Sunday was quite a bittersweet day.
It started out sweet when I stood with my brother and family as my nephew’s newborn boy was baptized. After the baptism the family and I broke bread together at a restaurant for lunch and had a great time before I had to leave for hospital duty.
But as I was leaving I checked my email on my phone and got the news that I had been fully expecting to get any day, any hour–that Morris, one of my dearest, lifelong friends, had died. His year-and-a-half battle with cancer was over, and I was relieved to know he was at perfect rest, perfect peace, with the God that he loved and steadfastly served.
But boy did I hurt. We’re never ready for the death of someone we love and care about when death happens, no matter how much we’re expecting it or think we’re prepared for it. I deal with illness and death and suffering every day, so I understand grief and the dynamics of it better than most. But I found myself sitting in my car outside that restaurant yesterday reeling like anybody else reels when death hits close to home.
I sat in the car a while and prayed and got composed and went to work, or as I always prefer to say, I went to ministry. (I don’t think of my pastoral care ministry as “work” or as a “job” or profession or anything but ministry, because God wouldn’t let me do anything else in life if I wanted to.)
As soon as I got to the office and made some rounds and visits and took care of some of my routine duties I got busy running away from my own grief for a while, as we are prone to do when grief grips us. I got very busy making plans to go this Thursday morning to Morris’s funeral in a Texas city three hours away, trying to figure out when to leave Dallas to make the 10:30 service, studying on my calendar and to-do list for the week, trying to figure out how to work this funeral into my schedule, trying to figure out how to also see my kids who live about an hour away from where the funeral will be.
I got so busy and caught up in planning to attend my friend’s funeral that I forgot to do the one thing I needed to do a while–to grieve, to allow myself to feel the real pain and sorrow I was feeling at this news that I’d been expecting but was still stunned by when it happened. It was a lot easier to get myself worked up and working hard to make plans for Thursday, getting anxious about the future, than it was to sit and let myself feel the real hurt and sorrow I was feeling for this guy I grew up with and maintained friendship with my whole life.
After a while it occurred to me that I didn’t have to knock myself out to attend Morris’s funeral anyway, and I decided not to attend at all. That may sound strange to someone who thinks an ordained minister, of all people, should attend a special friend’s funeral, especially since the funeral falls on one of this chaplain’s day’s off. But unfortunately, the funeral will be on a particular day on this particular week when it would be very difficult for me to attend or take off an extra day. So I won’t attend. I’ll send flowers, and Morris’s wife Linda–also a “homegirl” I’ve known all my life, will understand, because friends understand each other. Especially small-town friends maybe. And I was born in a John Mellencamp small town, and the small town never leaves small towners.
Besides, it would be a different matter had I not seen Morris and talked to him and prayed with him a couple of weeks ago as he lay immobilized inhis bed at home but welcoming of all his kazillions of friends. While he was still alive and able to talk I managed to tell him goodbye, to tell him I loved him, to tell him I forgave him for once giving me a couple of gum chicklets at a movie matinee at Miller’s Theater on a Saturday afternoon when we were kids.
The little gum chicklets he so generously shared with me at the picture show were laxatives. He chuckled and told me he didn’t remember that particular small town growing-up episode, but noted, “Sounds like something I’d do.”
That was Morris. Growing up, he and I were rivals to see who could be the biggest class clown.
It’s enough to know about Morris that he grew up to be a great guy, great husband of a hunnerd years to the hometown girl, a great dad to two wonderful sons, a devout Christian who was always the first one there when somebody else was sick or in trouble. He was also one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever known in my life, one who genuinely “never met a stranger.” As his wife said in our recent visit, “Morris always went to the middle of the room.”
Well, I wasn’t going to make this posting so much about Morris, since it feels so personal and private to say too much about him here, but wanted to talk here about how I grieved–or tried to avoid grief by getting busy planning to attend the service–because that’s one thing I like to do with this blawg is to educate people about the dynamics of grief. So as regards my day yesterday when I got the news about my friend–I stopped running away from my grief, decided not to knock myself out to the get to the funeral, and spent a while allowing myself to live in and feel the sorrow that gripped me a while. As any hospital or hospice chaplain or grief counselor or anybody in the caregiving ministry or profession will attest, it’s one thing to take care of people who pass through your life a while in their grief, another thing entirely when it’s your friend or loved one and your own grief. Then it becomes personally painful and feels like anybody else’s pain when a near and dear one dies.
Even chaplains get the blues, but I’m fine thank you. And find a lot of comfort in knowing that Morris is doing way better now that he’s back Home.
But his bright and shining light will be missed by many.
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