I’ve only seen three dead bodies in my life. The first was when I was 12 years old and my grandfather died at age 69. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. At the funeral home, my sister was brave enough to reach out and touch my grandfather’s hand as it rested on his torso. Back in our seats, I asked her what his skin felt like. “Plastic,” she said.
Before her recent death with the assistance of a prescription of barbiturates, Brittany Maynard, who was terminally ill, made public her hopes that this would be a watershed moment for the movement to make choices such as hers legal in all of the U.S.
I can understand some of the reasoning of that campaign, even if I don’t agree with it.
In the days after my grandmother died, my aunts introduced me to Iris DeMent's song “Let the Mystery Be." As is true for many people, from the early years of Christian faith, the loss of one dear to me sparked wonderings about what happens after death. I have fuzzy, 15-year-old memories of one of my aunts thinking aloud about the possibility of reincarnation, and older family members assuring us all that my grandmother was sitting at the feet of Jesus.
A member of the congregation I serve died this week. It was fitting. The shadows of death linger about us this week. Like Peter, warming his hands by the blazing fire, trying to hide and catch glimpses of what Jesus suffered, I stood at the edge of the Holy Week shadows, watching for this central drama of mortality to unfold.
Years of experience don’t ease the journey toward a family waiting in an ICU. We pastors feel terribly inadequate, and at the same time incredibly grateful that the vocation allows us into the most intimate situations.