Despite being a part-time hospice chaplain, I realized today that I have been touched by death a lot since the start of the year. Two people in my home church died in January. Three people in the congregation where I serve died within a week of each other right at the start of the month. A colleague-friend died last week. The mother of our church sexton died last week, too.
There are also three people in the congregation who will probably die soon and another colleague-friend is not doing well. And one of my hospice patients died a couple of weeks ago, too.
I can’t remember when I’ve had so many deaths near to me in such a short time. I realize that death comes with the work I do, both as a hospice chaplain and as a church pastor. Still, so many deaths in such a short time is pretty rare.
Prayer has helped me a lot. I think without God to ground me, I would be really miserable. But death is a strain. It’s tiring. Even prayer is not sufficient in the midst of this. Most of us don’t experience death to this degree.
Today, I can’t bring myself to do church work (or at least the amount of church work I normally do). I went to work at hospice this morning, but only did some administrative and office work; no work with patients. I got a haircut, which was long overdue. I went to The Bookstore (it really is called The Bookstore) to chat and buy a couple of books, an anthology of Chinese poetry spanning more than a thousand years, and a cookbook on using cast iron cookware (I was really intrigued by a recipe for fried chicken without deep fat frying).
It’s not that I’m left raw or even wounded, but I’m grieving a bit from my own personal losses. One aspect of ministry, whether in the parish or at hospice, is to be present for those who have lost loved ones. Being present is a multi-faceted gift: listening with care, compassion, and empathy, being calm and absorbing some of the anxiety of family and friends of the deceased, and ushering family through the rituals of mourning. They can be physically and emotionally draining under normal circumstances. Doing it while also grieving is taxing.
I have to take the day off. No church work. No reading preaching journals or books related to ministry or Christianity. Maybe I’ll read Chinese poetry or maybe cook something from my new cookbook. I just need some time to rebalance myself.