The Ministry of Presence

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective
3 min readMar 8, 2020

--

Part of the 2020 Liturgical Calendar Storywriting Project.

A Lent Story.

The nurse met me far before I had reached her station, and pulled my sleeve as she led me down the hall.

She was an older woman, and carried herself with the sort of sturdy professionalism that I’ve only ever seen in nurses who have had the decades behind them to know the truths about people that are otherwise unspoken: we puke, we bleed, we soil ourselves and we die.

For a brief, brief, moment, before letting her momentum carry me through the hall, I wondered if she had known my mother. Then I wondered what difference that would make.

“You don’t have very much time. Your sister already came and went, and she told me to ask you to call her when you can.” The nurse said sternly. With each syllable, her perm jiggled a little bit, and with a pat on my shoulder, she ushered me into the hospital room, shutting the door behind me.

It was silent in the room, save for the strange whirrs and beeps of the equipment that tethered my father into the world.

I took off my suit jacket and set it down across one of the chairs beside his bed, and slowly lowered myself down into the seat.

Closer to his face, I looked for some kind of sign of life, some kind of spark, but he just lay there, mouth open, tube forced down his throat. His eyes were closed, but only just, almost as though someone had lowered his lids halfway themselves, troubled by blank, anesthetized eyes staring back at them.

This, of course, would be the time to say something to him. To soliloquy beside him as he passed on, and pat myself on the back for the rest of my life knowing I had said something, anything to him as he died.

I thought.

When I did, images of him came back to me. The image of my father, hair black with youth, pulling me into the living room for Christmas, holding my sister in a tight squeeze as she thanked him for her presents. The image of the same man, a few years older, standing over my brother, his chest heaving and his hands curled tight.

There was the image of him safe behind his pulpit, hands raised as he told us that God was good — told us to hold God’s wrath and his mercy in both hands and trust that Pharaoh’s heart was exactly hard enough for God’s sovereignty and our free will to both be true. There was the image of the PlayStation he had gotten me after I didn’t tell mom about Emily’s emails.

I felt his hands on my ribs as he lifted me onto a horse for the first time, and I felt his hands around my shoulders as he told me that he didn’t mean anything by it, and that Darren was big enough to take a hit, and certainly he had given some back, in any case, so there wasn’t anything to tell anyone.

I saw him, clear as day, sitting in a seat just like this, probably just a few doors down, weeping over my Mother, whose own earthly tethers were beeping and failing, and I saw countless other bedsides he had sat beside.

Then, he breathed louder, just an inhale, and he held his breath like a child crossing a bridge.

I picked up my jacket and left, giving a quick look back to his body laying in the shuttered sunlight. I called my sister, gave her the news, and drove home to the kids.

After he died, I always told everyone that I prayed over him, and commended his spirit back to God.

© Phil Lofton, 2020, all rights reserved. Republished with permission from porchlightcollective.com

--

--

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective

Storyteller, Podcaster, Percussionist. Proud member of the Porch Light Collective.