It was a near-death experience, the kind that frequents the life of a pastor, but less frequent for a retired pastor.
Just minutes after Ann died, I stood at her bedside along with her three devoted daughters. For many days, Joyce, Deb and Kay had been loving their mother—embracing, stroking, bathing, changing diapers, feeding, smiling, singing, praying gratitude. “Full circle,” I thought. Here, in this bed by the window, they had been caring for their mother in precisely the same way they were cared for at birth. As we held hands across her bed, the Mystery sank in on multiple levels: ending and beginning, death and birth.
In Western culture death is primarily denied. And feared too. We push the awareness of death down into our unconscious only to experience its projection all over our media screens. But mostly, except when death invades our intimate circles, our conscious thinking does a good job in keeping it “out of sight, out of mind.”
As pastors we don’t have this option. I’m glad. The experience of dying and death is always “near.” Like no other professional, we are expected to show up all along the continuum—from early stages of dying to death rituals to follow-through grief ministry.
Back to Ann lying lifeless before us. I kept to myself the question demanding a response: With Ann, as she was, now gone, is there “something” that lasts? In all the impermanence, is there any permanence? Is there “reality” behind these appearances, “something” invisible, “something” gracious and awesome and beautiful?
For certain, “love” was and had been present—the hard, sweaty, sleepless, earthy, self-emptying kind. No question about that.
I turned to the words I always do, Paul’s bold effort to name this Presence: “Love never ends . . . and no-thing now or later, in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Then I went home and hugged Janice so hard, she said, “What’s gotten into you?”