The ministry can be a swarming disappointment. It can be getting up every day to consider who you will fail, or how you will not get it all done, and what excuses you will use to cover. It is a job which secretly expects us to be Jesus, and unfortunately, we often buy into the lie. Still, there are moments in ministry so magical, so miraculous, they leave us utterly transformed.
One such moment came for me upon a visit to a parishioner at the hospital. She was 80 and dying of congestive heart failure. There was a quiet but squirming acceptance of this truth in her family, and from her husband of 58 years, but it yielded not an ounce of calm. The first minutes of my visit were plagued by the expectations of my being able to create in her a whiff of hope. As if my words would somehow ignite within her a determination and drive to live several more days or weeks or even months.
I knew this was not the case. I knew how exhausted she was, how sick of being sick. I understood her dread of being put on the breathing apparatus once again, or having to slog her way through another bout of fighting to breathe. She was a trooper, but she was done. Her kids just were not ready to say good-bye, and clung to her presence with a tenacity which spoke volumes on the quality of her mothering. They knew life without her would be a bit barren, a little more brutal, and without an afghan under which to curl their own weary souls.
After about twenty minutes of strained awkward polite religious jargon filled chatter, her husband asked his children to step out of the room, in order that he and I might have a talk with his beloved wife. The children began to weep, as they knew the meaning of this signal. Dad would offer a good-bye for all of them, a farewell which would grant her permission to sail beyond all of this. Father did know best, and the children left with their mates, and reminded him they would be just down the hall.
He walked over to his wife’s bedside. I stayed put in a chair across from him, on the other side of his wife’s bed. He took her pretty pink hand, still remarkably smooth, and adorned with recent nail polish. He looked down upon her, and she up at him. They did not speak a word. The silence shouted of such love and mercy and joy and sorrow and having gone through so much together. In that single look I knew so much of what had made up the content of their lives.
Their commitment and coziness in being a couple, the pure unadulterated happiness of creating home and family, and their knowing it was never easy, and how the burden of this long slog was at times almost impossible to carry. It was a look which spoke of it now being over. It was a look which said that it and she and he were finished. It was a quiet moving tribute of a love which had weathered many storms, and created many clear blue skies.
Our hand holding prayer was brief and a rapid recounting of obvious blessings. He then looked at her and said, “Well?” to which she responded with a sliver of a smile, “Well?” We began to leave the room, when she spoke in a voice of power and might, “I will be waiting for you!” We turned, and he said with a quiver, “You had better be.” I grasped his strong shoulder and led him out the door and down the hall into the waiting arms of his children. They asked him what he had said to her, and he told them, “Nothing much.”
In the connected, silent language of those loving, long-married and long-loved couples, the phrase, "Nothing much," can be translated to really mean "Everything."
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.