I came into November participating in two different productions–the “Halloween Train” Murder Mystery at Hotel Alyeska and the production of “Once Upon a Mattress” by (the still-forming) Girdwood Community Theater. October 30th was the Murder Mystery. October 31st was a Sunday with worship and Sunday School and Trick-Or-Treating with our little ones. I was wore out.
But November came in and was ruthless. Now, I know that this is not really the fault of any month. But it’s clear that this month, as I’ve said to some persons, “Kicked my butt.”
On November 1st, someone connected with our church committed suicide. It was traumatic for the the family, the community, and me. While I had done funerals for suicide victims before, I don’t think I’d ever been there “the night of” and followed up with the family over the next week. I think I said some good things. I think my presence was appreciated. I think I was helpful and I think my presence made a spiritual difference through prayer and comforting words and merely by said presence. This challenged me as pastor. It also challenged my emotions as I love this family that was having to deal with the very sudden grief and pain and begin the healing process. I did a lot of self-reflection throughout this process and was able to examine my own psychological and physiological responses to the hurt that I was feeling. The Wednesday of that week I drove into Anchorage for a minister’s lunch mainly because I needed the prayers to keep going.
Two weeks to the day after this, we had another traumatic death. Again it was a family I loved and cared about. Again it was unexpected, though not suicide. It was a very painful scene. It was in the middle of the night. It was long. My heart was broken as I could see and hear the brokenness of those I was called out to be with. It was November 17th that I wrote a blog post entitled “Dealing With Death/I’m Not OK.” And I wasn’t OK. I knew I would be OK. But I wasn’t at that moment. It was going to take me time. And it was clear that it took me about four days before I really felt like I could do any real work. Also, it was clear that I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to be alone because it all felt too raw when I was left by myself. I found comfort in the company of others.
In the midst of this we had rehearsals and three nights of production for “Once Upon a Mattress.”
Then, a week later, on another dreadful Monday, we got word that a family member committed suicide in Indiana. Really?! Again!? Here the difficult thing was our distance from the loved ones who were grieving. You could hear the pain in the voices. There were no indications that this was coming. There were no clues that anyone had. Totally unexpected.
Three deaths in 21 days. That was a lot. That was a lot for me as pastor and a lot for me as…well…just me.
Then came Thanksgiving with a community dinner and all the celebrating that comes with that holiday. Dinner with friends. Kids home from school.
Other pastors and people look to the holiday season and look at their December calendars and wonder how they are going to be able to get it all it. This can be an overwhelming time and season and month for persons.
But I look toward tonight’s exit of November with relief. This was a tough month.
I plan on embracing December and being embraced by God throughout all of it. I plan to drink in the beauty of Advent and celebrate with my family and others all that this season means. I look forward to the message of hope and love which comes with the birth of the Christ child and reminds us once again that God is in control and he, himself, has entered and is always entering this messy world of ours. I pray for healing for myself and I pray for healing for those who have lost loved ones.
And November…good riddance. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.