The Voice and Heart of Others In Facing Dying, Death and Grief

Life is a learning process. No less is ministry.

I remember once, during Doctor of Ministry classes at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, having lunch with good friend Walter Brueggemann. Walt is better than excellent in his Old Testament seminary teaching and writing. He loves writing.

I said, “Walt, wanted to share.” He asked the topic and I responded, “I’m writing a book about everything I need in ministry that I didn’t learn in seminary.” Ouch. Ever find that your humor is anything but? However, not for Walt, “Well, you’ll have a long book because seminary never intends to teach all. It’s life that does that. In seminary we simply and I hope, profoundly, teach you to never quit learning. We give basics but coping is for you. So, continue to learn and cope.”

Such is the case these days in reflecting upon my sister’s sudden death. Thoughts and feelings flow and personally not only to give the most profound thanks I’m capable of for Marilyn, but also think how I’ve served in ministry helping others when death arrives in family or friends.

One reality came to me…in the learning. I’m not a fan of sympathizing. For some reason, and perhaps I’m myopic about this, sympathy is more “upon” than “with.” I prefer empathy, which is “being with.” But. A huge but. I care about how people are, but I resist saying, “I know how you feel.” NO I don’t.
And no one else does. In my current personal feeling, I don’t know how Larry feels to be a widower; I don’t know how Brian and Derek and Andrea feel about losing their mother. But, I love them. And I have told them, “I care about how you are. And I am here in spirit to help in whatever way will benefit. Please let me know.”

In response to the three previous blogs, so many of you have written with your own story. You have given me permission to share. Which I hope, for each of you who reads the blog, you will think unto yourself and how you are in response to life and dying and death. No time for preaching now…just gifting you from some of the dearest friends in the world who don’t know how I feel, but in every instance, I know they are empathetic and caring about how I am! A YES of gratitude and love.

This is from Jo, an United Church of Christ pastor:
Mark— Thank you so much for this. It is so very helpful to hear your words of wisdom and encouragement. I want to add from my experience, that I couldn’t understand after my mom died why I wasn’t crying. I loved her dearly and miss her still, every day, but I just wasn’t crying. Then I realized that for the last year and half before her death, because of her dementia, I cried every time I left her after a visit. You see, I had already gone through much grief. Even so, every now and then I have a significant sense of grief as I miss her so much. Still, I rejoice that she now knows the great mysteries of life and death and dwells eternally with our Creator. Of course, now, my dad is nearing his death. He is not afraid and ready to transcend from this life to the next. His mind is good, but his body is at its end. Again, I find myself grieving now in these moments, praying that he won’t hurt, physically or emotionally, and that when his time come that it will be peaceful. Thank you again, for your pastoral care. I am praying for you and Diane and your family in the midst of your grief. May the deep, peace of Christ be with you. —Jo

Marianne was a member of our Class of 1958 at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon. In recent years she’s become a reader of the blog. She wrote about her daughter, Chris. She writes this…her daughter at age 28 was murdered by a stranger [Marianne corrected me; I thought it was Chris’ boyfriend.] Chris had gone to an ATM and walked home. She was accosted. She fought with this man as he grabbed her purse. Evidently he had passed two other women walking in the same area as Chris. He then pulled a gun and shot her. Age 28.

Marianne wrote this: “When Chris was being killed, I was at that exact moment taking a break & writing a love note to her. Was going to mail it at a hospital when I went that evening. Turned out it wouldn’t go out ‘til Monday [and all this was a Friday] and so I kept the note in my purse to mail on Saturday. Getting home that evening, I had a message to call back east and LEARNED. Never took the note out for a year. Following week, I flew back east and buried her. I patted her dad who’d also flown in and told him to be gentle to himself. At the cemetery [& I had not yet cried] a friend who’d come from NYC with her daughter said, “Marianne, don’t you recognize me?“ I cried and she put her arms round me. I learned about ‘the wave” and once in a while I’ll cry and wonder and then I realize ‘it’s those ditzy waves’ as I laugh. Remember to be as nice to yourself as you are to others.”

Marianne also shared this, her response…then and many years later. The stranger was 17 years old at the time of this tragic incident. “I asked Stephen, the asst. dist. attorney, if I could read the coroner’s report. He told me “No. It’d be too hard to take.” I read in the trial transcript what the coroner said and I did understand. Was I angry? No – saddened. When he took her life, he also ended his.”

From Karen, near my age and life-long friend: “It’s a horrible injustice to discourage people from grieving rather than supporting them as they find their own way to get through this horrible experience.”

A clergy friend responded. She read the blog about Carol [yesterday] and wrote this, indicating that a name can trigger deepened commitment and gratitude: “My sister Carol was just here and picked me up from the hospital on her arrival and stayed to take care of me. She went back to IA and the next day made potato salad for 125 people for a funeral dinner. She is preaching at her church this Sunday (licensed Local Pastor, UMC) on our obligation to commit to and work for the freedom of the disenfranchised and oppressed. Carol is a healthy 71. I thank God for her.”

And then, my mentor in ministry and life and living [we first met in February, 1966 and Fred Trost and I and Herb Davis shared ministry [for me] from July of 1966 to November of 1969, which time I accepted a call to a new congregation in Eugene, Oregon.

Fred wrote, which kept in mind how many people only think of themselves and never regarded how their lives benefit from so many others Mark, in my reading, I came across the following and thought of you and Marilyn and your parents how we all owe so much to others: “There are creatures ‘that eat acorns, but neither consider the sun that gave them life, nor the influences of the heavens by which they were nourished, nor the very root of the tree from whence they came. [from Thomas Traherne’s “Centuries”—1637-1674]. Fred concludes: “And so it has always been.”


About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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