When I was teaching pastoral care and supervising students in the hospital environment, a student had a difficult on call night. It was difficult because he seemed to experience a death every time he was on call. As the group and I were checking in the following morning he asked, “Does this get any easier?” “No,” I replied, “I don’t think it does. What it gets is more holy, more sacred.” As the group processed this, I explained that there comes a point of realization, not a surface acknowledgment, but a deep understanding of death as an integral part of life. Incorporating this understanding into one’s spiritual awareness and being begins to lead to an awareness that death, far from a terminal end of all things, is a gateway to a different context of life. There is a profound need in human beings to provide space for the holy in these moments through tears, prayers, a ritual goodbye, or in the telling of stories. We do this almost every death here at St. John’s.
I share this because death has been so present here at St. John’s these last couple of weeks. You experience the notes sent out from Pastoral Care. The deaths have not only been elders, but also an employee. In the news, a former employee died in a car accident. Numerous staff have reported death’s in their wider circle of family and friends. Some of this is Covid related; some of this is just the course of life. There is tragedy. There are quiet ends to long lives well lived. It is never something I find myself getting used to. For me, the deaths I attend or hear about, always bring a quietness to my spirit touched with grief, sadness, and even, at times, a sense of joy. I feel the sacredness of the moment, which can overwhelm me at times. However, this feeling allows me to enter into the mystery that is death without fear or despair.
These recent times have been difficult for many of you. I know because some of you have told me so. We are in a season of life filled with difficult moments – and not just caused by death. I hope you are learning to carry the difficult with grace; meaning with self-kindness, allowing for grief, able to reach out for help, and the awareness that both you and life will go on with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the sacredness of it all. There is nothing easy about this season of life. The answer to my student remains the same.
Now, some will say there is no hope here in my words. I beg to differ. Hope is not born out of wishful thinking. Hope is born in the embrace of reality and discovering that there remains joy and love in the midst of it all. Hope is in the continued caring and hard work each of you do. Hope is in the encouragement we offer to one another. Hope is in the seeds of kindness campaign that reveals generosity in economically uncertain times. I see it down every hallway I walk. I hope you do as well.