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Minister Says the Right Words to Grieving Mother

While working his way through seminary, pastor and author Ed Rowell took a job driving a school bus for kindergartners. Ed shares a story about a valuable lesson he learned from that experience—a lesson about the power of presence and a willingness to say the things God whispers into our hearts. The story begins with Ed meeting a memorable little boy named Ryan:

Several of the kids came from single-parent homes. Ryan was one. As he got off the bus one day he asked me if I'd like to meet his mom sometime. "She's real pretty."
"I'll bet she is," was my response. "But I have a pretty wife at home."
Heading back to the bus barn one afternoon after finishing my route, I glanced in my mirror and saw a shaggy blonde head peeping up over the last seat. "Ryan, why didn't you get off at your house?"
"I fell asleep," he said.
"When did you wake up?" I asked.
"At Kim's house," he replied. I quizzed him further. "Well, why didn't you tell me you were still on the bus?"
Sensing my irritation, Ryan responded quietly, "I just didn't want to bother you." We circled back to his home, where he let himself in with the key hanging from a shoelace around his neck.
Halloween came. Friday afternoon, the kids were in costume, high on sugar and anticipation. Ryan was made up like a vampire. It was a long run. Lord, just get me through this so I can go take some aspirin. After my last stop, I scanned the bus for stowaways, and headed home.
I slept in on Saturday. When I finally got moving and settled down with my first cup of coffee and the newspaper, a story on page two caught my eye. There had been an accident at the YMCA Halloween party. A heavy piece of gymnastic equipment was turned over. A child was killed. It was Ryan. …
I went to the White Chapel Funeral Home. I'm so scared. My greatest fear was that I would say something that would make his parents cry. Just don't say anything sad or stupid, I told myself.
There were just a few people talking to Ryan's family. His mom was pretty, just like he said. His dad was there too, with Ryan's stepmom. I imagined that the issues that had led to their divorce must seem pretty insignificant compared to the nightmare they were living right now.
I looked at the body in the half-sized casket. I thought I detected a little bit of Halloween makeup on his ear. Don't cry, you idiot, you'll upset his parents.
I looked up. There was no one left in the room except these three parents. I walked up to shake their hands. "I was Ryan's bus driver." His mom's eyes began to glisten. Watch it, don't get her started.
I told them about the day Ryan fell asleep on the bus and missed his stop. Even as they laughed at his response, "I didn't want to bother you," I could see the tears begin to well up in everyone's eyes. Way to go, Ed. Now you've made them all cry.
Ryan's mom started to speak, then grabbed me tight and started shaking with those choking sobs that I dreaded worse than anything… To make matters worse, I started crying too. Not discreetly, but all noisy and messy. I held this young mother I'd never met before, and wished I had something to say that would turn their attention away from my tears and runny nose.
A thought came to me. It sounded good until I said it aloud. "Just remember," I said when we all quieted down a little, "God knows the pain of losing a son, too." With those words, another wave of grief crashed over us.
As soon as I could, I got out of there. I feared I had poured salt in the wounded hearts of those parents.
The months passed quickly. Christmas came and went. My midterm exams were on the horizon. One Saturday, I spent the whole day studying and nursing a stomach ache that wouldn't go away. Finally, I called my doctor. "You'd better get to the emergency room, sounds like appendicitis to me." My wife drove me over right away.
As I lay there on the gurney, waiting for tests before surgery, a shot of something warm took the edge off the pain. In walked a pretty, young woman in white. She looked like Ryan's mom. You're hallucinating, I told myself.
"Hello, bus driver," she said with a smile… It was her—carrying a needle in her hand.
"I want to thank you for being there that night," she said as she tightened the tourniquet until my veins popped out. "I can't tell you how much your words about God understanding have helped me over these past few months." She slipped the needle in—I never even felt it. "But the fact that you cared enough to cry with us meant more than anything."

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