Yesterday morning, at 9:56 a.m. (CST), I watched my best friend, Al (Pr. Aloysius Majewski - St. Paul Lutheran, Manito, IL), breathe his last. Words escape me to describe how tough that was. So many good times; so many laughs; so many theological and philosophical debates; so many hours on the phone. And now, only tears and an emptiness I feel that simply won't go away.
You don't get many best friends in this life. Those people the Lord puts in your life who love you unconditionally, who are always there for you, whom you can trust with your very life, and with whom you can share everything, are few and far between. Al was such a person for me, a blessed and precious gift granted me by our Lord, and I am eternally thankful to have had him in my life.
I am also thankful for the brother pastors who were there to console us the last couple of days, especially Pr. Dan Chambers, who conducted the Commendation of the Dying for Al during his last minutes of life in this vale of tears. As we stood in that room weeping and physically shaking at the sight of our loved one leaving us, Pr. Chambers' voice was heard above the groans and sighs and we added our tearful "amens" and joined in confessing the Creed and praying the Lord's Prayer amidst our sorrow. I'm so glad he was there. I had brought my Pastoral Care Companion with me and, knowing how close Al and I were, Pr. Chambers and the other brothers asked me if I would conduct the Rite. I knew there was no way I could have done it, and so I handed my Companion to Pr. Chambers and asked him to do it. That was definitely the right move.
I have been blessed to provide pastoral care for grieving families on numerous occasions, but it is at times like this, when I need pastoral care myself, that the importance of what we pastors are called to do in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ is realized. I hope I am as much of a blessing to those who need me as the several brother pastors were to me and to Al's family these last couple of days. Thank you Pastors Peters, Chambers, Riddle, Wenndt, and Dufon for bringing the compassion, mercy, and glorious Good News of our Lord to us!
When I walked in the room to see Al Thursday afternoon, I could tell right away that his time was short. I grabbed his hand and told him that I loved him, prayed for him, and reminded him of the Gospel he knew and preached so well. He looked up at me. I'd like to believe that he knew it was me there with him, but who can say? It was so hard to see him in the state he was in, but I'm thankful to have had some time with him before he went home. I couldn't sleep at all that night. I kept waking up every half hour or so. I knew what was coming the next day. Per the advice of the doctors, the family had decided to pull the ventilator out the next morning. Al had taken a big turn for the worse the day before - on top of everything else, his kidneys had started to fail him. It was time, no two ways about it. We hoped that Al might come around for a bit after the ventilator was pulled, but I knew it was doubtful. And so I prayed that night for the Lord to make it quick the next morning; to take my brother home as quickly and peacefully as possible. And He answered that prayer. In less than ten minutes after they pulled the ventilator, Al departed. It was just enough time for Pr. Chambers to conduct the Commendation and for all of us to say our goodbyes. I grabbed my friend's hand for the last time and said, "I love you, Al. Go in peace, dear brother. I'll see you again soon."
And I know that I will see my brother again. That's the Good News in this. But, it's the time between now and then that is going to be difficult. Lord, give me strength!
I spent today putting together the bulletin for Al's Funeral Service. Pr. Chambers asked me if I would like to do the Service. He has gotten to know Al very well these last few years, since he serves a parish that is only five miles away from the parish Al served. He told me that he thought my first name was "My best friend," since Al always said, "My best friend Tom Messer." I told him that I didn't think it would be a good idea for me to preach, but that I thought I could get through serving as Liturgist. He agreed to preach, and I volunteered to put the Service together, make, and print the bulletins, and to return for the visitation Monday evening and to serve as Liturgist for the Service Tuesday morning. I will also preside over the Committal, which will take place in Milford, Michigan on Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. Al is going to be laid to rest in close proximity to his son, Zachary, who was called home by our Lord at six months old back in 1989. What joy my brother must be experiencing right now, having been reunited to his son, whom he loved and missed dearly!
I googled "Rev. Aloysius Majewski" earlier today to search for his obit and the second entry read: "Rev. Thomas C. Messer's Friends - The Wittenberg Trail." Tears. Man, I'm gonna miss him something fierce!
I desperately covet your prayers for the coming week, not only for myself, but for Al's family, especially his wife, Marjorie, and his children, Dustin, Chris, Brittany, and Jacob. We all know where Al is. We're so thankful to have that comfort and peace. But, the void left in our hearts by his departure is unmistakable and painful.
I love you, Al. Rest in peace, brother!