Even though I am in the ministry, I am not a real “warm and fuzzy” kind of guy. My children ran to their mom when they had “owies.” Their mom would get out the Bactine and Band Aids, kiss them on the forehead and send them on their way. Their dad would say, “Nice trophy, dude!” Not a lot of comfort there, I am afraid.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a very compassionate person. I hurt with the hurting, I can cry with those who are sad. I cried at Old Yeller and during Brian’s Song, but not during Little House on the Prairie. A man has to have limits…
So when I went to the class on Critical Incident Stress Management I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured it would be an extension of what I had learned in my ministry years, and I would be able to apply most of what I already knew to the class.
I was wrong. Dead wrong. The teacher and I could not be more opposite in some ways. At first I took her as a kind of “touchie-feelie, let’s all meditate on our belly button” kind of lady. I thought my suspicions were confirmed when she brought out a candle to light on our first day. Then she got out the guitar and played a meditation for us. I thought I had her all figured out. Once again, I was wrong.
What I found was that all of my years of ministry hasn’t always helped me deal with critical incidents. There is no class in college that tells you how to handle people when you have to tell them their loved one is dead. Oh, we get pastoral counseling classes, but you can only learn so much from a book. In my 27 years of ministry I have had to deal with death and dying many times. It is never easy, and never the same. The notification and funeral are the easy parts. How do you prepare a person for living without their trusted companion and best friend for the rest of their life? How do you help someone cope with the empty home they will face after everybody leaves? What words do I have that can make it all better for someone whose whole life has changed?
The bottom line is that I don’t have those words, nobody does. I have struggled with what to say in those times. I have held grown men as they wept over the loss of a child. I have marveled at the inner strength of a woman who lost a husband and mother, within a week of each other. I have personally felt relief at the loss of a grandpa and grandma whose suffering was relieved by death. The only thing those situations had in common was that words didn’t help, and they didn’t matter.
Janet Childs, the woman with the candle and guitar, taught us that we need to help people find the “new normal” in their lives. We are so busy trying to tell people that everything will be okay that we don’t realize that everything is different now. What we need to do is support them, love them, and care for them as they discover how their life is different now.
The new normal applies to other parts of our lives as well. People who accept Christ find their life includes a new normal. A new life where they have peace instead of discord, joy instead of sorrow, and Heaven as a promise of things to come. Not a bad new normal, and one we all need.
Still not touchie-feelie… Jerry