My first deathbed visit as a pastor was with a person I’d never met. On the drive over, I wondered what I would say and if I’d be able to keep my emotions in check. But, primarily, I felt grateful that I would not be ministering on my own. I was apprenticing an older priest at the time; she was an experienced pastor and I a self-conscious twenty-something. She’d planned to visit a dying woman in a nursing home that afternoon, and she invited me to join her.
At the woman’s bedside, we prayed a short liturgy for the time of death from The Book of Common Prayer. My mentor graciously delegated a few of the prayers and readings to me, but my main job in being there was to watch and learn. Neither of us knew the woman who was approaching her last breaths—we came at the request of her daughters—but my mentor greeted her warmly and confidently. I saw how she gently held and anointed the frail, failing hands. I noticed her fight back tears.
It was a fairly unsensational ...1