For those of you who know us, you know that Jeff used to be a pastor at University Presbyterian Church. It was the church he grew up in, the church where we met and were married, the church in which he was ordained, the church where we baptized Ben and the church in which we publically mourned his death. That sanctuary holds much of our lives. And in it works one of my most favorite people in the whole world – the Reverend Dave Rohrer.
On paper you wouldn’t think we could be friends or that Dave could be one of my mentors. Dave does not watch the Bachelor, nor has he ever picked up a copy of US Weekly (for some reason he finds its journalistic integrity questionable) and I doubt he has any idea who Ryan Seacrest or Taylor Swift even are. His idea of a great vacation is camping, he is a fabulous cook and he gets his news from NPR. I, on the other hand, could care less who Henry Nowen is, or how Karl Barth differs from Calvin, nor anything about church history really besides Jesus. I would rather be at the Fairmont than a national park, I consider take out a culinary skill and I get the majority of my news from the E! app on my iPhone. BUT, we both adore Mad Men and have subscriptions to the New Yorker. So you can’t put either of us in a box I suppose.
I have always appreciated Dave for his incredible wit, intelligence and most excellent preaching skills. But never would I have known how much I would come to rely on his presence, friendship and ability to enter our pain. From the time Ben was diagnosed until now Dave has been there. Strong, wise and present. He is 100% alright with our brokenness and remarkably does not attempt to fix it, glaze over it with platitudes, or insist that we will get better. In other words, he is okay with us not being okay.
When Ben relapsed in October 2008, Dave came over and found me in Ben’s bed. I was in complete and utter despair. I said to him, “I don’t know how to do this.” And then he told me the most profound thing – he said, “Ben will show you. Take your cues from him.” He didn’t correct my feelings. He didn’t try to make it better. He didn’t dismiss my despair. He didn’t insist that God was with me, when His presence seemed so absent. Rather, he honored my son and gave me really the only tangible piece of advice. And Ben indeed did lead us to his death in the same way he taught us how to be his parents.
If I were to give guidance to anyone who is walking along side a family who is losing/has lost their child here is what I would say: Be like Dave.
When you have the urge to speak, listen. When you feel like your job is to point out the good news, wait. When you have the need to wrap up our experience, please don’t. For real, loving care is the willingness to sit with someone and remain with them in their pain. To hear their fears and sorrow. To say with your actions, “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m sorry. And I am here.”
There is a wisdom and a self confidence that allows Dave be this way. To sit. To laugh. To let this be unwrappable. To say to us, “I will continue to come by as long as you want to see me.” And twenty two months later he is still coming by. We look forward to his monthly visits – as did Ben, as does Ryan. I have my People magazine on the coffee table for next time – just in case he wants to read about Brad Womack’s commitment issues. But I’m guessing he’ll pass.