“…my job has been to let the mourning soak me.”
Because I am a pastor, death and dying are part of my business. Though, signs of life are never far away. I officiate baptisms too and nearly every Sunday morning I find myself in the pulpit pulling from my head and heart a message that resembles resurrection. Within a week I often find myself traversing between the two, our living and dying. But it is the latter, the funerals, that are likely to wash over me.
They seem to come like rainstorms in gusts of wind. One, two, three – coming down in sheets. I would step out of the way and run for cover through the nearest door, but my job has been to let the mourning soak me. My role is to comfort and bear witness.
Maybe it is that I was meant for storm clouds and foul weather. I was never one to run from where the dying lay in the hospital or a room in someone’s home with the curtains drawn.
As a child I danced in the rain like Gene Kelly, minus the umbrella and fedora, splashing in the puddles and singing. I thought I was in a show tune, the neighbors surely thought I was a peculiar child. Summer storms were the best, when it was warm enough to be barefoot. Eventually I would be covered in mud. If my memory serves me correctly my mother once sprayed me with the garden hose before she would let me back in the house. It was like it rained twice and such a good afternoon.
If my mother were still alive, this is a question I would ask her. “Did you think I would become a pastor and lead the casket out the sanctuary doors?” I would tell her that in these moments I have found myself most useful; time is suspended.
Standing at the graveside I have seen rain in every kind of weather, in warm sunshine and blustery snow, drops coming from the tear ducts of grieving eyes, making tiny streams down cheeks and soaking their hearts and mine.
Something is exacted from me in those moments, taken and not returned. Maybe it is the strain that comes with simply being present with no easy answers or resolutions, and recognizing that this is the pain every survivor who has loved someone must muddle through. Our days are limited. It is then that I lower my head, and read aloud the prayers given to us by the church, words that I could not muster on my own in moments like this.
“God of us all, your love never ends. When all else fails, you are still God…Keep true in us the love with which we hold one another. In all our ways we trust you.”
Yes, death and dying has been my line of work, but I have learned to remember that so is life.
I planted my garden last week and now the rain has been falling day after day after day. I have raised the blinds of every window that gives me a view in that direction and pause to look through each one from the kitchen to the den to my bedroom as if I could possibly perceive a difference from one moment to the next. Still not content, I tramp out into the rain for a closer look, inspecting the slender green shoots coming up from seeds beneath the dirt. There will be peas, carrots, eggplants and peppers. Others who are more learned in these things may tell me differently, but I see it as a miracle.
The sky is a blanket of storm clouds overhead and I feel no impulse to go inside. I have become drenched and while my feet do not move as quickly as they once did, my heart is still dancing, because “You are still God and your love never ends.”