A FAMILY GATHERING on this most gloriously sunshiney day, for funeral thanksgiving for my Dad’s younger sister, May. A wonderful commixture, as all funerals are, of both sadness and enjoyed reminiscing. 82 years old Dad and his just-shy-of-90 years old brother Alan are the surviving two of ten siblings. Members of a large and spread-abroad family often only gather for arrivals, weddings and funerals. Some will barely know the day to day realities of each other’s lives – and the vast wealth of experience represented in such a gathering.
I met a delightful second cousin, Shropshire dairy farmer Neil, for the first time today. And Uncle Alan told me of his landing in Normandy at 6am on DDay – and his wondering most every day since how he ever got out of there. May was profoundly deaf for much of her life (30 years of which were enjoyed in Toledo, Ohio). The presence of some of her similarly deaf friends reminded me poignantly of the way she always made close eye contact in conversation. I was well into my late teens before the importance of eye contact for a deaf person dawned on me, and stayed with me, in all human relations.
I’ll especially remember May’s searching eyes – and the mind’s eye picture I have of her as a 5 year old clutching the hand of 7 years old Bob (my father) and boarding a train bound for Criccieth, North Wales – evacuated for safety on the eve of the Second World War – only a couple of years after the desperately sad and unexpected death of their young mother. Something about the sight of little ones then, as in parts of the world today, wide-eyed, with cardboard boxes strung about their little necks and modest little suitcases, ought to have taught humankind more about the folly of war.
Yes. There’s a thread woven in each and every family-life that binds, and a gladness – and a learning to be had – in little remembrances of shared histories. Something of life in the 1930s and onwards and upwards to the present day has been celebrated by members of my own family today – and by innumerable other families all over the world, too. It’s a gift, this remembering. A golden thread through good and ill, remembering still. A reflective love that binds.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST about your holidays abroad? – I asked one of my oldest friends last Christmas – who loved France as I do, and who had more recently developed a real taste for Florida. “Simple”, she replied. “They broaden our horizons.”
Today I shared in celebrating Ivy Durham’s long and well-lived life, in the Methodist Church in Cockermouth. A lovely gathering of family and friends remembered Ivy’s immeasurable gift for hospitality and a life-long Christian discipleship. And we recalled that
death is only an horizon and
an horizon is nothing
save the limits of our sight
And in amongst the fitting tributes for Ivy, I want to place on record my deep gratitude for the warm hospitality of the two clergy I shared the service with today; the first, long-serving former Minister at Cockermouth Methodist Church, Keith Rushton, and the second, the present-day Minister, Sue Edwards. The warmth and kindness of fellow clergy at times like these is very deeply appreciated indeed.
JIM’S FUNERAL today was a really wonderful occasion. The weather lifted spirits and the tribute from his grand-daughter was both apposite and touching. Jim was loved dearly by his family, but also by a huge assembly of valued friends who, in their turn, thought the world of him. I thought of the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray (1) and Anaïs Nin (2), both quoted in Michael Paul Gallagher’s The Human Poetry of Faith
1 From Reason and Emotion: I am prepared to bank upon the faith that the essence of nature – human and divine – is love. The personal life is essentially a life of relations between people; to be ourselves at all we need other people. Religion grows out of our relation to persons.
2 Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.
We need each other, and I find few things more reassuring than a gathering of family and friends (in person or “in spirit”) who walk the whole way with someone they’ve loved well, all the way to the gates of Paradise.
WONDERFUL FUNERAL THANKSGIVING for Edward today. Deeply, deeply moved by the tender care that went into its preparation and celebration. Visceral honesty, integrity, decency, tender loving care and goodness in Peter’s tribute. Gospel incarnate celebrating the reign of God in and through all things. Church of England liturgy working alongside ad lib and Mahler, Westlife, Katherine Jenkins and Sweet Sacrament Divine. And all supported and upheld by the bereaved working in close partnership and trust with the priest. And all working with supremely sensitive funeral directors, St Ann’s Hospice staff, Rowan Chapel staff and one another. A beautiful occasion of a kind that enables one truly to celebrate good life on the one hand, and good death on the other; an occasion of a kind that brings one face to face with a profound reality in and about all humankind: that we’re every one of us less than perfect and every one of us also capable both of loving and of being loved much. I wept for the joy of being alive today, and for the privilege of my calling as a priest. At a funeral.
in St Paul’s Parish Centre, Macclesfield, 9 July 2003
BACK TO BOLLINGTON today, by kind invitation of the Vicar, for the funeral thanksgiving for Jean Lawson (front far right) who I’ve known and loved for years – Jean’s having been a member of both St Paul Macclesfield and St Oswald Bollington. Some pictured here were present at St Oswald’s today. Others took part from a higher perspective. The Reverend Veronica Hydon led a wonderfully reflective service of thanksgiving, the most moving part of which, for me, was the sprinkling of the coffin by Jean’s sons, other family members, some devoted friends, and two of her priests, “In remembrance of her baptism”. Jean Lawson led others into Christian faith and practice by her sheer goodness. Goodness and mercy lead her now into the paths of peace, and old acquaintance …
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
THE GLORIES OF AUTUMN resonated especially today, All Saints’ Day, as I drove over to Macclesfield to preside at the Funeral Thanksgiving for an old friend I admired very much indeed. Choosing what to say about Edward, with limited space and time, required intense focus because his life was a wholly rich life and the stories about him glad stories, and many. A patriarch; dearly loved husband (widowed these past six years), father of six girls, grandfather, hugely appreciated friend. Edward left his degree studies at Cambridge early to take up a wartime officer’s commission. Captured, and held prisoner of war for four and a half years, many another would have been utterly defeated. Not Edward. He studied for accountancy exams in a POW environment cold enough frequently to freeze the ink in his pen. And he continued to shine into his 90s, until the colours of autumn glowed in as well as around him. I shall think of Edward, and of his Rosalind, next time I sing “For all the saints …”
FUNERAL FAREWELL today for Eileen, a beloved wife, mother and friend to many. Many were Eileen’s talents and enthusiasms, but chief amongst these was the maintenance of a permanent log fire which signalled warmth of welcome to the many friends and family members who came today to give thanks and to say their farewells. Many, many gifts, but the one that everyone was celebrating most was a log fire and a warm welcome. Hearth and home. Priceless.