A Cheerful Heart Doeth Good Medicine

Today, Jon had a hospital visit in Westerville, so we braved downpours and broken windshield wipers to get there. (Tip: A roll of duct tape in the car saves precious time.) We also ended up going 6 miles in the wrong direction, which meant that we were an hour late getting to the hospital and I was in a mighty foul mood when we arrived. Well… that soon changed. J, the husband of K (the woman having surgery) is one of the most congenial and awesome people we know and listening to him talk about things really improved my mood (as did finding out that we weren’t too late to sit with him). We had to wait an hour for K to get out of surgery and during that time, we got to watch J razz the doctors in a very good-natured way.

When we got up to K’s room, I was greeted with a big hug from a very awake K, which is wonderful considering that they had to dope her pretty well for her surgery. She also told us that when her orderly came in to help her bathe this morning, she found K reading the Bible. Apparently, the conversation went something like this:

O: So you’re reading your Bible?
K: Of course. What other Good Book do you start the day out with?
O: Well… I don’t have time.
K: Not even to pray while washing the dishes?
O: I’d never thought of that.
K: Your hands are busy but your heart and mind are free to pray.

(Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa)

The part that makes this really funny: K is 80+ years old, shorter than me, and about 3 times as spirited. She is one of these people who I think could call fire down from Heaven when she prays. The rest of the visit was just wonderful and she totally made me laugh. She apologized left and right because she might not be able to be there on Sunday. We explained to her that she had a good excuse and promised to come and see her and bring her communion when we could. After she gets out of the hospital, she’ll have to be in a nursing home so that they can give her the antibiotics she needs. When she heard that we don’t know where we’ll be yet, she promised to pray for us and I have a feeling her prayers are gonna make the difference.

One of the things I love about K and our other long-time members who are in the hospital is that they have very unshakeable faith — faith that moves mountains and faith that sustains people in tough circumstances. This is probably the second surgery this year for K and she is taking it all in stride. These people have ten times as much faith in their Creator as I could ever hope to have. Why else can these people deal so well during the last few weeks we’ve had at church where people are dying left and right? I only wish I could deal with the last few weeks with as much strength and grace as they did.

Church Today

Church this morning was lovely. Our congregation council president was cantoring for the first service and he is a fabulous tenor. During Sunday School, I hung out with our Sunday School superintendent and helped her with her student. (Her student Q is a sweetie and it gave us a chance to get the VBS pictures up.) The second service was great. Our music was all patriotic today and it was probably the second time in 10 years that I’ve sung “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

Bill preached one of the best sermons I’ve heard this year on the dangerous eschatology of the Religious Right’s position on Israel. He royally irritated some of the Republican members and a couple of them confronted him after the service about some of his comments on the use of “Judeo-Christian-Islamic morality” (it’s part of an article in the Columbus Dispatch which I can’t link because you have to pay to view it). The two people who did are part of one of the small groups I attend and it usually takes all of my self-control not to make snarky remarks to set them off foaming at the mouth. (I’ve mastered the art of doing so in a way that irritates them but makes me look completely innocent.) For example, I was commenting on something I disagreed with in the Bible Study curriculum and the wife turned to me and said “Don’t you believe the Bible is completely true?” (My answer: I tend to read it more critically than most people do.) It took all of my self-control not to say something like “Nope… I’m just here because my coven isn’t meeting tonight.” (Thank you to my wonderful mother-in-law and sister-in-law for that one.)

F and G were there with G’s son M, which was a good thing — one thing that happens on occasion with grieving people is that they stop attending church and cut themselves off from people. Granted, they left the second things ended; but that’s understandable — how do you socialize with people at church when you buried your husband/father/grandfather 6 days earlier and this person was a pillar of the congregation? (D did everything from lectoring to ushering and served multiple congregation council memberships in addition to being on the building committee 40 years ago for the education building at the church.) I was just really happy that they came. I’m hoping to see them next week at the outdoor service though I know that it may be a while before they feel up to socializing. If nothing else, this is an answer to the prayers I’ve been praying for them (for comfort and strength and to be able to lean on the Lord in this time) and I’m praising the Almighty for that!

Grief Observed (V)

For those who have been following this series, the funeral went well. I was a good crucifer and didn’t trip on the alb I was given to wear. The service was very nice — the readings were comforting and the music was nice. One of the things I love about this parish is that the prelude music for funerals is piano hymns — not some dreary organ piece. I didn’t cry though it was hard when we were singing the last hymn (“How Great Thou Art”) because the family was crying and I am the world’s biggest sap. (Note to self: don’t people-watch during funerals when you know the family.) I made it out of the church without beaning anyone with the cross or tripping over the hem of my alb.

After changing out of my alb, I tossed my clerical shirt back on and we headed out to the car. (My non-skanky summer funeral clothes for today were a grey shirt, black knee-length skirt, and one of Jon’s unbuttoned clerical shirts in black.) I was the second car in the procession and we drove to the cemetery which is a small one in Granville. It was a really pretty one in the woods and one where I’d probably go walking in happier circumstances. I made it through the burial without crying until they started taking apart the flower arrangements to give the roses to the family to toss on the casket before it was lowered. At that point, I was standing with Jon and got teary-eyed. They offered the family the shell casings from the 21-gun salute (D was an Air Force vet) and they presented the flag that had been draped on his casket to F with a rose and shell casing tucked in.

After the burial, we followed G and the family up to G’s house in the hills. The layout and neighborhood reminded me of Las Cumbreas in the Santa Cruz mountains where some family friends of ours used to live. The house is beautiful — lots of windows to give some natural light into the house as well as a huge kitchen — it was seriously how I’d like my dream house to be. They had ham for lunch — but with sandwich fixings, salads, fresh veggies, fresh fruit, and tons of desserts. I had some chips, a ham sandwich (ham and bread), some raw carrots, lots of watermelon, and one small piece of brownie. (I really am not a chocolate dessert person if there’s fresh fruit around.) I also had the chance to talk with Bill and with some other people and it was actually an enjoyable meal. Jon and I bid everyone adieu around 1:30 and were hugged within an inch of our lives by F who promised to be at church at some point this weekend, even if it’s just the 4:00 service on Saturday.

Now that everything is over and I’ve been home for the last 8 hours, I feel kind of deflated because it’s all over. D is in the ground, the family is off grieving elsewhere, and Jon is at a congregational council meeting (read: 3 hours of debating over issues at the church). Given the adrenaline rush of the last few weeks, it is strange to have nothing to think about or do. I’m not really sad per se because I’ve gotten my grief out (for the most part) and the funeral gave me some closure. I’m also not going to be dealing with sobbing family members in the next few days, so I don’t have that to think about. Is this what I should be feeling after all is said and done?

I also almost started crying when the family was hugging me and thanking me. Granted, I am a sap but I also still can’t believe that I was all that helpful. I’m not clergy and most of what I did was hover in the background and occasionally hold hands at times when there was a need, such as last Tuesday when we received the news that D was not gonna make it. Yes, I was there two weeks ago when D was coming out of surgery — I’d driven Jon and Bill to Cols and didn’t really know where else to be. I was going to excuse myself to go to a waiting room but F came out and hugged me. That Friday, I made small talk with G because I needed something to do. On Tuesday, I walked into ICU late and found out that there was a storm brewing and figured that I probably should stick around. In other words, I really wasn’t supposed to be there; but I was. Yes, I did go make phone calls for F to get her calmed down and I did speak on her behalf when people asked what the situation with D was, but I felt like I was in the way most of the time. I did spend hours praying in the ICU and waiting room; but that’s my job as a Christian.

Granted, I haven’t had much experience with family members dying in hospitals and all but I really didn’t realize that my ministry was just *BEING* there. G is an engineer and a brilliant person — little Jen who is the Hermione of her seminary class felt really stupid talking to him that Friday; but apparently, it helped. There was nothing I could say to comfort F but apparently the fact that I was there holding her hand helped. Between the two of them, I have been hugged more times in the last two weeks than in the last 6 months by anyone non-family.

I’m just praying for NO MORE DEATHS AND NO MORE FUNERALS for awhile…

Grief Observed (IV)

My sermonette for blogs4God is here. It reflects my thoughts as of 3:30 am when I decided to put my insomnia to use and write something. I suggest reading it because I refer to it later in the entry. 🙂

The Recounting of my Day
Church was OK today. Bill preached one of his better sermons and I was sitting with some of my choir peeps. I really focused on worshipping today and mixed some Episcopalian liturgical movements in with the Lutheran stuff accidentally. (Then again, Jon’s parish is a Lutheran church that worships like a Catholic one.) After church, we went home and had lunch and I changed into my visting hour clothes.

Visiting hours were actually somewhat enjoyable. There were lots of people there, which meant that the room was unbearably hot. Jon decided to “work the room” so I ended up in the receiving line by myself. G greeted me with a big hug and was pretty OK with everything. His wife J let me hug her too. F was calm, though I think the reason was that there were people around. After talking to the family, I talked to some other people from church and also to one of the couples I met at the hospital. I then went back to the church and did some paperwork before going back over at 4:30 to grab Jon. While I was over there, Bill pulled me over and asked if I would be the crucifer tomorrow. (For you non-liturgical types, the “crucifer” is the person who carries the pole with the cross on it in the procession into the church.)

We returned home and I changed clothes to go out shoe shopping before the Lions service. (D was a member of the local Lions club.) We ended up not getting anything but earplugs for the burial tomorrow. (Jon isn’t fond of 21 gun salutes.) Jon attended the Lions service and I printed resumés and cover letters. We went to get the car washed because I’m driving in the procession tomorrow and came home.

The Reflective Part of This
The b4G thing I wrote this morning was really an exercise in getting my feelings out without sugarcoating them. I was weepy as I was writing it; but writing it helped me to get a lot of the pain out. I also didn’t expect it to be posted so fast — I thought I’d edit it first; but editing it would have sugarcoated things. Basically, I wanted to say that my call is to love God’s people even when it hurts and it was hurting emotionally to know that some of my people were in pain.

Something that has been good about this whole experience is that I’ve learned how I grieve and what I need to have in place to cope with my grief. I know that attending the funeral will bring some closure; but I didn’t know how much the calling hours mattered. Many of G’s co-workers were at the early ones (I didn’t attend the later ones) and I think that it made a huge difference. Talking things out with my small group leader’s son T was also immensely helpful because he also sensed that D’s death wasn’t like the others. T has played in the Easter brass quartet with G for years, so it hit him (T) hard for that reason — it hurts that someone else is hurting.

My mother-in-law reminded me last night that C.S. Lewis commented on how similar grief is to fear in A Grief Observed, which I had to read in stages because I would start crying after about 20 pages. For those who want to know what utter grief is like, read the book — it’s his reflections after the death of his wife Joy and believe me, he does not sugarcoat things.

For those of you who are worried, I am doing OK — I’m crying when needed and I know to bring tissue to the funeral tomorrow. I’m not weeping too much (maybe 5 times this week) and I’m starting to eat again. I’m blogging every thought on these subjects because it helps to clear my mind.

Now to go attempt to put together a non-skanky funeral outfit… (Most of my black clothes are winter ones and the summer ones are a bit risqué — shirts that expose my navel and all.)

Grief Observed (III)

D went home to his Father around 6:30 this evening. I found this out when I walked into Jon’s office and he was notifying the proper people. Bill was with the family and that’s pretty much all I know (and probably all I’m supposed to know though I’ll probably find out more from Jon later).

Let us pray:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, D. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of your saints in light. Amen

Lord Jesus Christ, through water and the Spirit D has been brought into your family; receive him and present him to God Most High. Amen.

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I’m strangely relieved, mostly because I knew that it was only a matter of time and I knew that when D passed, he would be with his Father. My stomach has unclenched and I have a sense of peace. I still feel pain, but not for D — instead, for his family members who are left here because I know their decision was painful. As I said in (II), I’ve sat with them, hugged them, prayed with them, talked with them… I’m still praying for F and G individually and shall do so until after the funeral.

And yes, I’m looking forward to the funeral and I know it sounds strange. Funerals and burials are closure points for me and I know from experience that I need that closure to move on in a healthy way emotionally. It provides a chance to say good-bye and Christian funerals also feature the texts that explain the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, especially John 14:1-4 and John 11:25-27. The hymns are usually the ones about faith and hope and the service itself is supposed to be a reminder of where our faith should lie with regard to our life.

Grief Observed (II)

The events of the last few days have reminded me of some words from Isaiah:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11)

In other words, our will is not automatically that of the Lord and we need to be cogniscent of that. For the last week I had been praying for D to survive and recover and my prayers shifted when I discerned that God’s will was not that he survive. The decision is probably going to be made today about taking the breathing tube out and decreasing the meds keeping him alive. Those are artificial things, which means that he’s not really himself and God’s will seems to be that he lay down his sword and rest instead of keeping up the fight.

I slept fitfully last night and the tears I was fighting back yesterday finally flowed this morning during my blog-reading and prayer time. (My devotions are situated in the middle of my blogroll so that they are part of my wake-up ritual.) I was listening to “There Is Love” by Paul Stookey and I can’t think of a better place than in my study with a soft and furry stressball next to me to pet. I also got a little weepy when Jon and I went out to run errands today. I’ve sat with D’s family, held their hands, hugged them (which I think shocked G when I asked him if I could hug him), prayed with them,… I can’t help but be emotionally involved. We gave the news to the head of the Licking County Center for the Visually Impaired today (as D and F are his volunteers) and it was brutal. We prayed with him and we hugged. (It shocks me at how anti-hug Ohio is. *EVERYONE* hugs in California.) I’m gonna be OK once D let’s go and goes home to be with his Father; but the prolonging is tough.

I realized today that there *IS* a reason why I’ve been unemployed for so long — it frees me up to do the Lord’s work. I would have felt bad about not being able to be there for Jon (not to mention possibly being stranded at work) if I had been working during this time. It has also allowed me to get to know D’s family who are really cool.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, help me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn…

Grief Observed (I)

Yesterday as Jon and I were driving around Cols visiting members in the hospital, we realized that we weren’t going to be able to visit D. He had been doing well on Friday and so we headed back to Newark for VBS, planning to visit him today.

Well… when we got there, we found that he had taken a serious turn for the worse. His heart had stopped on Friday night and there was extensive brain damage from a lack of oxygen. Jon and I were the ones sitting with the family when a no-code order (basically, if D’s heart stops, we say “yes Lord” and don’t try to resuscitate him) was issued by the doctor with the family’s blessing. In other words, we were needed TODAY. We ended up hanging out at the hospital for 7 hours and sitting with the family in ICU for much of it. When I wasn’t in the ICU, I was watching the grandkids so G and his wife could sit vigil with F in the ICU.

I seriously have no idea how I have gotten through this other than prayer, blogging, and singing along with my hymn CD’s when I get home. I am the world’s biggest sap and yet I’ve managed to stay stoic. I prayed constantly for D, for his wife F, and for their son G today when I was sitting in ICU. I got some quiet time in this morning which helped tremendously and I made sure to eat three meals, albeit small ones so that I wasn’t bitchy and hypoglycemic like I was yesterday.

I’m tired, headachy, dehydrated (from driving in the 90F heat), and grieving. It’s strange because I don’t recall having ever said more than 5 words to D in the 11 months we’ve been here; but he is part of the church family at Jon’s internship site and as the khouria and vicarette, it’s my job to take care of the members of the family and love them. D and his family are members of the church, so it’s part of my vicarette duties to take care of them in any way I can. I think once D goes home to his Heavenly Father, there can be a funeral and there can be closure for me. I just wish it was that simple for his family and my heart and prayers are going out to them right now. He was OK 10 days ago and now, he’s almost braindead. The surgeon even said that the fact that D has survived so long with everything is a miracle. I can’t even begin to imagine how F, his wife of 53 years, or G, their son, are feeling right now and I probably will never understand it fully.

Right now, my prayer is that D lets go and that his family can cope with his death. He is really at the point where it’s just the meds and machines keeping him alive and prolonging his life is really just for the family, and not for his benefit. I know that it’s completely not what I’ve been praying for in the last week, but it’s what is needed. Not my will Lord; but Thine be done.

Pray for all of us.

Precious Lord, take my hand…