I had to fumble around to switch the cord from computer modem to the bedroom phone on my bedside table. Still able to answer on the second ring, I heard a male voice say, "This is the Layton City Police Department. Is this Kurt?"
It did not immediately occur to me that I was still the volunteer Police Chaplain on call for the week, as the dispatcher addressed me by my first name sans title. So my first thought was as to whether everyone in my family had gotten home safe and sound from their Friday night’s activities. This is no small thing, given that includes three sons, two of whom drive and one of whom has a wife and infant living with us – especially since late the night before they had taken my little granddaughter to the after hours clinic. Had I heard anyone leave earlier in the morning?
The next words from the dispatch officer helped clarify things and set my mind more at ease, "Did you get our page?"
Officially being on call only once every six weeks, I had forgotten to turn it on. But now I knew this was a business call, and I had become wide awake in a hurry. As I told him I had not received the page, my mind automatically shifted to the mental exercise of preparation for dealing with a tragedy in the community. Had the early snow triggered a traffic fatality?
No, I was being called to the scene of an unexplained death. A twelve-year-old girl had perished in her sleep. Now, to be sure, no chaplain call out is a pleasant task. But anything involving a child ratchets up the emotions exponentially, and raises such specters as drugs, suicide, and abuse.
After a quick, hot shower and shave, I arrived at the home at 9:25. There were three officers on the scene, including the shift commander – a sergeant. The sergeant met me outside and took me in to meet the parents. The house was already full with relatives and friends of the family. From what I could piece together during the course of the morning, the young lady was a foster child who had been with the family for most of her life. She leaves behind two little sisters and two little brothers, as well as her mom and dad.
I spoke with the deeply distraught and despairing mother first. Dad looked rather numb in trying to be the pillar and port in the storm as he communicated and coordinated with the officers and family members. I inquired of him as to the family’s religious affiliation and/or pastoral contact. Not surprisingly for this area, they were LDS, but had not been active for quite some time. As I was making phone calls outside to determine who the bishop was that served their ward, and how to contact him, a soft-spoken young man introduced himself as the new bishop – a neighbor from across the street who came over after seeing the commotion and squad cars.
At this point my duties pretty much came to an end. After I made sure that the bishop had met the father, I left them to get acquainted and went inside to say my goodbyes to the mother. Having not had the opportunity previously, I asked Mom if she would like to hear the Word of God and have a prayer with me before I left. She agreed, and as we finished the bishop came to the bottom of the stairs, politely – and it seemed even somewhat gratefully – listening as he waited for me to finish. I am not sure how long he had been standing there, but as I left he was gracious in his thanks and clasped my arm – almost a hug really – as he shook my hand.
My final concern was to make sure the police officers were doing okay, and had no more need of my services. As I took my leave from the scene, the medical examiner (M.E.) was going about his investigation. Given the age of the deceased, her complaint of some back pain the day before, and some illness in the household, there was some concern that we might be dealing with an infectious disease such as meningitis. The shift commander who told me this, shared my concern of taking this home to our own families. When I somewhat sheepishly asked for his antibacterial hand lotion, he told me not to feel silly about it, he had already used it a couple of times himself. He also promised to keep in touch as to the M.E.’s findings.
My last contact before leaving was with the officer who was writing out a report as he sat in his squad car and monitored the situation outside. I asked if he was doing all right. He replied in the affirmative, but commented, "Mom sure is angry with God right now."
Indeed! Mom had alternated between asking why God would take her precious daughter, and imploring how He could do this to her and her family. They had already been through so much trouble together.
Basically, I told him the same thing as I told Mom:
"I can’t blame her. I’m sure I’d be angry with God too. We all get angry with Him. It’s part of the grieving process and our way of dealing with the pain and uncertainty that we are experiencing. While He has the whole picture before Him, and does all things out of His perfect justice, mercy and love for *all* people, we only know what we are experiencing. And it ain’t pleasant or pretty at all."
He nodded agreement, and indicated he needed to get back to work. Since I had entered the home once more after speaking with the shift commander, I asked to use his antibacterial agent. He had it close at hand, as if just having used it himself. He sprayed a copious amount of the foam into my hand, and I thanked him for his service as I rubbed it in up to my forearm. He quite genuinely returned the sentiment, we shook hands, and wished each other well. I’m not sure he heard my "The Lord be with you," as I turned and walked toward my vehicle, which was idling to take off the chill. But as he went back to scratching out his report, I perceived a little nod and a muffled, "thanks."
The drizzle picked up its intensity as I flipped the handle of my Mazda6. As I buckled up, the warmth inside shook out one last shiver, and I hoped that I would have another opportunity someday to give him the rest of the story, one I thankfully was able to share with the mother, and which was overheard by the friend who had been at her side since my arrival as well as her bishop:
"Yes, I agree, what you are experiencing is truly horrible. I can’t tell you not to be angry. Your world isn’t a happy place at all right now. But it isn’t supposed to be! Death isn’t God’s desired result for us at all. It only comes because God has something better in mind for us than this world full of all sorts evil and distress"
Mom nodded right away, so I told her I was sure she knew exactly what Job went though – and then some. I asked her if she remembered what Job prayed in His distress?
"No? Well they are truly amazing words! Certainly not what I would think to say if I had lost my family like he had, or if I were in your shoes right now. But I hope they give you some comfort. He said, as we read from Scripture:
"Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
That they were engraved on a rock with an iron pen and lead, forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." Job 19:23-27 nkj
And in the Gospel of John, we hear of another who is grieving the death of a beloved family member, "Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. ‘But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’" John 11:20-27 nkj
"Almighty God, Father of mercies and God of all comfort, deal graciously with this dear family and all who mourn that, casting every care on You, they may know the consolation of Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."
I closed with this hymn, which like the above readings and prayer, comes from the LSB Pastoral Care Companion:
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul; your best, your heav’nly Friend
Through many thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in this vale of tears;
Then you will better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.
Be still, my soul; your Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, loves purest joys restored.
Be still my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
"The Lord be with you, my dear."
And with you my dear brothers and sisters.