"Do you have a faith or faith community?” I asked the young woman. Who gets asked that at 3AM in the morning, right? Someone who found her husband deceased in their bed when turning in for the night after watching TV in the other room. That’s who on this night a week ago. The husband wasn’t feeling well earlier in the evening, and she sent him to bed while she stayed up to watch a movie. “Well, he was Greek Orthodox but doesn’t attend church anymore and I don’t attend anywhere,” she responded after I asked the faith question. I had been there for almost three hours up to that point while waiting for the coroner to arrive. He was delayed after being on scene of a jumper on the tracks of BART. By 3AM her two siblings and their spouses had shown up along with her mother. I had a room full of people in the small living room.
Their little apartment was elegantly decorated for the holidays. Even had two Christmas trees. I could tell she was meticulous about her decorating. As you might imagine, she was in shock vacillating between sobbing and being in utter disbelief. He had no significant health issues, so this was completely unexpected. As often is the case, finding a loved one unconscious and not breathing, calling 911 and then being instructed to perform CPR is very traumatic, to say the least. This night was a point on her timeline of life which was going to chart a new course for her life. She didn't know it but felt it in a profound way. I was so glad she had family able to be there for her. It was a room full of brokenhearted heading into the holidays.
The coroner finally arrived and went into the bedroom with a deputy to investigate and prepare the body for removal. I couldn’t imagine how he does that job. Coming from the carnage of the train tracks to the tragedy facing this young woman and her family. I prepared the woman for what the coroner was about to do and I asked if she would like to see her husband one last time. She said she would so I went into the bedroom to ask if that would be OK and found the two struggling to lift the already bagged large man from the far corner of the room, as there wasn’t enough room between the dresser, bed and bedroom door. I offered to help. On occasion, I’ll end up helping move a body which is always a bit surreal to me. We struggled to get him up and over the bed and out the door. I thought to myself in the middle of the effort, “All my friends are sleeping right now and I’m wrestling with a dead body.” Who does that, right? "Who are you, Nick!?"
After spending a few minutes with her husband on the living room floor the coroner left and I had a moment with the family. Since they weren’t religious and out of respect, I didn’t try to evangelize them in the throes of grief. Matter of fact, most my life I haven't really evangelized anyone in the practice what evangelicals call “evangelism,” you know...Billy Graham style, Four Spiritual Laws, "if you died tonight...", Jesus saves sort of evangelism. In these settings I do always offer to pray if a family would like that. This woman politely declined.
This woman was so crushed that I decided to speak to something that might give her a glimmer of hope, Nick style. I said, “I believe we all have a spirit that makes us alive and conscious beings. When the body gives up, I don’t believe that is the end. It may feel like your husband is gone but do you really believe that is the end of it? I don’t. In some mysterious way I can’t explain, I believe there is another realm where our true identity intact with our spirit survives and thrives and somehow related to God. Do you sense that too about your husband?” She gently nodded her head.
I didn’t know what else to say other than how sorry I was that she lost the love of her life. I said my goodbyes, and everyone was very appreciative of my being there and being helpful. I do very little really. Just be present with those who are hurting. Often, that is all the hurting need…the power of presence. You all would, will and have done the same in some difficult setting.
As we celebrate another Christmas, we remember Jesus. I want to remember the Jesus that points us to the other realm where the spirit of mankind eventually returns. You can have the religious Jesus, which some have made him out to be these past few thousand years. I’ll settle for the loving Jesus who offers hope in a perpetually dying world, as beautiful as it is and as precious as life is.. We are all heading to another realm for which the ressurection gives us the ultimate hope. In the meantime, the way of Jesus is to be present with others. Truly present, not just in mind and body…but in spirit where the Spirit of God meets us...and them. The true Spirit/spirit of Christmas.