They say things like this happen in threes.  That’s what they say.  Most of the time, it’s said with a more ominous tone, like they’re just waiting on the other shoe to drop.  Sometimes, they are right.  Confirmation bias, I think is what it is called.  Other times, we wish it would just stop at three.

As a pastor, I’m no stranger to process of death.  This week, I’ll be presiding over my 37th funeral since I started in ministry over 8 years ago, and I’ve been to more through the years.  Each one is different.  Some are older people who have been struggling for a long time.  Some are younger with a similar struggle.  Some are unexpected – both young and old.  I’ve presided over funerals for people younger than me, even for an infant.  I’ve been to the funerals of colleagues in ministry, of family members, of people who were like family.  But this week, I find myself wrestling a little more than usual – because of what has happened, and what is to come.

I’ve been trying to find the right words to say.  Then, of course, I remember, there is no such thing as “right” words in times like these.  Perhaps, then, the best thing I can say right now is… “What the hell, 2016?!?”

It all started last Saturday.  Katie and I took Hannah to meet my grandpa.  On the way there, I got word that a young man in our congregation lost his grandmother that morning.  He’s a good kid, and he loved his grandma very much.  I’d like to say that I understand what he is going through, but I don’t… not yet.

You see, I’ve never lost a grandparent that I knew.  Yes, I know how incredibly blessed I am to be almost 35 and able to say that.  My dad’s dad passed away just a few months after I was born.  I never knew him.  My other three grandparents have been doing fairly well for the majority of my near-35 years on this rock.  But that is going to change soon.

When we got to the room in the hospital to see my grandpa, the nurse starting talking to my grandma about some options.  It basically boiled down to putting in a feeding tube so that he can get some nutrition (he hadn’t eaten in a few days, and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and dehydration), but face the reality that he would probably be back in the hospital in a few days with another infection, OR transitioning him to hospice care to manage the pain in his last days.  I said good-bye to my grandpa that afternoon.

Monday came around, and we got the news that a dear friend of ours had been transitioned to hospice care.  Katie and I went to high school with Sarah.  She was in band with us.  She and I graduated together in ’99.  It had been a while since we had seen each other, then a couple of years ago, we found out she was doing a presentation nearby about her upcoming work as a missionary doctor at Mukinge Hospital in Zambia.  We were so happy for her to finally be fulfilling a lifelong dream.  We prayed for her, and kept up with her updates from the other side of the world.

Then last August, she shared that she returned to Indiana to undergo some tests and found out that she had an advanced form of breast cancer.  In December, we were able to see her again, this time at a band reunion that was organized to help pay for some of her medical costs.  The best part was seeing her smile, even when she said that she wasn’t feeling too good.

Sarah passed away yesterday.  My Facebook timeline has been flooded with remembrances and pictures of this kind-hearted soul, who dedicated her life to help other people an ocean away.  Just two hours before, I was working on a funeral service for a relative of a church member, struggling with what to say.  One hour before, I was at a visitation to support this young man in my congregation.  And in the coming hours, days, maybe weeks, I’ll be saying good-bye to my grandpa once again, only he’ll be hearing me with different ears.

Perhaps that is what I will walk away knowing this week.  Death does not get the final say.  Healing happens in ways that we will never know or understand.

They say things happen in threes.  Sometimes, they are wrong…

 

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