent homilies, or the well prepared eulogies, but rather that God appears to us in the stillness and silence of simply being present.

“Preach the gospel, use words if necessary” is a misquote attributed to Francis of Assisi. While somewhat contentious, I believe it means that to be fully present with a person, you don’t need to say anything. Great comfort can come from silence.

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Yesterday the community gathered to say farewell to a lovely man who had lived a very good life. The last couple of years were not good ones, his health was fragile and he lived in constant pain. About three weeks ago he told his wife he was ready to die…not in a morbid way, but because he felt he didn’t want to live in pain anymore.

We used to get together for coffee about three times a year. We went to the local coffee shop and his friends would be there, watching every move he made. I enjoyed talking with him as he often shared stories of his family, beaming with pride at his three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was proud of each and every one of them, and made each and every one of them feel like they were special.

The church was overflowing with people. We ran out of bulletins, and worship space, so chairs had to be brought in and set up. A friend and colleague who is in a wheelchair co-presided the service with me and he was a tremendous source of strength during the service. As the eulogies were offered, I sat on the chancel steps to be closer to my friend. Two of the great-grandchildren, ages 2 and 4 came and played on the chancel steps. I got to play too. It was awesome.

As the grandchildren and children got up to speak they each spoke of the legacy their grandfather/father left them. The legacy of stories. The legacy of practical jokes. The legacy of witty sayings and pithy statements. The legacy of family. The legacy of service. The legacy of love.

When I was preaching I made a plea for someone to pick up the ministry of service that my parishioner had done. He had volunteered at a soup kitchen in the city and that is how he met my colleague and friend. At the graveside his brother and sister-in-law tapped me on the shoulder and said they wanted to pick up the mantel of legacy – the legacy of service.

And so, as we interred the remains of one of the kindest and gentlest men who lived, his brother picked up the mantel of service. The shoes he will fill are quite large. But he will do it, his way.

The longer I say in this community, the closer I become to the people. The more our stories intertwine, the greater the honour of the journey. I have been present as couples exchange vows, as children and adults are baptised, and as a soul leaves this life for the next one. We have celebrated lives, cried bitter tears of loss, laughed at silly jokes, and known through it all that we are richer for lessons we have learned. Lessons of legacy.

Rest in peace my dear friend. May you feel the arms of Jesus surround you. May you enter into the heavenly choirs of angels and be amongst the saints in heaven who watch out for us mere mortals, here on earth.

Thank you for the legacies you have left for us. We will do you proud.

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