Friday, 28 February 2014

Funerals

Howard, with son & younger brother
I'm not a great fan of funerals at the best of times, but two in five days is clearly excessive. Especially when both were more-or-less my contemporaries, both died suddenly, and one had been a friend since college days, some thirty-five years ago.

I generally try to wear something green to funerals, in amongst all the dreary black, because I do believe in all the "unless a seed is planted" stuff about resurrection. But in the meantime there is separation, and a breaking of immediate ties. Ties of family and friendship and responsibility. There is a hope that all will meet again come the resurrection, but for now there is an absence and a space unfilled.

Although, when I think about it, both these friends died after their kids had grown up, not before. One - many years ago, whilst his kids were young - had suffered from a brain tumour, which was expected to be fatal but unexpectedly responded to treatment/prayer. The other spent many years wandering around the globe, so for him absence has not been unusual. He had been settled back in the UK for a while before he died, though, so there was some time to spend (the photo above is from last summer). Life is a gift, length of life can be a gift, but often we want more.

Of the two friends with funerals, one, George, was a committed churchgoer - he was actually my house-group leader when I first went to Caversham Baptist Church some 18 years ago - the other, Howard was not. Often that makes a difference to the feel of the funeral, to how well it reflects the person being mourned/celebrated. In this case it was a bit different.

The minister taking George's funeral did a decent enough job, but was perhaps too close, took it too personally. The result failed to reflect the breadth and variety of George's life and the people he had been involved with - and had come to the funeral - on the one hand, and didn't really reflect much hope on the other.

Although Howard wasn't a churchgoer, it turned out the minister there, 'oop north' in Runcorn Old Town, had actually met him a couple of times. He also remembered his sister dying six years ago. Their Mum is still alive and he made the link between the horribleness for a parent of seeing their child die and the experience of Mary in the Bible. A difficult link to carry off without being naff or unkind, I thought, but he handled it well. The family gave two 'tributes' before the minister spoke - as happened for George's funeral - and he let them handle the more personal stuff, whilst he focussed on pain, hope and resurrection. I thought he did an amazing job, myself.

So I guess funerals do have their place: a time to say farewell, a chance to get together to share memories, an opportunity to pay one's respects, a reminder of the Christian hope that we will meet again. I still don't like them, but I am glad I went ... to both, but especially to Howard's in far-off Runcorn.

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