Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Pastor uses cellphone to help mother make graveyard connection


By Chip Hale

MOBILE, Ala. (UMNS) – My sister and I accepted the responsibility for our aging father and mother in Mobile.

After my father’s death, we sat down with our mother to have "the talk." She had recently fallen, hitting her head and breaking her pelvis. The incident frightened all of us.

We said something like, "Mother, after your fall, and as you get older, we think it is time for you to move into a retirement community in Birmingham, near your daughter." The negotiations got difficult.

I told Mother I would do whatever she asked, if she would make the move. She finally acquiesced.  

Just before her move, Mother asked me to take her to Dad’s grave. And at the graveyard she asked me to kneel beside her as she said her goodbyes and prayed. Just after her "amen," Mother asked if I would promise to call her from Dad’s graveside on my cellphone, every week or so, in her exile city of Birmingham, so she could talk to him.

Riddled with guilt and wanting to make her happy, I agreed. That moment began a strange comedy of attempting to live out my faith in a very unusual way.

As clergy, I continue to officiate at funerals at that graveyard. After my final condolences on many of these occasions, I began to make a hasty detour by my father’s grave to make the phone call to Mother so that she could talk to him.

Each time, I was carefully instructed to hold the phone over the grave, and not to eavesdrop as she talked to Dad.

In spite of my promise to her, it became impossible not to eavesdrop.

She often included hilarious stories from her life at the retirement village. Sometimes I had to stifle a laugh; sometimes I had to choke back tears. The conversations were poignant and beautiful.

She told him about my sister and her family, and she included stories about my life with my wife and children. In essence, she kept my father informed about everything that occurred to her.

Bless her heart, she was especially long-winded when the weather was below 30 degrees or above 90. For six years, this favor to my mother was what I deemed "Conversations with the Dead."

Mother became increasingly frail.

A week before she died, I was doing a funeral at the graveyard. Before I left, I called. "Mother, would you like to talk to Dad?" I had tears in my eyes, suspecting this would be their last conversation in this way.

I knelt over my father’s grave and held the cellphone down to where I supposed his head would be. Then I turned on the speaker phone so I could hear her words.

She said, "Charles, I think I am at the end of my life." There was a long pause.

She continued, "Charles, if you are in heaven, tell Jesus to come get me." 

She paused again, and then, with trepidation, added, "If you are not in heaven, don’t mention my name to anyone." In my preacher’s suit, I fell to the ground laughing.

God gave us the great privilege of expressing our faith by loving best our families. How precious those memories are to me now. 

(Hale pastors at Ashland Place UMC, Mobile. )

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