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Pastor Cheryl Matthews Report


We have lost two members these past two weeks - Florence Urbick and Dodie Motszko. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones who grieve their loss.

Last week, I also lost a close family member, a man who was my "second dad" my entire life. First, he was my uncle, married to my Mom's identical twin sister. Then he became my step-father when, after my aunt died an untimely death of an aneurysm at age 62, my mother married him. I worked for my aunt and uncle, caring for their youngest son for four summers when I was in high school. I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, their hometown, and worked for them in their family business, which helped me with my tuition and college expenses.

Lee and Fred supported me when I made the unconventional choice to become a pastor. It was at a time when very few women were in seminary. Their encouragement sustained me in days when few people understood or supported my choice.

Fred and I had a tradition of having early morning breakfast at a favorite Northfield restaurant. In our conversations, he often asked about my ministry. His questions were thoughtful, often challenging, and helped me gain insight and perspective on my day to day work as a pastor. In later years, after my mother died in a tragic accident, Fred would greet me with a warm, welcoming smile and say, "Hello, Pastor Cheryl!" I would tell him I wasn't his pastor and he need not call me that, but he would reply, "But I do like the sound of that and I am so glad you are a pastor. I'm proud of you!"

Fred was in hospice care this past year. In the few visits I was able to make with him, I practiced the five "acts of love" we can offer to those who are dying with whom we have close relationships. They are to speak the following five expressions:

I'm sorry." With these words we offer up any regrets from the past that might still exist between ourselves and our loved ones. I did not feel the need for such an exchange with Fred. We had kept our "I'm sorrys" up-to-date over the years, and rarely did anything to offend each other.

"I forgive you. Please forgive me." It is important to exchange words of forgiveness once the "I'm sorrys" have been spoken.

"Thank-you." My thanks to Fred included - "Thanks for being my "second Dad," for supporting and encouraging me in my choice to be a pastor, for all your gifts over the years, for your generous, loving spirit.

"I love you." These words are the greatest gift given at the bedside of a loved one - to share our love freely, and with-out condition. The last words I spoke to Fred were "I love you," not knowing this would be the final time I saw him.

"Good-bye." As death draws near, it is good to say our earthly good-bye, to help our loved one "let go and let God." Sometimes our "good-bye" is a way of giving our loved one our blessing in his or her making that final journey into eternity. I didn't get the chance to say good-bye to Fred. The family had called and asked me to come and lead a prayer service on my day off, but he died a few days before that time. I am grateful my sister shared prayers and songs with Fred just hours before he died. He squeezed her hand tightly before she left and she had the chance to say "Good-bye." I have the honor of assisting the family in planning the memorial service and in sharing in leading the service, being "Pastor Cheryl" for Fred one last time.

I consider holding vigil at the bedside of a loved one who is dying "Holy Time." The opportunity to say what needs to be said is never offered again - this side of the kingdom. Dying can be hard - painful. long, draining, and difficult. But it can also bring a "peace that passes all our human understanding." I have seen and experienced that with families countless times over my years of ministry. I am grateful my role as a pastor has opened my life to participate in these holy times - when the veil between this life and the next seems so very sheer, when I have witnessed the dying actu-ally "see" beyond the veil to the other side, and call out to loved ones who proceeded them in death.

My prayer for all of you is that you embrace these holy times when life presents them to you. Please don't shy away from those who are dying - don't avoid them; don't be afraid to reach out. Do what needs to be done. Say what needs to be said. It is a gift to your loved one and it is a gift to yourself.

A few more ideas for holding vigil at the bedside of a loved one to conclude these thoughts:

 Reminisce with your loved ones. The sharing of memories is important as one prepares for death.

 Candle light can feel peaceful and symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 Family meals can bring a sense of community and connection.

 Good, clean jokes and lighten the mood. Laugh freely and enjoy each other.

 Read a good book or magazine to your loved one, something that fits with his or her tastes.

 Share music that he or she enjoys. Classical music can be soothing as death draws near. Some hospice pro- grams offer harpists who are specially trained to play for the dying.

 Do ask a member of the clergy or person comfortable doing so to offer a prayer service (and Holy Communion) when death is near, commending the person to God, especially if this is in keeping with the person's tradition

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