When my mother died recently, my brother and I wanted to hold her memorial service at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Granger.
The trouble was, my mother had rarely left the house, unless it was to see a doctor, for the past 10 years. She had been heavily involved in the church when we were kids, but I doubt she was even a member anymore.
We were told to contact Pastor Bill.
The Rev. William Deskin — “Pastor Bill” to members of his church — had been in Granger 5½ years. At 6-foot-2, sporting a beard and wearing his favorite cowboy boots, he cuts an imposing figure at the pulpit.
He told us he would get back to us. He didn’t have to do it. He had never met either of my parents. We would be holding the service on a Friday, his normal day off.
“I prayed about it,” he said. “God just told me it was going to be OK and to go ahead and do it. It worked out fine. Yes, I had a couple of moments when it was tough. I was more worried about not doing a good job for you and God than I was about what it was doing to me. I felt I needed to be there for you guys.”
I left out the part where Pastor Bill’s heart is still breaking.
He arrived home on July 30 to discover that Anna Marie, his wife of 40 years, had passed out in the bathtub and drowned. You hear that people often feel lost in the days following a loved one’s death.
“I still feel that way,” Pastor Bill said. “I notice her absence from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.”
They had met at a choir dinner when Deskin had returned home on leave from the Navy. He fully planned to re-enlist. But he and Anna Marie dated for the next eight days and he proposed. Goodbye, Navy career.
She was, he said, “the most enthusiastic, wonderful person you’ve ever met in your life. She loved people. She would do anything she could to make someone else happy.”
The marriage produced two daughters and three grandsons. On Fridays, their day off, they’d often spend it with their grandsons. More traveling was planned. She died the day before her scheduled retirement.
“I truly believe God had everything in his control,” Pastor Bill said. “I don’t know why and I’ll never know why, but He knew what was best for all of us. It hurts, but I sense God is with me all the time, even when I’m sitting there bawling my eyes out.”
Pastoring is his second career. He had been working for Mediacom. I asked what caused the switch.
“God,” he replied. “I tried not to, but He didn’t give me a choice.”
My mother’s funeral would be the first service he officiated since his wife died.
Like I said, he didn’t have to do it, but he agreed.
He met with my family to learn more about my mom.
For me, it’s about the person in the family,” he said. ‘I know some pastors who use it as an opportunity to preach. For me, it’s about celebrating the life that you all shared together. I don’t need another opportunity to preach. There’s 52 times a year I get that opportunity.” The service went fine. You can probably imagine how grateful my family was that Pastor Bill agreed to lead it.
What we didn’t know, and which I didn’t learn until later, is that Pastor Bill returned to his office after the service and cried.
“I think it was more of a nervous relief,” he said. “My biggest worry was that I was going to break down and not be able to do the service that you all deserved. It was me just letting that go.”
Last week his older brother died. When I suggested he was being tested, Pastor Bill shook his head no.
“It’s really strengthened my faith,” he said. “I’ve always spent time with God, but now I’m intentional about it. I carve out time and let God wash over me.”
Ken Fuson lives in Des Moines. He may be reached at email@example.com.