As an ordained minister, I have the blessed and humbling privilege to witness important and personal moments in the lives of families, some of whom I barely know (some of whom I get to know well). Some of these moments are so raw and so personal that no other person would ever be invited to see such a moment, not in a million years. And yet, here I am, invited to pray with families as their loved ones are dying, as people struggle with illness and recovery, and other times to join in celebrating the union of two people in matrimony (which I did for the first time last weekend!).
But is one thing to be the (mostly) calm, gentle minister in their midst and then go home to my own whole and unsuffering life, and it is quite another when trauma hits on a personal level. Last month my Grandpa had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak or swallow. It should have taken him the moment it struck, but by some blessed design, my grandpa was able to spend twelve days saying goodbye to his very extensive family. I was able to fly back to Wisconsin and spend five precious days with him and with my family.
The greatest gifts that my grandpa gave to me were those days I was able to be at his bedside, holding his hand, reading to him from his devotional, laughing about favorite memories, reading to him some of my past sermons about the farm. Being with someone who is dying is both holy and disconcerting, and a gift I was able to share with my family is what I had learned over the course of my seminary education and eighteen months of ministry. But it was Grandpa who did the teaching this time, teaching us how to hold his hand and not let go, teaching us how to understand what he wanted to say to us with his eyes, teaching us what a life well lived looks like, teaching us how to die well.
Every grief is different and the same. Having experienced this grief of mine has made me a more compassionate and aware human being, though it is still painful. But that is also where we tend to find that God is most visible, leaning on our family and friends for support through the tough times. And that's what transforms them into something beautiful.