Dealing with grief doesn’t have a playbook that works for every person and especially not every profession.
Pastors, by trade, deal with grief more than most of us because of their congregations. But when it comes time for them to be the one grieving, when a wife is taken from them unexpectedly, it can be doubly difficult. They have lost not only a wife and best friend, but a partner in ministry. It’s what makes them whole and when death comes knocking that hole in their heart can be hard to heal and impossible to fill.
Because pastors deal with grief, and may have even studied it, they do know some of the answers. However, being their own grief counselor shouldn’t be recommended. They need time, space and maybe even distractions. Pastors need to grieve too. They need people to come alongside them.
I’ve watched and even walked some with my brother Tim Maynard, the senior pastor at Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and a Kentucky native, as he continually processes the loss of his dear wife Pam last August after a five-month bout with brain cancer. I’ve never seen my brother have the wind taken out of him quite like his wife’s death did.
The grieving, though, he’s handled well. He was devastated but not defeated. He’s had helping, loving hands around him. He looked externally instead of internally, knowing he couldn’t conquer it alone. His faith in God has grown stronger through the grieving process as he’s found the Lord to be that good, good father that he preached about from the pulpit. It wasn’t just lip service. That picture of faith that Tim has shown encouraged family, friends and a grieving church that loves him so much.
The church did what churches need to do in these situations – they gave him love, time and space. He was able to be with his wife through the difficult months as she battled the cancer without worrying about preparing a sermon for Sundays. This church who he and Pam had given 25 years of love was giving back to him in unimaginable ways, including one member who came over daily to work with Pam in rehabilitation. His ministry changed from Fruit Cove to his wife during those difficult days.
It was Easter morning in 2017 that he shared with the church about what they were just learning about Pam’s sickness. It was early and they were hopeful, but dark days were coming. Wives are so much a part of the ministry of a pastors’ service in a church. Make no mistake, when churches call pastors, they also call their wives. Tim and Pam were called to Fruit Cove Baptist Church, not just Tim. He readily and fully recognizes it.
When Pam died, the church also went into a season of mourning but the pastor couldn’t help them. Not this time. He had his own grieving to do. They graciously let him do that allowing him to return to the pulpit only when he was ready.
Part of Tim’s grieving process came through writing a book about what had transpired. He is a gifted speaker and writer, as it turns out. He asked my advice on writing the book since I’ve written six myself. This one though, was nothing like I had written. I tried to be an encourager for him and was proud to be a “mentor” for him like he has been with me on life and church matters for years.
I took on the role of editor of I Bear Witness, a memoir of love that Tim will be presenting to his church on Easter morning. He poured out his heart in the pages of this book and it is one of those that falls into the category of you-cannot-put-it-down once you’ve started reading it. There are insights in the book that will help those going through a similar situation with the death of a spouse and it’s also a book that glorifies God and presents the gospel message in its purest form. It will make you laugh and make you cry.
Tim took advice (criticism?) well in his writing and the final product is a work that honors Pam and provides their beautiful granddaughter McCail a roadmap to the heart of a grandmother who loved her so much.
Part of Tim’s advancement in grieving - and he’s doing quite well by the way - came from penning this book. I wouldn’t recommend the write-a-book-process for everyone. But for Tim, I think it not only helped him but it’s going to help others. His words on these pages are heartfelt and a peek into the life of a Christian couple that surrendered their lives to ministry and found God to be everything they ever needed right to the end.
If you’d like a copy of the book they are available online at https://ibearwitnessbook.com/ and proceeds benefit the ministry of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
Mark Maynard is managing editor of Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org