As a fan of this column, I note that many acts of kindness reported therein are of the “random” variety. You know, the kindness shown to strangers. To the homeless. Once upon a time. On impulse, or in obedience to a nudge from our better selves (or better halves).
Some might even act kindly in response to a “still small voice” from Heaven above, from a God who deigns to get involved in human affairs and lift our spirits here on earth, even at death’s door.
In my case, the acts of kindness to which I bear witness are of the “organized” variety. All in response to two deaths in our church, on recent back-to-back weekends.
On these two occasions, I see people laying out chairs for the visitation and setting tables with piles of food. Others are handing out funeral bulletins, staffing the guest book, capturing the picture boards, and answering questions about the deceased and introducing his family. Still others are standing out front to meet and greet people they didn’t know.
Such acts are repeated, one after another. Just as more and more well-wishers show up, so also more and more volunteers step up to do whatever it takes. For hours on end. No random acts here; rather, the whole event is seamlessly organized.
Being a hospice chaplain and a curious one at that, I inquire further. (The deceased is not one of my patients, by the way.) I learn that all these acts of kindness are indeed organized by a small group led by Shawn & Laura.
Their kindness toward Dennis & Ellen has been evident from day one, 12 months ago, when they first joined the group, he with both a persistent brain tumor and both with a newly adopted child from China.
Though newcomers to their group, the whole experience with a prolonged deadly disease has given this particular group a new mission and focus, as together they figure out how to go forward in their mutual grief work.
On this occasion of joy and sadness, I notice my long-time friend, Craig, who leads another small group in this same church and told him of my observations—how one small group had remarkably stepped up to take on this whole caring ministry in unison, from start to finish. With Craig, I wondered out loud, What if this [death of member or a loved one] were to happen to your group or mine, would we be up to the challenge?
Lo and behold, as only God would have it, I am back at church the next weekend for another visitation and funeral, and there is Craig again, this time co-hosting it for longtime friend John, who has just died.
Craig and his wife Nancy pull off what Shawn and Laura had done just the week before. John’s funeral features several members of Craig & Nancy’s small group working not just behind the scenes, but speaking from the pulpit. They shower John’s widow Kristine with all the love and affection they’ve shared with John over the years.
Over the past few decades I have done a fair share of funerals, but I have never seen one with such hospitality and kindness.
Such creative, sustainable, reproducible acts of goodness are fulfilling the vision our pastors have for pastoral care provided in and by the small groups. That something like this has caught on and taken off without much input from the pastors has stirred up more love and good works.
I make it through this third weekend looking over my shoulder, meeting with my small group and wondering when our turn will come.
When death comes knocking, will we answer the door? Will we answer the door with fear and trembling? Or with faith, love and goodness?
Dietrich Gruen is a hospice chaplain to the elderly and dying, father of three adult sons, husband of one wife, working out of Madison, WI, where he leads fierce conversations on hot topics.
Previous articles by Dietrich include Using Football Reunions to Pass Kindness to the Next Generation & Win, Lose or Draw, it’s (only) a Game – Not a Matter of Life or Death