The privilege of goodbye

Pastoral Messages | May 30, 2024

One of the privileges of ministry is experiencing death on a regular basis. Yes, privilege. I’m talking about being actually present for other people’s deaths; though I also could imply death to a variety of myths about immortality, immunity, invincibility, and invulnerability within me. With every death I witness, I grow a richer interior, a more centered perspective on life. I don’t know any other way to describe the result of this frequent exposure to death, but it works on me quite positively.

People who work other jobs and serve in other important professions don’t have this same weekly contact with people who are actively dying. My own grown kids, for example, share little acquaintance with death. They’d probably be surprised at how many stages in bodily process changes I’m familiar with, were they to sit beside me next to someone nearing the goalpost. “But Dad, you’re not a nurse.” No, I’m not.

What I have learned from saying goodbye to thousands of people in my life, holding their hand as they’ve exited this world, might be reduced to these few over-simplifications:

First, every goodbye is precious, even the shocking and traumatic ones. If our associations with the people we love had no termination, we would not value them as much as we do.

Second, if there is such a thing as a good life, there is also such a thing as a good death. We can choose to cling to life in a way that makes death nothing but a defeat or failure. Or, we can let go in such a way that our life (or that life of our friend) gets offered up as a source of hope.

Third, there is true contentment and peace evident in those who die with faith deeply embedded in their character. I can’t describe this from a statistical or data-driven perspective. I just see a dramatic difference between those who’ve practiced their faith with deep intentionality and who are actually able to trust the totality of their life to the Lord, and those for whom faith was pretty much an accessory, an appendage, or a talking point throughout life.

Fourth, there is a permanent bond that gets created between survivors when they experience death together. If I page through all of the church directories in my 39 years of ministry, my heart gets strangely warm from the memories, and my eyes light up because of the kinship I still share with living members of the family.

Fifth, there are almost always tears. They can be happy or sad or both. But watery eyes are part and parcel of sharing death or saying goodbye. I like to think of them as a biological gift from God. To me, they’re a sure sign we’re blessed with the significance of emotion.

I’m experiencing this biological gift in ample supply these weeks, which must mean I love a lot of people with whom I very much dislike saying goodbye. Through the tears or because of the tears, I count it all a privilege.

-Peter W. Marty, senior pastor

19 Comments on “The privilege of goodbye”

  • Naomi Durant

    June 8, 2024 at 11:10 pm

    What a blessing to have you as a pastor when we joined Immanuel in Kansas City. We appreciated your excellent sermons and Bible studies. And your program, “Grace Matters.” You helped me deepen my faith, through all your understanding of the Bible and the Gospel message. May you have a blessed retirement.

  • Thomas Niethammer MD, FACP

    June 4, 2024 at 10:05 pm

    Your observations so reflect mine over a 40 career in medicine. Your words in the The Lutheran have sustained my faith for many years, Thank you for your exemplary career and know that you have been loved beyond measure by even us folks in Wyoming.

  • Mary Tjarks

    June 2, 2024 at 7:19 am

    Your words again struck a chord with me. After having a stroke before Christmas, my mom declined and passed away on March 21. Being there through the process was very difficult and painful and rewarding. What a comfort was her strong faith.
    You and Susan will be missed—you’ve made a difference in my life!

  • Mark & Janet Hermann

    June 1, 2024 at 8:32 am

    Janet and I very much enjoyed knowing you for the person you are and it was a wonderful experience being part of the St Paul family. You always set a great example for all of us. We miss the church and will always remember our time at St Paul Lutheran Church.

  • Paige Anderson

    May 31, 2024 at 6:20 am

    Peter and Susan, You guys have always given us some many thank you’s it is time we thank you. Thank you. 💕

  • Christa Orfitelli

    May 30, 2024 at 8:55 pm

    We love you!

  • Charlotte Monical

    May 30, 2024 at 8:41 pm

    Oh Pastor Marty. I just want you to know how much you have meant to Don and I all these years! This next part of your life journey is going to be filled with so many wonderful things! Just the gift of being with family is going to be exciting. God bless you and Susan as you begin this new life of retirement!

  • Roger Demarest

    May 30, 2024 at 5:25 pm

    Pastor Marty thank you so much for sharing your life wisdom with all of us all these years. A super thank you for being there for Christine and I during our toughest times in life.

  • Gay Jasper

    May 30, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    Peter and Susan…from my heart, thank you both! May health, happiness and much love follow you both on your continuing journey. My tears are those of both happiness and sorrow. Happy for you both on this new chapter of your lives, sorrow that you’ll both be moving from our community. Happy that you’ll be so much closer to your children and grandchildren, sad that we won’t have you in OUR community. Very thankful that you both became ‘family’ to us all. God bless you both!

  • Marcia Willi

    May 30, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    Peter we have so loved you being a part of faith life! You are a treasure!
    With love The Willi’s

  • Deb Lamp

    May 30, 2024 at 3:39 pm

    Your words are so lovingly said and I think of all the years knowing you and Susan. Watching your kids grow up and leave the nest. You and the church were so good to us at the time of Glen’s death when we lost so much. We will definitely miss you both but am so happy for you in this time of transition. ❤️

  • Scott Kelling

    May 30, 2024 at 3:36 pm

    Peter, words are not going to be even close to adequate for expressing my deep gratitude and love for you and for all your superb leadership and empathy. And so inevitably there will be tears . My daughters and I wish you all the grace that God can shower on you and Susan and we pray for your health and healing. We hope to see you again.

  • Connie King

    May 30, 2024 at 3:32 pm

    How sad it would be if we had no one to cry at our leaving. Tears are just a visible expression of love.

  • Vicki Felger

    May 30, 2024 at 3:26 pm

    Oh dear Pastor Marty, saying good bye to you is bittersweet! You’ve been such a gift to me and my family over these past years and there aren’t enough words to thank you for all you’ve given us. However, having known you and Susan, I’m so delighted that you’ll be in a very happy place surrounded by your loved ones! Peace and joy to you all!

  • Tom and Robin Olson

    May 30, 2024 at 3:08 pm

    Peter and Susan: It Has been a Pleasure Knowing You Both Over The Years! Best of Luck in All of Your Future Ventures! Tom

  • Diane Swayne

    May 30, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    I read your article so gracefully written. Your care, kindness and apathy are such an important part of your interaction with people. You have had a great influence on our lives and our faith.
    May God’s grace be with you and Susan as you make this transition. We will miss you.
    Howard & Diane

    • Marcia Willi

      May 30, 2024 at 4:09 pm

      Sorry but don’t you mean “ empathy “?

  • Elizabeth Gosma

    May 30, 2024 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you so much for these words, you have given so much to all of us, and the tears are from the heart. 🙏❤️

  • Sheila Mesick

    May 30, 2024 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for these words Peter. I’m thinking of Elmira today, the joy of the Lord she found in your friendship through your ministry at St. Paul. She was a fan!

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