Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 20, 2012

Because Peter Needs Us…

My friend Peter lies in a hospital today recovering from surgery to alleviate three aneurysms. Tough surgery on a tough but sweetheart of a guy. Pete’s line is, “Every day is a great day, some… better than others.” This is one of those that for him… is better than some, but maybe not as great as the others. He’s expected to spend a number of weeks in recovery and then transfer somewhere else for recupperation. Pete told me before going in, “I want the Lord either to fix me, or take me. Nothing in-between.” We don’t know which of these he fits at the moment: He’s suffered some minor strokes, and his movement is apparently impaired a bit. Much therapy will be needed. So if we have to answer which of these categories fits, I’d have to say we don’t know with another of his favorite line, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Tuesday last week, we gathered at Oak Hill for my dad’s burial. Oak Hill is at the top of Georgetown, and while very much in the city, as quiet and peaceful a place as it was intended. It remains beautiful and was this early morning. I’d been here once before. The place is normally locked on the odd hours I’ve passed by, but one Saturday, my wife and I had chanced to pass and see it open. We walked in along the main road I now know as the exit. And it curves along a winding path down the hill. On that visit, I was overcome by the number of memorials to infants, and simply couldn’t go on. Everyone pressed upon you the grief their parents must have felt, and my imagination choked on the image of losing my own, now grown children – not just now in their twenties, but what joys would have been missed had their lives been similarly cut short.

One of the things I think makes death so hard in the modern world is not just that we keep it from view, but that we have such infrequent contact with it entirely. Infants normally and overwhelmingly survive to adulthood. Adults normally and overwhelmingly survive into old age. Our losses are so few and death so uncommon that we really don’t know how to comfort each other. We try. We imagine. We dig deep into our memories, and we reach wide and far and come up with something. But it is the sense that the world continues while we alone suffer that is hard. No, we’re not alone of course, but the sadness brings up one’s awareness. And it’s not a matter that no one tries, they do. We’ve all tried over and over we’ve tried. But love continues in two places – here with those among us, and there with those taken from us. Christ can bridge the gap, but we cannot. Knowing that He is here with us… isn’t the same, but it is a great comfort that He is with both, and through our prayers and the intercessions of the saints, we can continue our love and walk together.

Dad’s funeral was held at the Episcopal church where he and mom were married, my sister and I baptised, and she later confirmed. My timing took longer, and confirmation was held at another place – the first of my wanderings in my forty-year unsuccessful struggle to remain an Episcopalian, but that’s another story. I’d met the priest earlier in the summer on the way to a Nats, and he’s close friends with the couple who were hosting our outing that day. And it was with great pleasure that I met with him in his office the Friday before my dad died to discuss the circumstances and how to proceed. Episcopalian worship allows a lot of freedom to the process, so there would be choices for Old and New Testament texts and hymns, and he offered to send some suggestions. Mom had of course been keeping notes on what she liked and didn’t over the years, and so she knew what hymn she wanted. The texts were the issue. I tried to stay in the background: this was her choice, and it seemed right to let her make it.

When later I walked into her apartment, she was going over Fr. Ed’s text suggestions with my sister’s Bible. Sis had these wonderful tabs on all the texts, so it was particularly easy to flip through. Mom said she didn’t like any of the texts. Uh oh.  So I suggested to her that there were a tremendous number of beautiful passages of comfort, and maybe we should look at them. We talked about Dad, and we talked about some of the things that had gone on. I mentioned I thought it would be good to focus on some texts that dealt with things as they are and were. And from there stumbled into the ending texts of Job. Dad had mentioned at one point he knew he must have done something to deserve this… this Parkinson’s. And I countered that no, that wasn’t the case. Mom had been peripherally aware, but listened and was moved. Job makes it clear that this is a viewpoint, and many share it. But there’s another version that we don’t suffer for what we’ve done, but for our lack of experience and comprehension of God. This is where I read to her from Job beginning at chapter 40. How can you not weep in these pages… filled with the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, and the way the God marvels at his creatures…. even their wildness. And I said to her that I’d always wondered myself, but finally learned to marvel at Dad’s own wildness… even as the disease took down his inhibitions that would otherwise have kept him much gentler …even than the guy with a sharp tongue as we knew him. And if we can learn to marvel at him and each other as creatures of God – even in these moments, then we can see things from a new perspective of love we might otherwise not have known.

We looked at the 139th Psalm and picked out a couple of verses. Fr. Ed had picked this one, too. So that was easy. Then of course the 23rd psalm… and that was easy. And I told mom there was a Gospel passage from a prayerbook I’d read that morning for the first time that I’d suggest we look at as it wasn’t all that common in the funerals I’d been to, but had sort of a different twist. It was in my car, and I had to get over to the office, so I told her I’d send it, and she could look it over. She could think whether it fit… as I told her it was less about the wonders of heaven and more about the lifting of sorrows. I suggested that’s where I was, and perhaps she might be there as well.

We used it, and I’ve appended it here. My sorrow for Dad remains. I’m hoping it will lift in time, as I don’t try to dwell on it overly much. But I do know there is a sense that the sorrow is what you hold on to as though it were something of his presence and a memory of his experience in your life. It’s a nostalgia, and for a while that’s okay I guess. Maybe even something that for a time can be therapeutic and help. But I know I’ll have to let go of this as well. I pray for that fortieth day.

When my attorney called back yesterday to finish our revisions to our office’s compliance procedures manual, we hadn’t talked in almost three weeks. I’d left her a message and as she began to speak, she asked, “First, how’s your dad?” I told her he’d passed on, and she said, “I could hear it in your voicemail.” So I guess I’m not hiding it all that well after all. Some decent digestion, a little sleep, and a lot of time… who knows? Maybe that’ll help.

In the meantime, the day after is another day of searching for peace, finding it, but not lasting. Sleep comes slowly and easily at times, at others less so. Mom is doing better than I would have imagined, probably better than all of us. But we’re still here. People continue to help, and life picks up again. It will be good to help someone else as a reprieve. And so that’s my call: “Enough of our own troubles. Pete needs us…and we can’t dwell in our own mess, let’s go help him.”

“And Jesus said to them: But now I am returning to him who sent me. Yet none of you asks me, where is it you are going? But because I have said these things, sorrow has filled your hearts. Even so, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I should depart, for if I do not depart, the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) will not come to you. But if I do go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. I still have so many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, while the world rejoices. You will be full of sorrow: but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor she has much sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she has given birth to the child, she can no longer remember the anguish, because the joy that a child is newly born into the world. So it is with you: you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice. And then no one will take your joy from you.” John (16:5-8, 12-13, 20-22 ) as rendered  in Fr. John A. McGuckin: Prayer Book of the Early Christians; Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA 2011) Uses: Author’s own paraphrases from RSV or original Greek.


  1. It’s been a rough week for our St Paul family here in Dayton and our extended family. One parish member suffered a stroke two days ago, another’s son was hit by a bus in Washington D.C. and is in intensive care with a skull fracture and foot and leg injuries. Our priest’s father took a fall yesterday and was subsequently diagnosed with congestive heart failure. We have three members suffering miserably with cancer. I will add Peter to our prayer list in the morning. Please pray for us, too. Thanks.

    • St Paul’s will be in my prayers! Thanks for yours as well.

  2. Peter was greatly missed this morning.

    My dear friend, it’s just been 2 weeks since your dear father’s passing. It is much too soon to think that you wouldn’t be sorrowful.

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