No matter how many times he had seen it, Pastor Andy Craft was never really prepared for death. As he stood next to Jim Andrew’s hospital bed and held his hand, he knew the end was near. Jim’s wife, Kelly, was stroking her husband’s forehead. His breath was more and more shallow and infrequent. Finally, there was a noise from his throat and then nothing. “He’s gone,” the nurse said. Kelly said nothing, just continued stroking his brow. The two children moved behind their mother, holding her. They had begun the grieving process two weeks ago when Jim suffered an aneurysm at work. They faced the difficult decision to turn off the ventilator yesterday. But even when you expect death, its finality is still a shock.
Some ministers would have immediately offered a prayer and taken control of the situation. After all, that was their job. It wasn’t Andy’s style, however. He knew the family needed this time alone and they would call him back to the room when they were ready. Experience taught him that the best thing he could do was attend to some of the practical things. He stepped out of the room and called the funeral home. He notified the church’s senior pastor, Cynthia Thompson, and then called some of the family’s friends who had told him they wanted to be notified.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Jim Jr. found him in the visitor’s lounge, and draped his arm over his shoulder. “Thanks for all you’ve done, Andy. We all appreciate it.”
“How’s your mother, Jim?”
“You know Mom. She deals with things by staying busy and taking charge. She’s trying to comfort Becky and the grandkids, calling the rest of the relatives. I told her you’d taken care of the funeral home. Of course, she said, ‘He didn’t have to do that,’ but tomorrow she’ll appreciate it.” Jim collapsed into Andy’s arms, softly sobbing, “He was a good dad.”
“The best,” Andy said. “Is there anything I can do, Jim?”
Drying his eyes, Jim said, “Why don’t you come in and say a prayer. I think we need that right now.” Andy returned to the room and read a few verses from the Bible and prayed a prayer of comfort. Becky asked him if her dad was in heaven.
“Of course he is, Becky. Of course he is. He’s going to be watching you, cheering at the kids’ soccer games, watching you kick butt in the courtroom.”
She wiped her eyes and smiled, “I’ve always appreciated you, Andy. You don’t sound like a typical, self-righteous a$shole, like a lot of your kind.”
Andy said, “You sounded like your dad, just then. He never minced words.”
“Well, I am my father’s daughter,” Becky said with a smile.
When there was a death in the family a pastor’s job really began after the person died. The family, especially a spouse, went through a predictable pattern; shock, disbelief, anger and finally acceptance. Andy didn’t believe it was his job to constantly reassure people, but to be there and let them talk; let them experience their grief. He listened while they blamed God and let them know that it was O.K. to be angry at God. He let them work through their guilt and was there to listen and occasionally reminded them they’d done all they could and that it was O.K. to get on with life. The process took a long time, and, in fact, Andy felt that if a person claimed to have come to accept the death too soon, it would come back to haunt her later, and make it harder to finally deal with.
Kelly and Jim had been a part of Andy’s Disciple Bible Study last year and they used to work with the youth group, which was one of Andy’s responsibilities. Andy and Kelly always had a close and easy relationship, so Pastor Cynthia suggested he take the lead in her pastoral care.
For the next seven or eight months, Andy was there for her. Sometimes he just listened, but more often than not, he talked with her. She wanted answers and wasn’t satisfied with the clichés he started to offer, so Andy opened up. He told her he didn’t believe people went to a place with streets of gold and singing angels, but he thought people became part of God and that caused God to change and evolve as God experienced what people had lived. He told her he didn’t think God was some all-powerful and all-knowing being who magically intervened in people’s lives but One who offered empathy and comfort. He was of the opinion that people lived on, not in some “heaven” out there, but in ours and God’s memories.
Kelly took all of this in, and one day she said, “You know that makes a lot more sense than the crap I heard all my life. It makes God believable.”