>Image via WikipediaHad another death in the community recently. I’m going to be purposefully vague about it to keep the details private. Like many deaths, it’s not anyone who actually lives here but someone who was in the Girdwood area enjoying something the area has to offer — fishing, hiking, skiing, etc. On any given day, a lot of the people around here aren’t actually from around here. They’re from Anchorage, or the Peninsula, or Outside, or overseas. And this particular person was not from here.
I’ve been chaplain of the local Fire Department for the last nine years or so and death is one of the things I do…particularly if it’s very traumatic for the first responders or if there are friends and family around at the time who need some emotional/spiritual care. Part of the job is making sure the Fire Department and State Troopers can do their jobs. Sometimes it’s a matter of trying to calm down those who are distressed so that questions can be answered. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just listen. Sometimes I’m just not sure what exactly it is that I should be doing.
I have found the chaplaincy to be a very rewarding part of my ministry over this time. I can’t say that I “enjoy” it. But I can say that I’m appreciated by the Fire Department for the care I’m able to offer and I can say that my presence seems to be appreciated by those who are grieving and are mostly in shock at the scene of a death. It’s hard, but I feel like these times are holy times.
There is a look of relief on the faces of some persons when I show up… on the mountain, on the trail, on the road, in a home. The Fire Department may ready for me to deal with the grieving loved ones after they’ve been at a scene, hard at work, in “rescue-mode” for a while. The family may be looking for someone to hold onto them and help them transition into all of the tough questions that are going to lie ahead. Both may be happy to have someone there to be a go-between for communication. It often helps to have someone who is not really a “rescuer” but understand what is going on.
But, there are those…particularly bystanders who know me…who see the Fire Department around and see me show up and come to the very valid conclusion that something bad is happening. They’re respectful. They keep their distance. But they realize that someone has died…when they see me.
At this recent death, I was waiting for loved ones to show up where I was so more loved ones could be brought together for the first time after hearing the news. While waiting, someone who knew me, a friend with kids I know, started trying to talk with me…small talk…simple stuff. My mind was focused on the arrival of the family members and the role I’d need to step into at that time. I’d already been with some of them for a while. And when the newly widowed woman arrived and embraced her child and cried in front of us, the look on my friend’s face changed. It sunk in what was going on. This friend pulled her kids away from that situation so the grieving could continue.
There was hustle and bustle all around. There was business. There was travel. There was eating. There was laughing. And, in the midst of it, a family crying. It’s kind of surreal when I look back on it. Oftentimes, there is a small, intimate window full of pain and grief and love that kind of opens up in the real world. It’s strange.
Sometimes, in these situations, I feel like the angel of death.
They are holy times and I know that God is using me to bring some peace to a very tumultuous place in the lives of persons.
I just wonder how many persons think, “Oh no. Jim’s here. Someone must have died.”