Sunday, December 16, 2012
Finding Light in Darkness
My heart is heavy today. The tragic events in Connecticut leave me feeling like I can't write another trivial post until I pay my respect to the subject.
A couple of years ago, I met a funeral director who made me better appreciate why they do what they do. Because of meeting Pam, I can’t help but think of the funeral directors in Connecticut, and I’ve been praying for them. I think most of us, when it comes to the subject of undertaking, automatically know we could never do that job. Most of us want to avoid being anywhere near death, I suppose, and we wouldn’t dream of signing up for a career surrounding it. Thankfully, there are those willing to open their hearts, to answer this important calling.
Pam once visited my Difference Makers to explain why she felt it was important to sponsor their Relay for Life efforts. Near the end of that visit, we talked a little bit about her job as a funeral director, which I learned is less a job and more a vocation, a calling. I asked Pam if it doesn't get difficult to be around so much grief, and she admitted that it does. However, she said that she feels called to shoulder that burden for her community; it's a very important one. The worst, she said, is when children pass. She feels an even greater sense of responsibility for caring for those who have lost their lives way too soon.
Until that day, I'd never thought about it from the funeral director's point of view. This weekend, I asked Pam if she’d mind sharing some more of her reflections, and she graciously agreed.
Tom Lynch is a Michigan funeral director and noted author. Pam told me that she related to his book, The Undertaking, in which he tells the story of a funeral director who was charged with caring for the body of a beautiful little girl who was brutally murdered by a deranged lunatic. A good many embalmers would have looked at this child and thought the work impossible, but this man spent the entire day and night working painstakingly so that her parents could see their little girl again. Damaged, yes, but it was her face again, and not the lunatic’s. It was her body, not his. The undertaker didn't hide the hard facts or raise her from the dead, but he retrieved her in death from the one who had killed her. He bathed her, washed her wounds, sutured her lacerations, pieced her broken skull together, cleaned the dirt from under her nails, washed her hair, and dressed her in her clothes and gave her to her parents.
“We don't save them,” Pam says. “We are saying, ‘God weeps with you.’ And we do that for and with God. That is probably the only thing that keeps any of us from losing our minds, this trust that we are serving as the gentle and healing hands of a God who mourns with us. If we did not have this piece; offering love and working to restore the dignity of the human person made in the image of God, we would just be disposing of bodies. Love is what makes this a profession.
There have been times, when I have returned to the funeral home and the prep room with a child, when I have gently bathed their body and felt the unspeakable care of a greater power working through my hands. It is never anything I'm thinking about; it just happens, and the work becomes prayer.
She added that the work is painstaking and detail-oriented; it involves all kinds of active listening skills, and the wisdom to know that people are opening up their broken hearts and allowing her the privilege to walking with them. The blessing, says Pam, lies hidden in the curse. A Leonard Cohen lyric rings true to her:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
This week, I’m praying for the light to get in, not only to those families who lost loved ones in Connecticut, but also for those entrusted with the honor and supreme responsibility of caring for those sweet little children and selfless adults in the coming days. May God bless them and guide them in their work.
Thank you, Pam; I appreciate you.
Pam writes a blog called There Goes the Neighborhood, where she shares an impressive writing talent and a gift for seeing beauty in all things.