I awoke Saturday morning to a phone call informing me that a very close and longtime friend had died suddenly just hours before. My friend’s daughter was calling to let me know. We (Laura and I) have been heartbroken ever since.
I learned that on Friday afternoon my friend had been working on a sermon when suddenly her chest hurt like never before. Her husband rushed her to the hospital. They ran tests and determined that she was suffering from a dissecting aortic aneurysm for which little could be done. She called family and shared her love for them and the situation. She was given pain medication and died in the midst of hymns, prayers and friends a short time later.
She and I were in ministry in a small Episcopal Church in Colorado. We attended Diocesan parish leadership classes and were in Clinical Pastoral Education for a few years together. Her daughter (who called) had babysat our kids. She was happily married, an active member of a Celtic Franciscan order, and pastoring a church in East Texas. Things were going well for her and we were so happy for her. And then she dies suddenly having recently turned 54. She suddenly experiences excruciating pain while writing a sermon to preach on Sunday. Her funeral was Tuesday at 1 p.m. in East Texas. She died doing the Lord’s work and in excruciating pain.
Don’t wait to tell people of your admiration. Life is hard and everyone fights battles seen and unseen. Everyone struggles to some extent. I told her several times of my profound respect and admiration of her. I am so glad I told her. You never know when your last conversation with a person will be the last conversation. And don’t waste time arguing on social media about anything. I’ve done that and it just drains your life, time, and energy. Spend that time with people.
In all this I am really struggling. In a job I used to have I worked daily with people who were dying, sometimes actively dying. I consoled the dying and their loved ones. I also worked with family following sudden unexpected deaths in the form of accidents, incidents, suicides, and homicides. I buried four of my co-workers. I assured all I came in contact with of God’s love and grace and tried my best to help at the worst of times. I developed deep respect for everyone on the front lines of these battles for life: nurses, doctors, police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers. Every one of these respond to help strangers in danger at their own risk.
This time is different. This time we’ve lost a close personal friend. And it’s hard and it’s not fair, not at all. None of it ever is. I’ve been on scenes and in situations where family members ask me why God has taken their loved one? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. Some will say loudly and proudly that it’s all part of God’s plan, which can be reassuring or terrifying. Perhaps terrible things just happen and God helps us with putting pieces of our life back together and making peace with a now empty chair.
This Sunday (Oct. 4), I’ll be thinking of her as we celebrate St. Francis Sunday and have a blessing of the animals following the service (we’re meeting in person at appropriate distances and precautions). She was a long time Franciscan and enjoyed blessing of animals and the joy on the faces of young and old.
I believe in all my heart that we’ll see her again in heaven, that she’s with Jesus, and that at the last day she’ll be resurrected. But right now, I just want my friend back.
The Rev. Stephen Reed, pastor, St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall.
Chaplain, police and fire.
This Insight Article is sponsored by Tanana Valley Christian Conference
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's Faith Section October 2, 2020.
Married 26 years, 2 kids, 1 cat and 1 dog. Ordained & Chaplain for 20 years. Ministry philosophy - we're all in this together and Jesus leads the way. Hobbies: working in the woodshed, teaching, and competitive shooting