DEAR ABBY: I am a pastor and just received word that a parishioner died yesterday. "Harold" had been hospitalized for a week in another city, and I wasn't notified. A member of his family said, "We didn't know if we should bother you or not." The saddest part is, I was in that city the night before he died, seeing another parishioner. It would have been easy to visit Harold.
Abby, permit me to share three reasons why I want to be "bothered" in the future:
First: The one who is ill is entitled to the care and support of his or her faith community. I have sat at the side of persons who appear nonresponsive, taken their hands and told them who I am. Their hand frequently tightens around mine. When I say familiar prayers, their lips move in concert with mine. Spiritual leaders of other faiths report similar experiences.
Second: My presence may be physically and spiritually helpful to the family and friends of the patient. Many congregations provide networks of contacts for social agencies, additional medical specialists, and even respite care groups within the congregation.
Third: The ill person may have confided his or her wishes regarding maintenance of life, burial and funeral arrangements to his or her spiritual leader. When people come to me to discuss their wishes, I file that information in a secure place. (I also encourage them to share their desires with family and formalize them with an attorney or funeral director.) In at least one instance, the family purchased a burial plot through the funeral home, unaware that one had already been purchased in another cemetery of the person's own choosing.
I urge adult children and others in charge of another's affairs: Please contact the faith community of the dying person -- for the sake of the patient, the faith community and yourself. -- A PASTOR IN WISCONSIN
DEAR PASTOR: Thank you for your informative and caring letter. I hope it will convince readers whose loved ones are having medical problems to notify their faith community leader immediately.