Thursday, November 12, 2009

Healing Broken Hearts

The powder blast of a slab avalanche.

I had been in my first pastorate in a small mountain town in Southwest Colorado for a couple of months when a snow plow driver was caught in an avalanche. Ministers are supposed to know what to say and do at times like this, and despite the fact that I had no connection with the family other than the fact that we lived in the same town, I was called and naturally, I went.

The scene was chaotic, to put it mildly. All that we knew at the time was, his snow plow had been swept away in a massive slide and rescue workers were laboring to find any sign him or the vehicle. What makes a slide so lethal is a matter of physics. The mass of snow multiplied by its velocity equals the force with which it strikes an object. Tons of heavy, wet autumn snow moving at an estimated five hundred miles per hour had shoved his dump truck off the road and onto the side of a mountain as easily as you might wipe crumbs from a table.

I was so inexperienced at the time I had absolutely no idea what to say. Somehow I fumbled through and introduced myself, then tried to offer some word of comfort and support from my parish. What they wanted was news rather than comfort, and I had none of the former and felt woefully inadequate to provide the latter. The arrival of family was timely because, at that moment, the phone rang and the search had been turned into a recovery effort. His body wasn't found until spring.

On the way home, I wondered if I was ever going to be of use to anyone as a minister. My education had done little to prepare me for something like this. It was literally like being thrown into a lake and told to swim when you've never done anything except read about it. All the theory in the world can't help you overcome the panic long enough to remember to kick your legs.

I'm mentioning this experience because it's very similar to what medical students go through when they have a patient die for the first time. You question yourself, wonder if perhaps you shouldn't have gone to law school instead, and yet, somehow you fumble your way through. People can be quite forgiving and if you're sensitive and concerned, they'll appreciate it. You don't have to be gifted, you don't even have to be "doctorly," you just have to be genuine. Genuine really does go a long way when you're trying to help heal broken hearts.

(Public domain image via Wikipedia)
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