Minister's Corner: Love one another

Chaplain Bill Simpson
Supervisor pastoral/spiritual care

In my role as a hospital chaplain, I’ve had opportunity to be with countless individuals at, or just after, their death. I am regularly struck, though, by just how different these experiences can be. Frequently, there are a few family members gathered. Sometimes, there’s a large gathering of family and friends. Occasionally, there is no one else present.

The reasons for this diversity are many – the age of the decedent, for instance. The oldest among us often outlive friends and family. Too, the circumstances of a person’s passing play a role. If the death is sudden and unexpected, others frequently rally in large number to support the immediate family. Conversely, if a person passes quietly after a long illness, it’s often a more personal and private experience. Often the biggest factor, though, is the life a person lived. Did he/she build many meaningful relationships? Were his/her relationships strained or even broken because of choices that had been made?

My father, gone over twelve years now, spent the last seven years of his life in a nursing home after experiencing a major stroke. My mother was faithfully present twice a day virtually every day of those seven years. My sisters and I made frequent trips to visit, too, and in the course of those visits, we got to know some of the other residents and staff at dad’s nursing home.

One of those individuals was a tablemate of my father for several of those years. We’ll call him “Richard,” and my father ate three meals a day with him. Richard was a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, almost always sporting a Cardinals’ ball cap. He also liked to smoke and would roll his wheelchair out to the back patio several times a day, year-round, to do so. And though he had a son who lived in the same small community, Richard’s son rarely visited.

On one of my visits, I learned that Richard had been a drummer. As we talked about it at the table one day, Richard described himself as “a ‘skins’ man” (jazz lingo for a drummer). Given Richard’s age and his involvement in jazz music, I began to wonder if the judgmental opinion of his son I’d formed so easily was entirely accurate. At this point in his life, Richard was gentle and easy-going, but I also knew that the lifestyle often associated with many jazz musicians of Richard’s era didn’t necessarily lend itself to strong family relationships.

Fast forward to a hospital room I was in one day. The dying patient and spouse had adopted quite a number of children over the years, and many were present at the bedside. Too, they had other immediate and extended family present. The patient was middle-aged and still quite active, as well. These factors combined to elicit a relatively large group at the bedside and a far larger group at the funeral days later.

Certainly, the lives of Richard and our hospital patient were not the only factors in how many people gathered or how often they visited, but it seems reasonable that it was at least one of the factors involved. And, to be sure, I don’t want to live my life simply to gather a crowd when my time comes. My goal in life is to honor God in all I do and to bear witness to God’s love by the way I love others.

I John 4:7-8 remind us to “love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If I faithfully love others, as God calls me to do, it won’t really matter how many people gather when I die. Ultimately, the number of people who show up isn’t what’s most important. That which is most important is responding to God’s love myself and, in turn, sharing that same love with those around me. Showing love to others doesn’t earn God’s love for me, but it certainly reflects having experienced God’s love in my own life.

“Love one another, for love comes from God.”