My prayer written on Monday was within an hour of getting the news that S had died. S was a member of the PNC that called me here just a few months ago. A few days after I had moved in and two weeks before I started she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was Dec. 23. On the 26th she began chemotherapy. She spent the next 13 weeks in the hospital with complication after complication include at least one resuscitation after cardiac arrest. The good news was that she went directly into remission after the first round of chemo. The bad news was that she had so many complications it took quite a while to get her off of a ventilator and ready to go home.
She opted for agressive treatment including at least 2 more rounds of chemo even though she was in remission. The next couple of months were pretty good. She was able to come home with only a few stays in the hospital for her actually chemo treatments. She came to worship a few times after Easter - - the first times she was able to see me leading worship as the installed pastor. She was even able to go to her home in Florida for a couple of weeks.
A week and a half ago she came home after the third round of chemo and was doing very well. She was making appointments, setting up lunches (mine was supposed to be today), planning counseling sessions (she does pro bono family counseling in the community). It was MORE than a shock to get a phone call exactly a week later that she had died.
Apparently while her immune system was down two random, rarely seen bacteria got into her blood stream. She woke up Sunday with a sore arm. By noon her husband took her to the hospital. The infection was too agressive for any successful treatment. The bacteria were destroying her muscles and she died with 24 hours. Again, everyone is in shock.
So, now we're planning the funeral. Our sanctuary only seats 200, and some overflow seating in the narthex would hold 250, but folks tell me they're expecting even up to 500-600 people. Holy cow. We're going to hold it at the Catholic Church across the street. Thank goodness for an ecumenically minded Catholic Church! That would not have been the case in my last call. The diocese was WAY TOO conservative for that.
People keep asking me if I'm nervous, but for the most part I'm not. If there are 5 people or 500 people the gospel is still the same. S's family is going to put together some words about her to share during the service, which doesn't bother me, and I appreciate that they are arranging for their "spokesperson." I do get nervous a little bit when it is up to me to speak about the deceased when I have not known him or her intimately. I fear I'll say something completely off-base and just get in the way of the worship. This will be perfect.
S's family really gave me free-reign in planning this service, and that has been a joy! We talked a lot about the feel of the service and our goals of the service (worshiping God, comforting those who mourn, and sending all out renewed for service and discipleship like S lived in her life), but then they let me run with picking music, working with some suggested Scriptures and everything. They didn't pick any of the "moldy oldies", but put some thought into the things they wanted, and have given me something fun to work with that will truly honor God and S. It should be wonderful.
The size piece is interesting because there are some in our congregation who are worried about "embarrassing" (their word) S's husband with what we offer. We are a smaller congregation, and S's husband is a very BIG WIG in a multinational corporation, lobbyist in DC, and lots of other things. Some members of the church are worried that we can't offer something up to their standard.
That saddens me. I'm not saddened because I fear the same, but I am saddened that it's a concern of our members. We are a faithful congregation. We are small by some standards, but, shoot, we're larger than the average Presbyterian church. We don't offer the large, ornate, Gothic buildings that some have, but we are doing what God is calling us to do in this place, as we are. I am saddened that some in the congregation seem to lack the congregational self-confidence or confidence in God to trust that we are a worthy congregation no matter what our size or projected image is. We're good and faithful and imperfect and discerning disciples, and I for one I don't think anyone would look down on us, but even if they did I pray that our folks have the confidence to ignore that and keep looking to God for our worth and esteem.