I have had the honor of being a hospice volunteer for 20 years, the last 5 giving pastoral care to patients and their families at their request. Sharing this part of life with these dear people has provided some of the most rewarding moments in ministry to me.
Oswego County Hospice provides most excellent care for the families they serve. In what is usually the most trying of times for a family, the administration, care providers and volunteers of our hospice organization treat them all with the dignity and respect they deserve, providing emotional and practical help to each one.
Once a year, Oswego County Hospice holds a memorial service for all of their patients from the previous year. This touching ceremony allows us to say good bye to those who have passed as well as letting their families know that they are remembered as well.
Due to the on-going restrictions in place because of Covid-19, the memorial service was help virtually again this year. I’ve included a link to it should you care to share in this experience with us. Also included is Betsy and my presentation of “On Eagles Wings.” We sing it to honor those who have passed and as an encouragement to those left with holes in their heart.
I was only a toddler when President Kennedy was assassinated. My only knowledge of that tragedy has come from what I have read and the things my parents told me about those days. I did not experience the shock, horror and sadness the country did.
The events of 9-11-2001 were entirely different for me. I remember where I was (in an industrial paint spray booth, painting dump trucks) when a co-worked told me.
After work that day I sat for hours watching, trying to come to grips with what had happened and worried about what was next. I recall the conversation on the phone with my Dad as his voice quaked in a mixture of outrage and fear.
Getting our two young children ready for bed that night was a challenge as well.
The images of the ensuing days as the rubble burned and smoldered are forever etched in my memory. Many of us prayed for those who might still be alive in all that carnage, that they be discovered quickly.
As the days passed and turned into weeks, then months, our nation began to emerge from the rubble. In my lifetime I had never experienced the national unity we were feeling. We, as a nation had been attacked. And from the rubble, came a resolve to care for one another simply because we were all Americans. We had been hurt and we were scared. But we were together. We wanted justice and we strived to care for one another in the process.
Nineteen years later, we are buried in rubble once again. This time the explosions of hate have come from within. The unity were knew as a country as been obliterated. The idea of helping a stranger simply because they need help and we could provide it is completely foreign to most in these dark days.
My fervent prayer today is that we as a nation can once again rise up from the rubble. The wreckage of racial hatred, the senseless violence and the fractured state of national politics have buried us. There is seemingly no light, no one working feverously to free us from what appears to be total collapse.
Thankfully, there is someone, and His name is Jesus! Only He can lift the boulders of hate and distrust from our hearts. Only He has the power to unite us truly and eternally, not only as a nation, but as a world-wide body of believers.
I am asking you, Dear Reader, if you know Jesus as your Savior, to join with me today. Please pray that our nation rises from the rubble again. Not only rises, but stands united with Christ as it’s headship and that a true spirit community replaces distrust and disunity.
Are we asking for a lot? Yes we are. We are asking for something that is beyond any human power to achieve. That being said, allow me to leave you with the words of Jesus Himself as He discussed matters that were above the capabilities of mankind:
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27 NIV)
This past weekend I had the honor in participating in what was called a Blue Christmas Service at one of the local churches here in Fulton. No, there weren’t any Elvis impersonators doing their take of the song by the same title. Rather, the gathering gave an opportunity for the community to come together to acknowledge that the Christmas season isn’t filled with hope, gifts and carols for everyone. Many folks are preparing to face the holidays with the loss of someone significant in their life. The many and various problems in life make can this time of the year more stressful than fun filled.
Seven different ministries worked together to make the Blue Christmas service happen. The host church, whose pastor had the vision to offer this, provided a warm and inviting atmosphere. They also provided much of the music for the evening, while a member from a different church ministered some special music with a truly beautiful voice.
A pastor from one of our Methodist congregations delivered a heart-felt message of hope and understanding to those assembled. These weren’t merely words either, as the speaker was trying to cope with this upcoming Christmas without his Mom, who passed away just prior to the new year.
Still other pastors were present to listen to and pray with individuals who desired this type of personal ministry. From beginning to end, the entire evening provided a great deal of comfort for those assembled, allowing people the chance to be vulnerable in their pain when seemingly the whole world around them revels in the excitement of the upcoming Christmas Day celebrations.
I share this account with you, Faithful Reader, for several reasons. One is the hope that like me, you will become more sensitive to those around you who may be struggling at this time simply by thinking about this. Maybe in the not so distant past you have experienced a blue Christmas and perhaps you may be just the person to lend a listening ear to someone who is where you were.
The other reason I write this is for the person(s) who at this moment are grieving instead of making merry. To you, dear one, I write so that you know you are not alone. Though I cannot simply make the pain of your loss disappear, I can offer the comfort of one who has been there. In time, the memories of good times over the holiday season will begin to get at least equal billing in your heart to the pain you are now feeling. For me, those recollections have helped to ease, but not erase, the emptiness that I felt. As I extend that hope to you, may I also encourage you to find a trusted someone that you can pour your heart out to. As painful as being in a blue type of Christmas place can be, it is compounded by loneliness and isolation. There are many who struggle(d) as you are in this season. Together, we can not only make it through, but we can come to know at least some of the joy this season is to be truly about.
My mother passed away after a long battle with dementia Tuesday of this week. Later this morning I will have the honor of leading her committal service. I’ve posted here some of what I will say during that time. It is my hope that you, my faithful readers, may find comfort in these words as well; for we all know the pain the physical death brings to our families.
I will begin the service by reading Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; you rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NIV)
I will then deliver this short message:
It is always with a certain amount of sadness when we gather at times like this. Life, as great as it can be, holds the final card over our physical lives. Experience teaches me, and I share with you, that healing begins as you feel your emotions in these times. Each of us had a different relationship with my mother, and regardless of the depth of that relationship, there is now a void. The spot in your heart that she occupied is now empty, leaving us sad and wishing it didn’t have to be this way.
As we process our grief, we now share the responsibility of keeping mom’s memory alive, as we share our stories of the good times and the positive influence her life has had on ours. That can be somewhat easy today, as we gather in support of one another. As we share our memories, we will readily laugh today as cherished things from our shared past will be re-visited. This is a good thing as it helps us all to begin to process our grief.
The more difficult times will be when we are alone. This is when the sadness, the reality of the loss can seem at its most powerful. When you get to that place, please call to mind the words I read a moment ago. Our ultimate comfort comes from the Lord. His perfect love is tailor made to each of our hearts. He promises to always be with us and He is faithful to keep that promise.
My last piece of love-filled advice is to remember what the psalmist wrote about death: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .I walk, there is a sense of movement through it.
These words encourage us to not wallow in our grief. As I said at the top, feel your grief. Let others know how you are feeling. Cry as you need to, but please keep your feet, your heart, and your mind, moving forward. This is not to say we are trying to block memories from our past with mom. No, keep them alive as you continue living your life. Yes, it is now one person less than it was and collectively we mourn that fact today. But she remains alive within us as we all make the effort to remember our mom in the love you have for her.
Always, I thank you for taking the time to read what I post and I covet your prayers during these difficult times.