My Reflection on Grieving versus Ministry
My first year in the pastorate I had 13 funerals. This was in a community of about 1,400 people. Before I left the church I had over 50 funerals. I actually stopped counting at 50. I did a lot of grief counseling, as well as counseling those who were caring for a terminallyill loved one. It is one thing to counsel the hurting and another to find yourself in the same situation.
My first personal experience was when my mother-in-law passed away. Vida and I had been ministering to her for a number of years and watching her decline. As I observed her, I knew her time was short. I remember taking her to her final doctor’s appointment. I stayed in the car as Vida took her into the office. As I sat in the car I began to weep. I loved my mother-in-law as if she was my very own mother. After I stopped crying, I started to prepare her funeral message. I needed no pen or paper. It flowed through my mind like fresh spring water.
When Vida and her mom got back into the car, I was told to drive her to the hospital. As I pushed her down the hall to her assigned room, she reached across her chest with her left hand and squeezed my right hand. As I was wheeling her to her room, she told everyone she saw, "This is my son-in-law, and he is better to me than 10 sons. I love him like my own son, and he’s also my pastor." I knew that she loved me, but I never realized how much until then.
That Friday, I was to pick her up and take her home. Her heart was so bad that she would need total care with no guarantee of more than a few weeks. As I approached her room, Vida was standing outside the room as a nurse was caring for her mom’s needs. Suddenly the light started flashing, and doctors and nurses started running into her room. I took one look at Vida, and I knew her need. I had no time to think, "Poor me!" Vida was now my ministry. I had to help her through this. Apparently, I had been grieving as I saw my mother-in-law decline and the preparation and delivery of the funeral message completed my mourning for her.
Next was my father. We ministered to my father, just like we had done for Vida's mom. Because I had quality time with my father, I was able to lead him to the Lord. If there was any grief, it was short lived because of the joy of knowing that he was at peace in heaven. I also again had to shift gears to counsel my mother and Vida. Vida thought the world of my father.
Next was Vida's father. Again we spent a long period of time ministering to him and watching his decline. Before he passed away, he wanted me to read Scripture to him. When he passed away, not only did I have to minister to Vida again, but I also had to provide grief counseling to the aides that had cared for him in assisted living. They were new and had never experienced the death of a patient.
Then it was both my mother and Vida at the same time. Vida became so ill that I had to step down as senior pastor to care for her. It was a grueling five years of struggling to keep her alive. Her first heart attack was in 2005, and she was able to recover. By 2013 her health had declined to that of her mother's when she passed away. It was a real struggle to get her to go through heart surgery and bypass surgery. She was told that if she didn't have the surgery she would never make it home. From that point on, even though they said that they gave her another five years, her heart became weaker and weaker. She had to have stents and a defibrillator/pacemaker in order to live those five years. The last three months were the most difficult, as she needed total care. It was during those five years and especially the last three months that what L. Strauss wrote to me many years ago kicked in. It was during that period of time that, just like with my mother-in-law, I grieved over her impending death. At the same time I was also dealing with my mother who passed away less than a month before Vida. It was during this time that I wrote the article, "God's Gift of Human Love".
Well, you may be asking what am I feeling four months after Vida passed away. It's strange, but I feel like it happened a long time ago. I don't miss her because I know where she is and would never wish her to suffer anymore. Do I like being alone? Not really, but I am resting in the Lord and His grace.
In His Grace,Ernest F.Brodie Sr.