In his latest On the Square column, Lutheran pastor Russell E. Saltzman shares stories of comforting the dying:
I have been called to numerous death beds, and I would like to say I have learned many things about the dignity of Christian death, but I cannot say so. Death is an indignity of the first order; that’s all I know.
My feelings are complicated by an acute sense of inadequacy for the occasion. Something noble and fearless should arise to match the solemnity of the moment, but rarely does. There is little telling pastors what to do at deathbeds beyond prayer book rubrics, nothing to instruct us on how to be an authentic pastoral presence. I am struck by the paucity of the verbal repertoire I possess. I rely on the prayer book, old words that are not my own, wondering always if they are enough. In Freedom for Ministry Richard Neuhaus spoke of the “seeming absurdity” of ministry and the clarity of his description never seems keener than when I confront the deathbed of a parishioner.