Celebrating the Life of Fred Procter
On Tuesday afternoon, last week, I was in here, meeting with a parishioner for spiritual direction and Linda called my cell phone. We both saw her name pop up on the screen and immediately consented to the interruption. You see, ever since Fred entered the hospital, our hearts have been living outside of our bodies hovering around the ICU at Frederick Memorial Hospital. Yearning to share comfort and healing and compassion with the Procter family and all who are missing Fred's presence in their regularly scheduled lives.
I picked up the phone and could hear the intense emotion constricting Linda's intake of breath, she explained that it was time to remove life support and let Fred go.
"Could you come and help us?" She asked. "Is there a way to say some prayers, a ritual to make this more holy?"
"Yes, of course." I responded. "We will be there in 30 minutes." We dropped everything and went to rejoin our hearts at Fred's bedside as we prayed and wept and commended Fred into God's care.
Medicine had exceeded its limits and the only healing left for him was to allow his body stop working so hard to stay alive. We invited sister death to come in and bring her bitter/sweet release from the struggle and the suffering. As death began her work, our hearts took a new position around Fred's bedside. We began the work of sitting vigil.
Vigil is a different way of being present. Vigil asks us to let go of the yearning hope in our hearts for life to go back to normal. Vigil empties our hands of tools and options and decisions to be made. Vigil turns us away from striving towards a new dawn, a new hope, a new sign of renewed life force. Vigil reorients us towards a different horizon. Vigil sets our gaze on things coming to a close, sunsets, letting go, looking for signs of stillness and release. Vigil invites us into peace and trust and a deep faith that God is working with Sister Death to bring Fred into a life of healing intimacy with the divine, seeing God face to face, released from all the brokenness and pain of this life.
Fred is entering a resurrection life that we cannot see directly. Perhaps, though, you have seen glimpses of it, from the corner of your eye? Today, Jesus invites us to believe in a life we have not seen,
"I am resurrection and I am life." He calls out to us.
"Believe in me, do not lose heart."
"Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen in eternal."
For many of you, the reorientation toward vigil and Fred's death came as a surprise. Your hearts were still yearning for healing and a return to life. A return to his office at Miles and Stockbridge. A return to the Middletown High School wrestling matches. A return to conversations and clients and lunches at Crabapples and Cacique. He was only sick with the flu, he only had pneumonia, he's only been in the hospital two weeks. From what you tell me, Fred has always been a fixture in the community of Frederick. From the time he was a student at Hood to his dependable good—natured presence at Miles & Stockbridge, always saying yes to the needs of others. If you didn't get that phone call on Tuesday, if you missed the cue to move from hope to vigil, you may not be ready to turn around and look toward the setting sun. When death comes quickly into our lives, our compass goes a little haywire and the needle spins. It is as if the polarity of the earth just got reversed, north became south, and we are disoriented.
In these circumstances it is normal to reach out to reorient yourself.
"What just happened?"
"How did we underestimate the fragility of life?"
"What could we have done differently?"
All of these questions echo in our heads and are shared as we gather with other disoriented grief—stricken friends and family. We are faced with the very practical and tangible fact of our mortality and the mortality of those we love. Each of us are here only temporarily, we live in an earthly tent and it will be destroyed. Again Jesus calls to us,
"I am the good shepherd."
Jesus reminds us. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my own and my own know me . . I know them each by name and they know the sound of my voice. I will not let even one of my sheep get lost. I will call to them, they will listen to my voice. There will be one flock, one shepherd."
Jesus travels our path of mortality. Jesus knows the journey we make with our hearts from hope, to vigil, to grief . . and ultimately to the resurrection hope of life in God's restorative and healing presence. A place where God wipes away all the tears from our faces. A place where death is swallowed up forever in the loving embrace of God's presence. Jesus is the good shepherd because he walks ahead of Fred, and shows him the way. Jesus walks ahead of all of us and shows us the way to find resurrection life. Beyond mortal hope, beyond the vigil of letting go, Jesus asks us to follow him toward the light of eternal life.
After sitting vigil all night at the hospital, Linda shared with me yesterday that she and Lauren drove home early Wednesday morning, as the sun was coming up. As they drove West toward the Procter house, tired and weary, the sun began to rise in the East. The light from the rising sun, at their back, illumined the mountains, the trees, the air, in a palate warm rose light. They watched as a pink light transformed the world right in front of their eyes.
Linda even commented, "It was literally like looking through rose—colored glasses. The world looked different. All we needed to do was change direction. Every other day we had been driving into the brightness of the rising sun, facing East and making the morning trek to the hospital. Facing into the dawn."
I believe, on Wednesday morning, sister death invited Linda and her family to turn around. "You have stayed with me through the night," she says, "and in the morning, you will see the rose—light of life eternal. The Good Shepherd is calling you. Listen and you will see the resurrection life promised to Fred and to us all."
It has been there all along, just waiting for us to turn around, reorient ourselves with confidence towards a journey that is mapped out by faith and not by sight.
Don't worry if you are still wondering which way to turn.
Don't worry if you cannot delete Fred's contact information from your phone.
Don't worry if you are still looking for Fred to be a fixture in your daily life.
It takes time to get reoriented. Listen for the Good Shepherd to call you by name. Let yourself be turned in a new direction and discover the beautiful vision of eternity that has been waiting there for you all along. Let this vigil of grief, loss, and letting go, help you to commend Fred and yourselves into God's care . . that you may discover the deep truth that we are all the Lord's possession, here for a time, and then moved along to a new horizon. Yet even at the grave, surrounded and infused by the rose—light of God's eternal love, we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
—The Rev. Adrien Dawson
January 29, 2018