I loved being a minister. The job fed my soul and drained it at the same time. I don’t think I can go back. I want to try to explain but it’s going to take some time. The following is just one of the reasons I’m done.
The minister helps people cope with death. I’ve been at scenes where death occurred violently and I’ve also stood in dark houses or hospital rooms and watched people slip away while loved ones cried and kissed them. More than once I heard someone sing softly into the dying person’s ear. Another time I heard a woman scream at her man not to die on her but he did anyway.
I was often present when someone found out that a loved one died. I actually delivered the message on a few occasions. If the loss was sudden such as in an accident, the message would have to be repeated three times before it sunk in.
I visited the homes before the funeral service, often just watching as family members came in from out of town. Fast decisions had to be made. Errands had to be done. At some point, I would interrupt the activity and gather them together to talk about the service and I would ask them for memories of their loved one. Often, they didn’t know what to tell me so I learned to let them talk to each other and I would listen to them trade their stories.
Funeral dinners at the church were uncomfortable for me because while the family ate and visited, I usually sat out of the way at a separate table. It’s not that I was disliked or unwelcome. I just wasn’t one of the family. Often I avoided eating altogether by being busy with setting up the service.
At a funeral, if everything goes right, there’s a certain progression. Friends trickle in and take their seats. I have them stand and watch the family enter and sit down. The music plays, the tears flow, and people reach across the pews to touch each other. I speak words that I hope will comfort them. Sometimes the message is effective enough to help the people reach inside themselves to find their strength. As I help them review the life that had passed I realize that I have missed out on someone special, and I feel the loss even if I hadn’t known the person.
At the end when the people filed past the casket, I shook hands or hugged them, trying not to look like a politician cultivating votes. The hardest moments were watching the family members say their final goodbyes to the body. They’d literally hold each other up as they sobbed.
My office was usually quiet after the service and most of the time, I would simply pack up and go home. My family wouldn’t know what I had experienced and they would go about their activities while I sank into my chair or lay down on the bed. I’m not sure I actually processed the events. It’s more like I let it all settle quietly into my bones.
After thirty-five years, sometimes it feels like all of their sobs and wails echo in my mind.