This story begins in grief. Grief can be an overwhelming experience, it is more than just feeling or something you can push aside, it is deep like an ocean and washes over with tides that ebb and flow. I’ve known that my dear friend, Char, was dying for the last 18 months. Just 18 months ago, she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer that had already spread to the liver. Char spent her professional career as a nurse and a nurse manager and in her calling in parish nursing. That is how I got to know Char. I was sent, in the usual United Methodist way, to Boone as one of their pastors where she has been the parish nurse of Boone First United Methodist Church for many years. When I came, she was the one to help show me the ropes and point out people and ways to help care for them. She assisted in hospital visits, nursing home visits, home-bound visits, took calls to help church members sort out their medications and diagnosis and aches and pains. She helped people make calls to their families to tell them about what was happening in their lives. She faithfully followed up with people and made special notes of those who might need a pastoral visit but would never ask. She gathered the widows so they could be not-so-alone together. She was friend and mentor. When I had questions, her door was the one next to mine.
She is a woman of great strength and faith. Last winter, she told me that she would look out her window to a great tree in her yard. All of the leaves had left the branches barren, except one red leaf that held on all winter. There it was, life in the midst of death. She saw that red leaf as a sign of blessing, of holding on past all the odds but it would go in God’s time. It is the way the tree’s leaves and our lives are created, we hold on until it’s time to go.
On Tuesday, I was biking with my husband. We came to the bottom of a very steeply inclined hill next to a large park in our town. We decided to get off and walk the bikes up. Instead of looking intently in front of us, my focus wandered. About half way up, he pointed up to a strange tree. It was the middle of summer and all the leaves were green, except for one red leaf near the top. In the midst of life, we are in death. In the midst of summer green, we are in the midst of fall red. The next morning, Char made the courageous decision to stop treatments, there was really nothing else the doctors could do. She has been moved to hospice, and we are in the last times we will spend together on this earth. It has become time to let go, not to give up or give in, but to give over.
This blog is dedicated to Char, my mentor and friend who helped teach this often task-list pastor to stop and find the blessings in the midst of life in all of its wonder, complexity, pain and pleasures. We are not alone, God is with us.
Blessings in the Midst.