Monday, December 12, 2005

December 3, 2005 - Telling Family

I call my mother in the morning. She acts as shocked as Jim and Dave did. The news is so big, she seems to have a hard time taking in all the details. Sensing denial – that predictable side-effect of life-shaking experiences – I carefully repeat several key points. After the call, I send her an e-mail putting some of the facts into writing, including also some links to a few medical web pages. It is, indeed, a lot to take in all at once.

Claire calls a couple of her sisters, and asks them to spread the word to the rest of the family. She tells her sister Eva, and also Eva’s kids, Cory and Elizabeth. I phone my cousin Eric, and ask him to tell his side of the family.

I phone Min, our church’s Clerk of Session (the Session is the local church’s governing board in the Presbyterian system). I tell her my news, and tell her I’m calling a special Session meeting for the next morning. I ask her to phone her fellow Elders – asking her not to state the reason for the meeting, just to say it’s important. (This is something I prefer to tell the Session members myself.)

There is no game plan for how to do this sort of thing. Our denominational constitution, the Book of Order, offers no help for such a fundamentally disordered situation. Were I accepting a call to another church, there are well-thought-out procedures to follow. But for a pastor trying to figure out how to tell the church’s elected leadership about a newly-diagnosed, life-threatening illness, there is no guidance. Common sense is the only guide.

I phone Lynn, our church’s Personnel Committee chair, a psychological counselor by profession. She expresses shock and grief, and offers emotional support. She marvels at the way I am delivering this information so dispassionately. I second-guess myself, after concluding the conversation with her. How am I dealing with this, after all? Am I adequately in touch with my feelings? In making all these calls, in fulfilling my responsibilities as pastor and moderator of the Session, am I merely covering up my pain with a veneer of task-oriented competence?

No, I conclude. I’m having a hard enough time with this, but I’m simply enacting a plan I’d worked out ahead of time, in consultation with Bill, our executive presbyter. Lynn and others are hearing this news for the first time; I’ve had several weeks to come to terms with it.

With all the chaos swirling around, I’m holding onto my role as pastor like a life raft. In the face of an out-of-control situation, there’s some comfort in trying to exercise control in at least one area of life. Keep a cool head. Be a non-anxious presence. Do what needs to be done. I’ve always been good at that sort of thing, when it comes to the crises of others. Now, I muse to myself, I seem to be doing the same in the midst of my own crisis. What choice do I have, anyway?

The circle of knowledge is growing ever larger.

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