Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sometimes our instincts tell us more...

than our minds. Coming home on Thursday instead of today was an act of instinct. I couldn't explain exactly why I felt I had to come home: muscle spasms? yes, sort of. Malcolm's impending death? yes, but he is still hanging in there. tired of camping? okay, but so tired as to miss Cape Lookout? None of it really clicked.

And then, yesterday afternoon, I got a call from the Island County Sheriff's deputy. Could I please come over to the home of a member of the congregation who had just died unexpectedly. The deputy didn't want to leave the daughter home alone without company, waiting for the mortuary to come.

These are the calls that ministers hope never come, but they always do. The member lives very close to me---walking distance even---but I dashed the quarter-mile or so in the car, not wanting to spend an extra moment in transit and not sure what I might need. Two sheriff's cars in the driveway and a shocked-into-numbness daughter, who had found her mother on the bedroom floor.

By the time the mortuary guy arrived an hour or so later, we had notified family members, church leadership and close friends, and other sisters had arrived to be with their sister and to say goodbye to their mother. All the preliminary legalities had been satisfied----no signs of foul play, a case number with the sheriff, no autopsy needed because of her age. Just shocked and suddenly bereaved adult children and friends...and me, their minister who they turned to immediately.

What an honor, to be in this position. An honor as well as a horrible, heavy duty. One of the joys---and sorrows----of ministry is to be of service in these kinds of moments, to provide the container for grieving, to perform the rituals which allow for healing, to be present at the holy time when life ends, to break the news gently and lovingly to those who are most affected by the death. And to do all this non-anxiously, calmly, without losing self-control---that's where one great sorrow lies, that my love for this person and my grief at losing her must take second place until the needs of her family and our congregation can be properly addressed.

So I grieve to friends outside the congregation, to colleagues on the ministers' chat line. I ask for help from those who can think more clearly than I this morning---and they provide that steady calm, that steady hand, that steady voice that I need to hear, helping me know once again that my presence is my most valued gift at this time. Nothing I can say or do will make it easier, but just being there is enough to help them get through this sad experience.

We will soon send out an email to the congregation advising them of this sudden death and inviting them to come to the church, for we will have a time of silence and candles of honor, to share our grief and be together after the service, in honor and memory of Peggy Bardarson, longtime member and beloved pillar of our community.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


Heidi Alford said...

Kit, I am sorry for your loss. And to your community for their loss. You may or may not remember, but the first time I met you at Winter Eliot was after the recent death of my mother-in-law. After losing my dad and being part of my childhood faith community for support then, my family recognized the need for a faith community to celebrate life, and be supported in death. We found the Unitarian Fellowship in Bellingham. My time with you at Eliot, sharing my grief, was central to my healing. I was so grateful for your presence and your silent witness, your listening. I know that your friend's family and your congregation are blessed to be in your presence now, and everyday. I'm also glad you have your own support system! Much love, Heidi

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Heidi. I do remember that first Eliot together. I'm glad to know that it was helpful to you. Thanks for letting me know that it mattered.

Tina T-P said...

I'm so sad for your congregation to have lost so many in this past year. You are in our thoughts. T.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Tina. It's been a tough year or two.

Mile High Pixie said...

Wow, Rev. Kit--that's a tough situation to be in: you have to push your own personal grief down so you can tend to the personal grief of others. How much discipline and mindfulness that must take! I'm in awe, ma'am--your parishioners are lucky to have you. I suppose we all have these moments in life--i.e., having to keep it together while you call the mortuary and/or the police and/or everyone else and/or find clothes to send with them to the funeral home, etc. But still, it takes energy...yet another reason that grieving is hard work.

Much sympathy to you and the family members on your personal and collective loss.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Pixie, I appreciate your kind words.