People often comment that they don’t know how ministers can spend as much time as they do in hospitals and funeral homes. Folks wonder how we’re able to be in those places for others without losing ourselves in the process. I can honestly say that it isn’t always easy, but it does become normal in a sense.
My earliest memories of hospitals and funeral homes are rather unorthodox. The earliest memory I can recall of being in a hospital was when I was a very young boy and had stepped on an in-floor heater and burned the bottom of my foot. I only recall crying and being on a cold table.
My earliest funeral home memory wasn’t in a funeral home at all, but in a house. My mother’s family are from East Tennessee near the Kentucky border. They are the type akin to who you’d see in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the biopic about Loretta Lynn. A relative had passed away, and because of their customs, the body was prepared and placed in the house in a coffin. My mother and I slept in a room next to where the body was. I was a bit frightened. My late grandmother recalled how one particular relative died in the heat of the summer. The body was prepared and placed in a house then too. However, she told me, and much to my shock, that the heat caused the body to swell and burst. Enough said.
I recall being pre-teen and a great-grandfather, whom I loved dearly, passing away. I was urged by everyone then to be strong for my great-grandmother’s sake. Since purpose was given to me, I have carried that mentality ever since whether it be in the hospital or a funeral home. I won’t go so far as to say that a child should be told to be strong, because that can lead to other issues when one bottles up their emotions. Nevertheless, I have often approached such situations from that mindset of being strong for another. It is hard at times, because there are moments when I honestly want to cry myself. However, I know that people in those situations need someone strong, and if I can be that for another, I will. I will also cry on my own when I seclude myself from others, but then I compose myself and keep a stiff upper lip.
When not in those situations, I attempt to be rather prayerful. I pour out my heart to my Father in heaven. He knows the burden that sometimes accompanies being strong for others who are hurting. I can only imagine how He must hurt when we hurt, because He loves us so. Yet, He is my strength and my refuge, and in Him do I trust.