“To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable.”
Erich Fromm, Man for Himself 1947
When a clergy dies the front office sends out a nice announcement and lists the churches where they had served. In my young and middle pastoral years I liked reading about those colleagues up until I hit my eighty-year-old years. That’s when those ominous notices started to alarm me. I now get George Burns joke, “At my age flowers scare me.” Do many retired secular workers our age have those chilling notices coming at them from their front offices? Why not just send out a good bottle of wine for the family? When we were young preachers we were not to imbibe but we had a few bold elderly preachers who sipped their wine in coffee cups. I miss those guys who are now not with us, but I digress.
I receive a death notification about once a month and many of the deceased are often relatively young. I worry that one of those announcements will pop up on my pc while I’m still alive. When I die my hunch is the front office will remind my colleagues and family members that I did not always make my apportionments. If you don’t know what they are you will probably not get the stress that goes with getting them paid in our churches. In the olden days of Methodism if pastors didn’t meet their apportionments it would come out of their wages. I’m rambling again.
A colleague in California said recently he has begun to feel pensive about his aging. He’s not depressed but when he learned recently that three of our close clergy friends died suddenly within a few weeks he dropped into a brooding mode. It has to be natural but when we are retired, and out of work, we are bound to fall into a pensive mood.
And, by the way, why do women get to live longer than men? Whose idea was that? On my office wall I have 25 pictures of colleagues and eight have died in the last few years but the women clergy photos are still holding forth. Is it smart to keep looking up at those friends? Does it deepen my pensiveness when those notices bombard me?
Here’s another sad situation. A long-time pastor in our conference died and only six clergy attended and merely 30 church members were present at his memorial service. Another parson who died had more than 500 in the sanctuary with a few dozen preachers at his service. OK, I’ll have to admit, I would like to have over 1000 at my memorial service. Is that asking too much? Would it matter in my next life? You bet! Why not? Just the thought that I might make it over there with a thousand in the pews cuts down on my pensiveness in this life.
So, this is my take on Erich Fromm. “To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having a great send-off might be unbearable. So, if we clergy don’t have a lot of colleagues and friends at the end of this life we might have more on the other side. The women, of course, will always be coming later.”