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The Pain of Loss

"Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer." (Psalm 4:1, NRSV)

The bishop assigned me to a new appointment at a church where Ms. Minnie was a member. Shortly before I arrived at the church in this rural community, Ms. Minnie's family moved her to an assisted living facility due to dementia. The move was against Ms. Minnie's will, but it was necessary. Her son asked me to go by and visit with her as soon as possible. He hoped I could offer some supportive words that would help her adjust to her new living situation. I was young, naïve, and more than willing to go, totally unaware of the trap set for me.

On Monday, when I arrived at the facility, I was impressed with the neatly manicured landscaping and the bright-eyed and happy residents who were milling around on the front porch. Some played cards or checkers, while others just sat in rocking chairs chatting with one another. Indeed, Ms. Minnie would come to love this community if she could just give it a chance. The staff was friendly and, recognizing I was a stranger, asked if they could help. When I told them I was the new pastor at the United Methodist Church and was there to see Ms. Minnie, they eagerly offered to help me find her room. It seems they were expecting me—which should have been a clue.

A nursing assistant escorted me down a hallway that ended with double steel doors secured with an electronic lock. He buzzed us in with his key card, and the doors opened to a stark hallway of doors. At the end of the hall was the nurses' station, and we headed straight there. Before we even got close, my guide announced to the nurse at the desk, "This is Rev. Cohen, and he's here to help us with Ms. Minnie." I knew then I was definitely in trouble if the nursing staff needed help with Ms. Minnie!

The formerly docile and genteel Ms. Minnie had been replaced with an angry and mean person. She scowled at me the minute I walked in and started in on everything she already knew she didn't like about her new preacher. I did my best to practice patience. After about 20 minutes of her spitting and cussing about this and that, she finally calmed down. She looked at me and, with the kindest eyes, said, "Preacher, what did I do so wrong that made them put me in prison?" My heart broke for her. I knew that no matter how much I tried to explain to her about the disease that took her mind, she wouldn't grasp the situation's complexity. All she knew was that she was in prison and couldn't think of anything she'd done wrong.

Her family was hurting, too. That's why they desperately hoped I could offer some help and hope to Ms. Minnie in understanding her impossible situation. I can't say I ever looked forward to my visits with Ms. Minnie because not only was she helpless, but I was helpless, too. Still, I went to be with her and to demonstrate God's love as best I could. Sometimes, that's all we can do.

Losses come in all shapes and sizes. This week in our "Focusing Our Lives" series, I'm exploring the importance of embracing our grief and loss as a path toward healing. I hope you'll join us.

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