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Is her name Carrie Mae or Carrie Lou?
My stomach tensed as I stood to give the funeral message. I can't believe I left the name off my notes!
My heart beat fast. I reached into my jacket pocket as discreetly as possible. Where's that obituary? It's soaking up the sweat that's spreading under my arm. It's so damp it's stuck in there. Looks like I'm going to have to do the message with all pronouns-"she" and "her" rather than using her name.
I looked at the family, seated in the first few rows. Will they suspect I've forgotten the name of their loved one? Should I ask them quietly for the name? Should I stop and fumble to get this damp obituary unstuck from my pocket?
I wish I could tell you this was fiction, but except for the name, it's not. My first year in the pastorate included thirty-one funerals, and often I strained to get the names straight. I'd write them in the margins of my Bible. I'd rehearse them in the "green room" at the funeral home. But now and then, I'd find myself stuck with pronouns. I felt like a duck, trying to move serenely on the surface while paddling like crazy underneath.
It's just not easy ministering to people you barely know. Usually the scenario goes this way: Your secretary hands you a note on the death. As you're rushing out the office door, she calls out, "She's Robert Caulkins's sister-in-law."
"Who's Robert Caulkins?"
"Bud Freely's nephew. He used to work for Axworth Drilling (Who? Robert or Bud?) before it became Shambling Pipe and Valve, which went bankrupt in '56."
"Okay. Thanks. Got to go."
You sit in the home with strangers all around, except for one older lady you met at the adult Sunday school Christmas party. It's hard to imagine doing anything particularly helpful for these people, and there seems to be the possibility of doing some harm-either through an ill-chosen phrase, a forgotten name, or just a general failure to rise to the occasion.
Fortunately, you don't remain a novice for long. And as I've done more of these funerals for ...