Archive for Relationships

What If Greed is More Important than Grief?

When a young pastor, I recall leaving a graveside service. Outwardly, I seemed calm and serious. Inwardly, I was berating myself for forgetting parts of the Lord’s Prayer.

I hardly knew the son and daughter of the recently deceased. They’d called my church, searching for a minister to help them in their “hour of need.” Now, with the simple service finished, the two siblings walked behind me. Without glancing back, I slowed to eavesdrop on their conversation. Were they exchanging snide criticisms about the stupid pastor who didn’t know the words to Christianity’s most famous prayer?

No. They were not.

They were arguing about their mother’s will and her possessions.

I had forgotten the Lord’s Prayer’s final sentences. How embarrassing! At the open grave of a stranger, with a handful of her family that I’d only met in one meeting prior to the service, I’d shut my Book of Worship, and then invited the mourners to pray with me. It was just the Lord’s Prayer. They were words I’d memorized as a kid in Sunday school and had recited every Sunday (and more) throughout my life. But it was one of my first graveside services. I was nervous. I blanked. Faking a few final mumbled words, I hurried to the “Amen.”

The family didn’t know me. They also likely didn’t know any formal prayers, including the “one Jesus taught his disciples to say.” Like most pastors, I occasionally received calls from “strangers” asking for help with a funeral or wedding. I met twice with this family: once to plan the service (“Mother just wanted a few words and a prayer, pastor.”) and once at the grave.

I learned a couple of things that day. Read More →

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Sacred Silence & Hospice

SilenceBefore meeting my new patient, I admired her Ford Mustang. The well-kept red convertible was parked on the street, by her brother’s driveway.

The license plate frame declared: Fly Away!

While I didn’t know for sure it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message was a solid clue. Based on the medical charts I’d scanned, she was a flight attendant in her early forties.

This was years ago when I was a hospice chaplain. I recollect visiting her a half-dozen times. From our first awkward handshake to the final time I sat beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship strengthened. I sensed that she learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer recklessly attacked her body. Even at my last visit, her short gray-blonde hair was stylish. Her make-up, aided by her sister-in-law, was impeccable.

In all of our time together, she never spoke one word to me. Read More →

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9 Things Not To Say To Grieving People

talkingWords can wound. But I like to believe 99.99% of the awkward or unsettling things said to grieving people are unintentional.

The speaker hoped to be sincere.

The speaker didn’t want to add more hurt to the hurt.

Often the best choice when with grieving friends or family, who may be experiencing the worst pain of their life, is to say . . . nothing. But that’s the proverbial easier-said-than-done. We want them to know we care. We want them to know how we feel. We want them to know we’re willing to help.

Below is my current personal list of the “Top 9” things to avoid saying. Unlike some lists, this is not ranked. #6 can be as bad as #1. In a sense, they are in random order, but there’s nothing random about the power each possesses to add anguish to an already difficult season of life.

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#1 I know how you feel. No one knows how another feels after the death of a loved one. If the one tough death you’ve had in your life was your favorite grandmother dying, and you tell someone who just lost their spouse of five decades that you know what they’re feeling . . . you don’t. In the hospice where I currently work, we offer support groups for people with similar losses. Grieving spouses gather with others mourning a partner, husband, or wife. Grieving parents join with other parents. And so on. But even when a 65-year old widow sits beside a 66-year old widow, and both had caring husbands for over forty years, they’ve had different experiences. Maybe one struggled with prostate cancer for ten years and the other left one fine morning and died in a freeway accident. Yes, both grieve, but for all of their similarities, their differences can be immense. Read More →

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