A hard day

Yesterday was a difficult day for people that I know and love and serve. Actually, I guess things started to feel a bit painful for some on Wednesday evening. Our choir rehearses on Wednesday evenings and we have started to work on a cantata for Maundy Thursday. Lent and Holy Week anthems have a lot of power and they can elicit some intense emotions. And there is a lot about death and grief and sorrow and sadness and suffering in the music of the season. Rehearsing that music can be a bit somber for a choir that is usually full of jokes and laughter and teasing. I noticed that one of our choir members was struggling and I knew why. She needed to leave before the rehearsal ended, so I followed up with messages to her yesterday.

Yesterday was a hard day for her. March 5 is the birthday of her granddaughter. Only her granddaughter died unexpectedly on February 9. Today would have been her eighth birthday, but instead of a family celebration, it is a day of somber memory. The pain of the death and the funeral are just too close. The day triggers intense feelings and it will never be the same - it can never be the same. The tragedy that visited their family is so fresh that there is plenty of grief that has not been processed. We tell them we love them. We tell them we will be there for them. But we know we cannot make it easy for them. We know we cannot fix broken hearts. Only God and time and faith can restore the hope that seems to be hidden.

Then, in the evening, I spent 2 1/2 hours with a young couple and their friends and family. Last week their 1 1/2 year old son died after suffering a cardiac event a few days earlier. He was flown to Sioux Falls for more intense care. We prayed for a miracle. The miracle we got was that at least 5 people received life-saving donations from him at his death.

The room had a lot of young people. Many are those for whom I care in my role as chaplain at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center. Many of them, including the mother of the child who died, are younger than our children. They probably think of me as being in their grandparents’ generation. But there are advantages to being a bit older. I’ve been to a lot of funerals. This isn’t my first experience with the anguish of parents who lose a child. I know the names of all the people who work at the funeral home and they all know me. We’ve been with grieving people before. But these young people aren’t at home in the funeral home. They don’t have much experience with death at all. It turns out the the mother had just been to her grandmother’s funeral a couple of weeks before tragedy struck her household. It was one of the first funerals she had ever attended. Then, last night, she is in the funeral home with an open casket with the body of her child in it and a lot of people with a lot of tears coming. Her friends, mostly her age, surround her and try to comfort her, but they don’t know what they are doing, either. There was a bit of nervous laughter. There were a lot of hugs. There were tears enough to go around.

You see, I knew that I was witnessing another miracle, but they don’t know it yet. The miracle I was witnessing is the power of community. There is plenty of pain and grief. It is so intense that some of them feel like they’re losing control. But they don’t have to face it alone. They have each other. And they are practiced at providing care.

The officers and others who work at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center work with some of the most troubled and challenging young people in the entire nation. WSDSD is one of only three fully certified detention centers that can receive juveniles from the federal court system. Some of those kids experienced intense trauma early in their lives. Some have been abused and neglected. All of them have seen and experienced more than the human body can take. The corrections officers and teachers who work with those youth day in and day out are special people. It is an honor and a privilege to serve as their chaplain. They are good people. And they are learning how to be good to each other.

Of course they responded with a flurry of online activity. There was a “Go Fund Me” page and Facebook posts inviting people to a fund raising event. The chaplains sponsored a pizza luncheon at the Public Safety Building to solicit donations and raise money for the family. I struggle to keep up with all of the online activity, but it is second nature to the people the age of the parents. I can identify them by the bulge in their pockets. They never go anywhere without their cell phones.

As the years go by, they will have more experiences with grief and loss. I have been lucky in that department. I have seen grief on a regular basis. I don’t fully understand everything, but I am less surprised by my own reactions and the reactions of others.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, there is a section referred to as the songs of the suffering servant. Many Christians believe that they are predictions of Jesus of Nazareth that came long before he was born. “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

I’m not the person about whom the writer is referring, but I do feel that after more than 40 years of serving as a pastor, I have begun to think of myself as one who is acquainted with infirmity. I myself haven’t suffered any more than others, but I have been asked to be present with those who are suffering injury and sometimes I am in the right place to just get away from its activities. Sometimes I am surprised, but I have learned to trust the gift of grief.

These young people can’t see it as a gift yet, but I pray that one day they’ll look back and see it for what it is - a genuine and heartfelt offering from God who helps us through life’s darkest hours.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!