Grief and Ice Cream

In addition to being the minister for a church in a small town in Central Texas, I was a volunteer for the community’s emergency medical service. One afternoon, a call came in that an accident had occurred at the place that stored seed and fertilizer for the farm community.  When we arrived on the scene we found people digging furiously into tons of fertilizer that had come down when its bin had given way, pouring its contents on top of the man who was standing under it. 

His friends and his two grown sons dug, not even knowing where he was.  Finally, they found him. He wasn’t breathing, and he wasn’t going to, but they tried the defibrillator on him anyway, repeatedly. 

I was horrified at the scene. My eyes filled up and I wanted to sob, but I realized I was supposed to be the helper, so I swallowed back the feelings and went to work.  In addition to being the ambulance driver, I was the chaplain for our team. I went and stood next the two grown sons who watched their father’s crushed body not being revived.  They were big burly young men, shocked and speechless. I don’t remember what I said to them—I think I was trying to be clever.  They just nodded as if they could understand me through their shock.  Then I reached up and hugged each of them, telling them how sorry I was. 

For the rest of that afternoon, I listened to people who had been on the scene—emergency crew and onlookers, all of them needing to process what had happened. 

I was twenty-four years old. 

By early evening I was emotionally exhausted. But my ministerial duties demanded that I attend to one more task: the ice cream social at church.  I’d have much rather sat in a dark room of my house, but I had to go because I was, you know, the minister.

Ice cream and cake were served outside in the courtyard of the church building. Everyone brought their homemade ice cream, except for Frances, who brought Blue Bell and tried to convince us she had made it herself. We didn’t care because we all liked Blue Bell. 

I didn’t feel like joking or smiling or helping.  I got in line and a little boy was in front of me.  He was around five years old, blond, blue eyed, quiet and thoughtful. I helped him fill his bowl and then asked if I could sit with him. He nodded. 

We sat in the cool grass under the evening shade. He and I agreed that homemade vanilla was the best flavor then attended to the business of eating in silence.  I learned that evening that little children are restorative. 

The things I learned that day are:

I have to feel the feelings but keep myself intact so I can help others.

People don’t always need me to speak as much as they need to talk.

Sometimes healing is found in eating ice cream outside with a kid.

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