14 December 2006

Figuring out how to say, "goodbye"

I got a surprising letter today at church from my friend, Bill. It was a three-page typed and single-spaced letter thanking me for hunting him down because he is dying and he wanted the chance to say goodbye.
Bill was my supervising pastor in seminary and I worked as his associate for three years. He is a great guy -- funny and clever and intelligent and kind. His sermons were always incredibly thoughtful and full of integrity -- I don't think he ever "cheated" and stole an idea or a passage from some other fine preacher. His office was always slightly messy, which I appreciated, and more than anything else, he taught me that while ministry is incredibly important, it is not most important thing that I or anyone else can do. More important to him than his relationship with one church or another is his relationship with God. And his family. And he has always figured out how to make the first things, the first things, which, I am finding, is sometimes a rare quality in ministers.
Turns out that Bill has been struck with aggressive leukemia. He is basically confined to the house or has to wear a mask when interacting with people. His sister is being tested to be a blood marrow donor, though the chance of her being a match is a 1 in 4 chance. His doctors are advocating an aggressive therapy involving chemotherapy and radiation, but there is also a 1 in 4 chance he will die from it, so he's decided not to do it and instead bank on the marrow transplant.
In the meantime, he is praying and meditating and preparing himself for death. He is telling people he loves that he loves them and is writing music, which he has always loved to do, and he is getting his memorial service together.
This letter to me contained his latest hymn and a request to come to Kentucky and sing for the funeral, if I could manage it, whenever that funeral is. While we are both hoping it won't be for many years, we both know it could be much sooner.
Last night and this morning, I've been writing a letter back to him. He didn't send me his email address, so this letter has to violate what seems to be official McClure policy on letter-sending -- write the letter, put a stamp on it and carry it around in one's car for a month or so. I am trying to bring him up to date on our lives and thank him for his influence in my life.
But, I confess, I am having a hard time figuring out how to do that without the melodrama I wish that I could pour into this letter. Melodrama is not appropriate. Bill is able to maintain levity and perspective and hope, even amidst the most dismal of circumstances. His eyes are focused on the Big Picture, as always. I must honor him by doing the same.
But I also want him to know that his request is more than "no-big-deal." It is an honor that he would ask me to remember his life in song and one that means a great deal to me. And preparing to say goodbye, is not easy for me and not welcome and not fair. And also not about me.
So. I'm tying up my love in a poorly-worded letter and trusting that the Spirit will add what I cannot seem create myself.


Anonymous said...

thanks April for sharing a very touching blog today. very well said. i recall how lucky you were in KY to have worked with such a good minister. prayers toward Bill....

Anonymous said...

I know you, and I know that you will be able to say what needs to be said. If you could write the blog that you just did, you can tell Bill how you feel. I will pray for you, and for him and his family. I hope his sister is a match. Keep us updated. I actually think I got to meet him once when I came down to Kentucky to visit you, if I remember correctly. Anyway, I know how much he means to you, and I am sorry that this is happening, but at the same time, I know that he is in God's hands (however corny it might sound, it's true).