Oniontown Pastoral: A Season for Holding Hands

Oniontown Pastoral: A Season for Holding Hands

Dear Mom:

It’s been 21 years, and I miss you more than ever. Can you look over my shoulder and read my words from your place in glory? May it be so.

The urge to write you has been strong lately, and I know why. This is a season for holding hands. My St. John’s family has been saying goodbyes, glancing toward heaven and longing for miracles. When we’re not actually crying, tears still try to push out from behind our eyes.

My job, of course, is to show up at hospitals or nursing homes or, best of all, home-sweet-homes with a satchel full of hope. You know, Mom, the promises we foolish Christians bet our lives on, the prayers we remember even when our minds have left us stranded, psalms about “goodness and mercy,” the hills “from whence cometh our help” and the night that “shineth as the day.” And Holy Communion, for sure.

One zipper pouch is a crumbled mess of humor, like the loose Kleenex you stuffed into your purse. Life, I’ve learned, doesn’t stop being funny or absurd because time grows short. Anyway, laughter generally refuses to let weeping wander off alone. But you already knew that, didn’t you? How clear everything must be to you now.

What makes me think of you most is handholding. Again, I know why. As death draws near, prayers and Scripture want a special amen: one hand cradling another. No seminary education is required to do this part of my job. You taught me all I need to know, and for going on 20 years, I’ve been sharing your motherly touch with folks in my care. Gentle, light, quietly abiding, that’s how it is and has been.

Art. July of 2015. He decided to forgo dialysis and surrender. Settling back in the hospital bed, he said, “Now, help me through the door.” I held his hand, rough, smaller than mine, and cried without him noticing. He already had his eyes fixed on the Promise.

Quen. This October. Such big-boned hands, powerful in his prime. How many times did I hold them and say, “You’re a good man, Quen. You’ve been a good husband and father”?

“Well,” he said, his voice more faint and raspy by the month, “I sure have tried.”

He passed after his family and I joined hands around his bed and talked to God. Quen’s daughter drew on his forehead a cross with the perfumed oil of anointing, which marked him still when he breathed his last.

And Shirley. Last week. Her hands reminded me of you, Mom. Same soft, fragile skin, warm and giving as yours were. Shirley’s rested as if already in repose. I sheltered them under my own, leaned in close, whispered Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer and told her it was OK for her to go. About four hours later she did just that.

Your Christmas cactus lives, Mom.

Your hand was pale purple, chilly and bloated the last time I held it. I spoke words of love and gratitude that will remain between us. A couple times you moved that clumsy, heavy hand, poked raw by needles and punished by arthritis. Were you trying to say that you could hear me?

When I left town, things could have gone either way. Maybe the sepsis would take you, but maybe not. I had to get back to seminary, back to Columbus. “What good can I do here?” I thought—a rationalization and a question.

Now I know. Honest to God, a couple days ago I almost had to pull off the road when the answer grabbed me by the throat: “Here’s what good you could have done, John. You could have held your mother’s hand until she died.”

Oh, Mom, you were so sick and senseless, fogged in by troubling dreams. Maybe you were out of touch, but that doesn’t matter. I should have stayed. I should have kept holding your hand.

In heaven unfinished business has to be checked at the gate. Right? Even so, I’m really sorry.

You wouldn’t want me to punish myself over this. But please understand, every time I hold a hand, I also reach out to where you are. And when I drive to Oniontown homes to comfort pilgrims on their last journey, part of me is a much younger man turning his car around and heading north, back to your bedside to help you through the door of a house with many mansions.

Love,

John

14 thoughts on “Oniontown Pastoral: A Season for Holding Hands

  1. From Les Miller. Enjoy. Concerns pastoral comforting at time of sickness/death.

    On Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 9:06 PM A Napper’s Companion wrote:

    > John Coleman posted: “Oniontown Pastoral: A Season for Holding Hands Dear > Mom: It’s been 21 years, and I miss you more than ever. Can you look over > my shoulder and read my words from your place in glory? May it be so. The > urge to write you has been strong lately, and I ” >

  2. As always, your post touched my very soul! I have thought a lot about death since my mother died when i was 15! One of my constant thoughts is that i just want someone to hold my hand until i cross. I will share this post with my two wonderful sons, so that they can fulfill my wish, as I know they will want to do. Thank you.

      • Thank you, dear one. I have faith!! My greatest gift (aside from my children and grands). You have no idea how you comfort me, especially since losing my beloved pastor of 31 years this year. Thank you. xx’s

  3. What I have observed over many years is that each person chooses their exact moment of passing. For some it is that precise time when a family member steps out of the room. In my Mother’s last days she shared her vision of glory with me. It was the middle of the night and I sat at her bedside holding her hand. It was difficult to understand her words. She communicated that she wanted me to see the most beautiful roses in all different colors. I have peace knowing that glory surpasses our understanding. Thank you Mother!

    • Amen, Cathy! I appreciate that turn of phrase, “knowing that glory surpasses our understanding.” I plan to steal it, though I’ll give you credit.

    • Whoa, that song has lots of good feels! Actually, I was grateful to be at Mom’s bedside, too. She was unforgettable. Much love.

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