Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15, 2006 - Farewell To a Friend

(This is one of the vacation blog entries I said I'd be sending... no frills, no pictures, posted from the computer in the local public library.)

I've just dropped a sympathy card into the mailbox for Bill, a retired minister in our presbytery. I received news, via e-mail, of the death of Dottie, his wife - also a retired minister in our presbytery.

Dottie and I had known each other a long time. Back in my days of working as a seminary administrator (Director of Admissions and Assistant Dean at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary), she had been a colleague, directing the Field Education Program at Princeton Seminary. Then - after my return to parish ministry - when I was chairing the Committee on Preparation for Ministry of Monmouth Presbytery, Dottie served very ably as a member of that committee. She subsequently retired from her seminary-administrator job (a couple of times, as I recall).

Somewhere along the line, she married Bill, a widowed retired minister whom I've also known for a long time. He and I served together on the staff of the Presbyterian Church of Toms River, where I was an associate pastor in the early 1980s, and where he - then, recently retired - was working part-time doing pastoral visitation.

More recently, Dottie came into my life in another capacity - as a fellow cancer survivor. She had been battling ovarian cancer in recent years. I wrote about her in a blog entry a few months back, after she showed up unexpectedly during one of my chemo sessions, and sat with me for a while (she went to the same medical group for her treatments, and just happened to be there for a doctor's appointment on the day of my treatment).

Many months before, we had run into each other at the outpatient-testing sign-in area at Ocean Medical Center, as I'd been nervously arranging for the CT scan that would confirm that I have lymphoma. Back then, I wasn't willing to tell Dottie why I was there, and she was wise enough not to press it.

Dottie was one of those people who imparted a great deal of strength to those around her. I felt that inner strength on the day she stopped by during my chemo treatment - even though I knew she was engaged, at the time, in the fight of her life. She ministered to me that day. She prayed with me. And for those gifts, I was grateful.

Now, Dottie has moved on to the next step in the journey that is life. Now, her life "is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Claire and I are too far away, on vacation in the northern Adirondacks of New York, to make the trip down for the memorial service this weekend. So, a sympathy card is about all I can do for Bill right now.

That, and to remember Dottie fondly, and with respect. She and I were fellow members of the Cancer Underground. Being members of that exclusive group means that - more than in most communities - we must be ready, from time to time, to say goodbye.

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