Pastor Lynn Erickson tells her story of one of her greatest privileges as a pastor – to hear and share stories of those who have passed away.
I’m not sure when I started reading obituaries, but most days I do. Sometimes the pages are full of notices about people who lived long full lives. They often include a photograph of a much younger version of the deceased – sometimes in a military uniform or with a head full of pin curls. Other days, the deaths of children or women my own age tug at my heart.
Some death notices highlight a person’s significant contributions to a career or military service, loving relationships, hard-won sobriety, passion for a hobby, a valiant struggle with illness or a deep faith. Some notices say very little at all. Words like “peacefully” and “cancer” and “Alzheimer’s” and “beloved” and “unexpectedly” stick out for me. I wonder about those carefully chosen words and the stories behind them.
One of my greatest privileges as a pastor is to hear and share the stories of those who have died. Sitting with family and friends, together we scratch the surface of the many joys, struggles, relationships, and passions that make up a life. There are always surprises in the story-telling when someone will exclaim – “I never knew!”
Everyone has a story worth telling, remembering and sharing – this is how we make sense of our lives and often it is in the remembering that we recognize the thread of God’s presence with us. It is through humankind and our stories that God has always been at work in the world. You have a story to share – right now! You don’t need to write a memoir to begin sharing your story with others or to learn more about the people you love. You can begin with simple conversation starters:
- Tell me about your early years.
- What were your parents like?
- Talk about your education.
- Did you or anyone in your family serve in the military?
- What’s one value you have that you want the people you love to share?
- How do you celebrate the holidays?
- Who taught you how to drive?
- What do you love to do?
- Tell me about your faith life. Who taught you about Jesus?
- Pull out old pictures and talk about the people in them.
I am grateful to serve this faith community, Prince of Peace, where kindness and compassion abound in both life and death – in well-timed visits and phone calls, in your prayer ministry, in the flurry of sympathies shared, of wordless hugs, of lunches prepared and served, where stories are shared and honored. The apostle Paul writes:
“God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, God brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4-5 (The Message).
Peace and love to all of you in the midst of your grief, your living, and your storytelling!