Friday, January 22, 2010


I was two steps behind the doctor as we hurried into the consultation room.  3 men and 1 woman sat waiting.  The doctor jumped in.  "I'm so sorry Ma'am, I have bad news.  James didn't make it." 

That is a horrible moment.  To witness that shock, the unbelief, the confusion. Wild grief is volatile and unpredictable.  It is hard to be with someone on that roller coaster.  To listen as she calls her daughter and his brother and is hardly able to speak.  To have her look at me and ask "what happened again?" To put my hand on her shaking arm willing her strength.  That intensity of grief is contagious.  I had to remind myself "this is not you."

Soon the doctor left us alone and over the next two hours the story unfolded with weeping and laughter.

The three men and James had worked together for years in an industrial adhesive company.  One look at my confused face and they admitted "Ok, it's a glue factory....but without the horses." We all cracked up.

James had been a widower for many years and work was his whole life.  These men were his family and buddies for long shifts every week.

His only other outlet was online poker.  He played in the evenings and on the weekends.  One day he played against Joan.  She beat him.  After the game they kept chatting.

Within 3 months Joan had moved to Spartanburg.  In one year they had married.  "We were old and we knew what we wanted," Joan told us.  The factory buddies told her that James had never been as happy as he was these last two years.  The kleenex box was passed around the room.

The men began to tell Joan work stories.  Like the time James crashed the fork lift.  The practical jokes he liked to play on Smith.  How willing he was to switch shifts when one of them needed to. How he knew everything about an assembly line but couldn't change the oil on his truck to save his life.  How everyday he had two ham sandwiches for lunch.  "Who do you think has been making those stupid sandwiches for the last two years?" Joan piped up.

Then it was her turn to talk.  About the trip they were planning.  About the little tidbits from these men's lives she'd picked up as James talked about his day.

The coroner came in needing details of James' collapse at work.  The day was dissected.  From the moment James said he needed to get a little fresh air, to when he started vomiting, to when he borrowed a phone to call Joan, ("he said he loved me and would call back when he caught his breath") to when he passed out.

Suddenly two hours had passed.  Family members were arriving. These strangers had become friends.  I loved these earnest men giving Joan their phone numbers and promising food and transportation and friendship.  I loved this grieving woman, hugging me tightly,  who had, until today, been enjoying a second chance at true love.  Somehow, in that little room,  we had all gotten her through the worst two hours of her life.

Out in the hall I passed a nurse who looked at me sympathetically and said "wow, you have such a horrible job."  Yeah.  Horrible. And yet wonderful too.  Tonight I got to be part of the glue that held this group together.

God existed before anything else, and God holds all creation together.  Colossians 1:17

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