A few weeks ago I was sitting in my grandmother’s hospital room in Little Rock, Arkansas. Through her whispers, she said to me with sad eyes and cold hands, “Just let me go, I’m tired.” This wasn’t some plea because she was in pain, she wasn’t really. She had numerous medicines given to her and she was getting the nutrients her body needed, she had my mother and myself caring for her ’round the clock to adjust her and make her comfortable in her bed, take her to the bathroom, dress and wash her, and wet her mouth whenever she needed it. Her plea came from a different place; a place I saw in almost each and every patient I sat with while I was in my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). My grandmother was tired and ready to let go. She watched as her family dealt with (and in some cases avoided dealing with) her impending death and declining health. It wasn’t about being sick, it was about watching her children suffer as their mother degraded in front of the; it was about being ready to let go when others around her just weren’t. It was about not wanting to cause a problem and cause pain.
As my grandmother told me to simply let her go, I held her hand and told her, “Go, if it’s your time, go. We won’t stop you, and we will survive. But we can’t make you go, and neither can you. That’s up to God.” She sat and stared at me, attentively. After a few seconds of disappointment and thought, she nodded her head yes, as to let me know that she knew that it was out of all of our hands. She had to wait on God.
A few weeks later, while on my vacation, my partner and I got a call from my mother, letting me know that my grandmother had passed, peacefully and without any pain or stress, in her sleep while at the Presbyterian Village in Little Rock. It was a slow relief on my end and I am sure an even greater one to my grandmother who could not bear to watch her children suffer because she would soon be gone. It was a relief that I often wish that I could feel with the camp I am running.
In May of this year, I took job I did not want. I didn’t want it not because it was a bad job, I didn’t want it because I knew there was no telling how long this job would be around. It was only a three month gig with no benefits. But, as my professor told me, “It’s a job. It’s a job that will keep you from living in your mother’s basement and one that will keep you close to your partner. It’s a job. Stop crying about how it’s not the job you really want, and just take it. Three months of pay is better than nothing at all.” She was right and I didn’t have a comeback argument for her. I needed a job and this was the only offer I was getting.
So, I said yes.
Now, this isn’t like a marriage or something, it was a job. Correction: It was a hot mess of a job. And after three months of work, I was offered an extension, and this time I took it happily, not kicking and screaming.
First, a bit of background: The camp is technically up for sale. There’s a long story as to why the POC is in debt, and you can google that. But they are in debt. Not as much as they were, but, alas, they are still in debt. So, to cover the debt, the bank said, “hey, you have a camp and some property worth a lot of money. Put that up for sale and you can cover your debt.” So, the camp went from being a non-profit ministry of the POC, to collateral. Thus, began the long and drawn out grieving process by the members of the Presbytery. One by one, the churches began to say their goodbyes to the camp. But, the camp did not sell. It remained where it was, in limbo between saying goodbye and moving along like the little engine that could.
A group of people from the Presbytery got together and have tried to buy the camp, but alas, the money just isn’t there. Others have tried to go into negotiations in the past, but nothing has come from those. At this point, people are just hurt, exhausted, and want it all done with. They want the debt gone and they want to stop grieving the camp. But the camp isn’t going anywhere, atleast not yet. The hardest part for these people; the camp isn’t dead just yet. It is very much alive.
What do you do with a camp that is dying, not because it is lacking in life, but because you know you must kill it? You know you must give it away and that means that it will be lost and gone forever. Generations worth of memories will only belong to those that were once there, and no longer in a physical place.
When I look at the situation with the camp and my grandmother and my patients from the hospital, I see parallels. People don’t know how to grieve; or atleast, they don’t realize they are not in control of it. They are searching for a way to do it and then move on. They long for the process to be over and done with, but grief is a tricky bastard: he lingers around for as long as he wants to and for each person, getting rid of him is different and no one knows how to truly do it until it’s already done.
This is where I come in. Atleast, when it comes to the camp. My job title is technically Interim Camp Director, and that ‘Interim’ part is important. It reminds me that my job is complicated. Not only am I to plan summer camp and make it happen, I have to run the camp as is, knowing that at any moment, we could go.
I have to help these people in their grieving process and remind them that they can’t run from it.
Sometimes, it sucks.
Some folks want to just drop it from the face of the Presbytery. Others cling desperately to it, and others are indifferent, acting as if nothing is happening. It’s painful to watch and even more painful to try to wrestle with. Each time I encounter someone in the Presbytery, I often get the question, “So, the camp is still here?”
Yes. Yes the camp is still here. It’s not dead yet; as much as folks want it to be gone so they no longer have to deal with it. It isn’t dead yet. But people still have to grieve, and it can’t end when they want it to. It keeps going, on and on. So, that is my job, to help with the grieving. No one ever told me this would be happening when I was going through seminary. I knew I would be charged with caring for the sick and dying, but never with the healthy and waiting to be killed. It is a necessary killing. It must happen in order for other things to become possible. Like Abraham and Isaac, its a sacrifice that must be made. But will the angel stop the hand before it strikes? Either way, it still hurts those who love it.
After watching my mother and her two brothers mourn my grandmother’s death; after she was gone and in the ground, they began to move on. She was old, had lived a good life. But it still hurt. This too is like that. Once it’s gone, people will heal and move on. But the pain comes from the grief and the waiting. I guess a camp is technically a temporary thing, as is everything, but when you are hurting or grieving, it can feel like eternity for some. Grief, like camp, is a temporary thing, we just never know how long it will hold on for.