Hayley and I were nervous – seeing a man as he is about to die is not something that either of us have much experience with. We were coming to have him sign a will and deed to expedite the inheritance process after his passing – once again, we had no prior experience in this arena.
This family had been a part of Hayley’s life for more than six years. She had picked up the two, now teenage boys for Kids Kamp, our church’s summer outreach for kids in our community, when they were little. The relationship continued as we began picking up their two younger sisters. Hayley has wept over this family, prayed for this family and worked to improve this family the entire time she has known them.
We walked through the labyrinth of St. Francis Hospital, looking for the hospice wing. After about 10 minutes of walking, we arrived and began the walk down the hall to our destination.
As we arrived at the room, several people in obvious distress came out of the room and said, “This isn’t a good time. He died five minutes ago.”
A week’s worth of exhaustion, worry and frustration swept over us as we realized that we were too late to do what we had come to do. Hayley began to cry and I stood there, mute. I had nothing to say. No words of comfort or hope.
The kids and mom weren’t there yet, they didn’t know about his passing. We stood there, awkwardly wondering whether we should stay or leave. The family members who were there knew of us – the dad had told them about Hayley and the love she had and the work she had done for the kids. They asked us to stay.
So we stayed. After about an hour of sitting in a small conference room, the mom and kids finally arrived. We sat, silently awkward and uncomfortable, as the family shared the news with the kids. Once again, words failed me as I watched their faces – confusion, sorrow and embarrassment passed over the boys; the girls didn’t seem to understand. They then went as a family into the room where their father lay.
Several minutes passed and Hayley and I rushed down the hall to grab the girls and boys away from the room as the girls wailed and the boys sat staring at their father. Hayley held the two girls and I stood, silent. I tried talking to the two boys, but once again my words felt hollow, pointless. Hayley hugged and rocked and whispered to the girls. She was amazing.
After a while our children’s minister and preacher arrived. We prayed, hugged the girls and left.
As we left that night, drained and exhausted, we both had the same realization: The reason we were at our church that frustrated us doctrinally, the reason we had spent all those frustrating hours trying to tutor those kids, the reason we had been late to church so we could pick up the girls, was for that night. It was for us to be there – Hayley to comfort and me to be there, quiet and awkward, unsure of why I was there, but there, a familiar presence in an unfamiliar time.
In the days that followed, I saw my church rise up and surround this family with love. Through groceries, a memorial service and a meal for the family and friends, our church expressed its commitment to the family in tangible, relevant ways. In the weeks that have followed, that compassion has not decreased. Every time we go to church, people still ask what they can do to help or if there’s anything the family needs.
I am small, easily annoyed, critical and opinionated. All the things that I get fired up about so easily melt away as I watch my church extend the love of Jesus to this family.
The work with this family is not done, in fact, there may be more to do now than ever, but I am comforted in the fact that I have the support of a body that will not stop being the arms and feet of Jesus.
That is why we’re there.
Why are you where you are?