Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Holiday obits, especially painful for prisoners!

The loss of family members and loved ones seems more painful when death occurs in holiday seasons.  My only sister was killed by a drunk driver at Thanksgiving time.  Marcia’s dad died at Christmas time.  My father died when we were welcoming a New Year.  In my humble opinion, though, the pain seems worse when it must be suffered alone. 

I’m mindful of that during this week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, because people are hurting as the result of two recent deaths in my circle of friends.  I invite you to note the dramatic differences between these two stories.

My good friend Fred Groen died on December 17.  He was a charter member of HIS MEN, the Christian male chorus that I founded in 1972, and that I directed for 21 years.  Fred was one of only three charter members still actively involved in the ensemble.  He failed to recover from critical heart surgery, after struggling in the hospital for three months.  BUT, he and his wife Bev were able to discuss all possibilities before he underwent surgery, she was able to be at his bedside during the torturous 90 day period, all family members were able to be in Holland at the time of his passing to console and comfort each other, and a beautiful memorial service was staged in his home church including three touching presentations by HIS MEN.  Beautiful.

Now for a story of contrast.

My good friend Mark lost his mother on Christmas Eve.  Mark is in prison on a wrongful conviction.  He’s from the state of New York, and that’s where his mother and step-father lived.  She was failing both mentally and physically, and the family knew that the end was near.  But no one could be near Mark at this difficult time.  And he wasn’t able to be at her bedside in her final hours. He had to hear about his mother’s passing by telephone.  The closest thing to family and friends are his classmates in a Calvin College program where he is enrolled in Ionia…a relationship that has been terribly important right now.  When we chatted today, he wanted to talk about his mom. “She was the only constant in my life,” he said.  “From the day I was born until the day she died, she was there for me, she believed in me, and even when health was failing she visited whenever possible.” 

Mark cannot attend a memorial service.  Family and friends can’t surround him with memories, hugs and condolences.  He’s behind bars.  At the very least, we’re going to do our best to see if he can get permission to watch a video of the memorial service. But even that is not a sure thing. 

Grief is no discriminator of persons.  May God grant comfort to members of both families.

As I reflect on this today, I’m so grateful that walls and bars and barbed wire cannot hinder or stall or prevent the peace that passes all understanding.




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