I answered my phone just before it went to voice mail with a somnolent “What.”
That was neither a greeting nor a question, more like a placeholder until I could disentangle myself from a deep sleep. I was trying to wake up enough to figure out who HPD on the caller ID was and why they were calling at 5 am Sunday morning.
“Mr. VerBurg?!” That sounded less like a question and more like the caller’s assumption.
This time I answered, “Who is this?” In the dynamic of this call, I sensed the caller had an advantage of authority as well as reading off a script.
“Mr. VerBurg, I’m a detective from the Holland Police Department, and I understand your wife and you are the next of kin to Betty Vredeveld. Is that correct?”
Now I was awake; I was wide awake! “Detective… police… next of kin…?” An adrenaline surge brought me to full alertness. Kim’s mom had been hospitalized only a couple of days before, but those words, “next of kin…” Why was a detective calling me on a Sunday morning and using those words? In a couple of seconds, I went from sleep to panic.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
And then those words: “Mr. VerBurg, I’m sorry to inform you…” and that’s when we found out Kim’s mom had passed away a couple hours earlier.
“But wait a minute,” I insisted, “we were just there, less than 10 hours ago, I need to know what happened!”
His unemotional reply: “Mr. VerBurg, we don’t suspect foul play at this point, but due to the nature of the death, I will be turning the case over to the homicide detective. It’s just a matter of procedure. Is this a good number where you can be reached?”
“Nature of death?… tell me what happened!”
Just another dry, unemotional, “I really can’t go into details since it’s not my case. But the homicide detective is on his way in; he will need to interview your wife and you. If you can’t come to Holland, I understand; the detective will come to you. Just to get the investigation started, can you give me your address? And again, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Neither Kim nor I had ever been through something like this. All we felt was panic, and that kept any emotional reaction at bay. So now what? Kim’s dad should be notified, and my parents. But for some unknown reason, the first call was to Daniel Bud. He was sleeping just as I had been minutes ago. It wasn’t until later that I wondered why I called him first – before anyone else in our families. My call to Daniel seemed less like an option and more like an imperative. As Kim and I were driving to Holland, I realized the 9:30 service was just starting and there would be the announcement to our Hillside family and, with that, an up-welling of prayer.
Kim and I were being interviewed by the detective when I realized the 11:00 service was starting and another up-welling of prayer from our Hillside family.
It wasn’t until late Sunday night the enormity of the day caught up to us. The emotion of grief finally made it to the surface, but we were too exhausted to cry; that wouldn’t come until Monday.
Monday evening the detective called to inform us the death was being ruled an accident due to mental illness. Only a couple hours after Kim and I left, Kim’s mom went into another hyper-manic episode, lay down in her front yard, and allowed herself to freeze to death. (That was in March of 2017)
THE MYSTERY OF YOUR MINISTRY
From time to time I still wondered about my decision to call Daniel Bud, a non-relative, before anyone else. Then in September of 2017, Ron’s “Pray for One Another” message and Kathy Douma’s “Held and Lifted” in Inside Hillside finally brought that into focus: by notifying our Hillside family, Kim and I brought the mystery of your prayer and support into our lives.
Over the next several weeks, Kim and I found extraordinary comfort in your hugs, cards, and visits from our Hillside family. All these gestures helped us cope as we felt the amazing comfort of the mystery of your words, “I’m praying for you.”
So what about those words, “I’m praying for you”? What does that really do and why is that a comfort? As Ron pointed out, that’s a mystery. But the Bible instructs us we are to tell each other we are praying for you, so it must be important.
Your ministry of prayer, a visit, a card, or a hug is more important than you realize until you find yourself in need of this blessing. And this is ministry that you, not just our pastor, can provide. So who in our congregation needs to hear your words, “I’m praying for you”? Every Sunday there are announcements about people who need your prayer. Even if you don’t know them, you can send them a card and include the words, “I’m praying for you.” If you don’t have their address, call Daniel – his gift of pastoral outreach is Hillside’s (and your) blessing from God.
-by Bob VerBurg
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2