When told of a death I usually call the deceased one’s home to express my condolences to the bereaved family members and to offer to assist with the making of funeral arrangements. With the subject family member still alive, my call was generally not well received. On one occasion the supposed deceased person happened to answer the phone. That made for a rather clumsy conversation with me having very little to say.
I had started calling ahead because of an experience I had during my student ministry days. Even though it was before the days of speed dial, someone must have had the parsonage number on some form of speed dial. Answering the phone one afternoon, a voice I did not recognize said, “Bobbie Glenn just died,” and hung up. A little short on information I headed for the Glenn’s home, located on the outskirts of our tiny Kentucky community. After a very short drive, I arrived and found the front door standing open. I stepped inside and a profoundly distraught family ran to me and said, pointing down the hallway, “He’s in there.” I walked down the hallway, dodging wailing family running around in circles and calling out incoherently, and looked into the first bedroom. I then glanced into the bathroom and saw Bobbie sprawled on the floor and, indeed, looking quite dead. This was before my many years working in EMS and was my first time seeing a freshly dead body. I considered just getting back in my car and returning home. Pride forced me to seek to be more helpful and I suggested to the family that it might be a good idea to call the funeral home; which they did. Good sense dictated that in the future I call before going.
We had a premature announcement of a death in our family. When our two oldest children, Mack and Meg, were just entering grade school we lived in Stanford, a small town in central Illinois. It seemed a good time to get a dog. We purchased a beautiful little Shetland Sheep dog (They look like miniature collies.) and named her Kelly. She was a joy and the whole family just adored her.
One summer week we sent the kids off with their grandparents to spend a couple of days in the country with the great grandparents. Kids are great but sometimes a little break from them seemed a good idea. After a couple of days my wife and I made the trip Kentucky to pick the kids up and bring them home. My mother-in-law (Who was such a sweet person.) met us at the door and tearfully told us she was so sorry to hear that our dog had died. I was surprised at the announcement since the last thing I had done before leaving home was to feed the dog. And she seemed very much alive at the time. I asked her where she had heard that news. She said, “Mack told me that Kelly died.”
Mack. How does one describe Mack? Even as a child he was an interesting and complex person. I good looking kid with bright red hair, big blue eyes and a patch of freckles scattered across his nose. He had a wonderful laugh and, even as a toddler, loved a good joke. He was the leader of the other children and often led them into some very imaginative play scenarios. He was smart with a great imagination.
I was the father and one of my children had obviously told a big old hairy lie. Something must be done and it was my job to address this misdeed. So I called Mack in from whatever he was doing for a confrontation. I took a seat on the couch, up close to the edge so I could be nose to nose and eye to eye with the little liar. I stood him right in front of me for the questioning to begin. Knowing Mack, I knew I would have to catch him off guard. I thought I had the perfect approach. I looked directly into his deep blue eyes and said, “Mack, I just heard that Kelly died.” Without batting an eye, with the sweetest, most sincere look on his face, he replied, “You know, I heard that too.”
Good Lord, how do you respond to that? I was the father… the disciplinarian… the regulator of his moral compass. I had only one choice. I laughed until tears ran down my face and my abdomen cramped. Mack just smiled at me and went back to playing. The dog lived and so did the child. It was a good day.
Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.