Ed Smith is a fantastic writer from Springdale NL who has a weekly column in The Telegram, the province’s largest paper. Ed has now published several books. A Canadian bestseller From the Ashes of My Dreams recounts his brave struggle with quadriplegia after a motor vehicle accident. Ed is known for his humour and wit and these are evidenced in his book, You Might as Well Laugh. This book has the best of his columns from the early ’90s. Ed has a just launched his new novel The Seventh Day which I look forward to reading. I have long admired Ed Smith and yesterday I had my first communication with him.
A friend return from Newfoundland a brought me a clipping from The Telegram of one of Ed’s recent columns “Ministering to Children.” Among Ed’s many gifts is a great faith that is often so well expressed in his writing. In this column he writes about his Granddaughter Robyn and her struggling to come to grips with issues of life and death. This story tells of a very wise and obviously pastoral United Church Minister who gets it right – who offers his presence as a sign of the love that God has for all of the saints, young and old. I think this column should be offered to all training for pastoral ministry anywhere as a case study in Pastoral care. This story is one which allows for the freedom of God’s unbounded and overflowing love to push aside convention and orthodoxy to allow the ray of God’s light to touch a young heart.
I offer my gratitude to Ed Smith for replying to my email and granting permission to post his column on my blog. So this may be a long post – but the read is well worth it – trust me! An to the Reverend George Gard – Thank you for offering such a strong witness in such a simple act! So Read with delight Ed’s column The View From Here and enjoy this exemplary witness of ministry to children and ministry to the bereaved.
The View from Here
Ministering to Children
The great circle of life includes everyone and everything.
At the tender age of 10, granddaughter Robyn has already discovered this. She’s lived through the life and death of rabbits and hamsters and emerged a little sadder and a little wiser but relatively unscathed.
The untold numbers who read this column on a regular basis will have heard this little story before but it bears repeating for the untold numbers who haven’t. A couple of years ago Robyn’s pet rabbit passed on to that great rabbit warren up in the sky.
My father had gone to his reward not long before that, certainly recent enough that the event was still fresh in our grandchildren’s minds. Father was a great rabbit hunter and he and I spent many a happy day pursuing rabbit leads through the woods and over the snow. As she went about the business of burying the rabbit, this was also on Robyn’s mind.
"Mommy, Gumpy (the kids name for their great-grandfather) has gone to heaven, right?"
"Right, honey," said Mommy.
"And Hazelnut has gone to heaven, too, right?"
"So they’re in heaven together, right?"
"Right," Mommy said again, wondering where all this was going.
But Robyn seemed satisfied with that and continued with her funeral preparations.
At that time I was spending a lot of time in bed. A scuffling at my bedroom door one afternoon caused me to look up and here was Robyn with some of her friends and a pitiful little box bearing the last remains of Hazelnut .
I was required to view the corpse, of course, and I noticed in the box a piece of paper.
"What’s on the paper, love?"
"It’s a note to Gumpy for when Hazelnut gets to heaven."
I expected that the note would say something like, "Hi Gumpy, we miss you. Hope you’re having a good time in heaven. Love Robyn."
But it didn’t. When she opened it up and read it to me, I had to turn my head away.
"Please, Gumpy," Robyn had written, "please don’t snare this one."
And with that she was content.
After a decent interval of mourning, Robyn found herself the delighted owner of a hamster. She wasn’t taking any more chances on rabbits either on earth or in the heavens beyond. This little beast was given the grandiose and pretentious name of Jellybean.
But then the circle closed again and some time in the bleak midwinter, Jellybean, too, rolled mammaries up and summarily expired. Robyn was distraught for a day or so, but then became caught up in a practical problem. With the ground frozen solid, where could she dig a grave? It was finally decided to keep Jellybean in deep freeze until the spring.
Sometime during the winter Robyn decided that Jellybean belonged in consecrated ground and would therefore be buried in the cemetery. No one said anything to the contrary expecting that by what passes for spring in this place, she would have forgotten all about it. We should have known better.
The other day she announced the burial of Jellybean Bixby, the interment to take place in the United Church cemetery.
"You can’t do that without first getting permission from the church," OH told her. "You’ll have to call the minister."
She did, but the minister was away. However, a message on the answering machine said to call the Rev. Gard in an emergency. This to Robyn was an emergency of the first order. Friends had been called and invitations sent out. So she called the Rev. Gard, one of our retired ministers.
"Jellybean was a member of the United Church, of course," she assured him.
The Rev. Gard said in that case it should be all right and she could choose a corner of the cemetery that wasn’t likely to be needed until the next millennium. The ceremony could take place there. But Robyn wasn’t finished.
"Could you come up and say a few words?"
When she told me the minister was coming to speak at Jellybean’s funeral, I had to admit I had my doubts. That was expecting service above and beyond the call of duty.
OH and I were last to arrive. I looked up in the far corner of the beautiful cemetery and here were Robyn, her parents, several of her friends, a visiting mother and daughter from B.C. and, not the least among them, the Rev. George Gard. He read the 23rd Psalm over Jellybean with great reverence. Those who were left to mourn said a last farewell.
"I had to come," he said, almost apologetically to me. "It was important to Robyn."
No apologies needed, Reverend George. Isn’t there something in Scripture about having to love little children to inherit the kingdom? You have my lasting respect, friend. And I know one little child who will never forget your ministry to her.