It has been a day of opposites today, where sorrow and comedy have lived side by side.
The sorrow came in the shape of two funerals I attended today. The first was for a 37 year old woman who died suddenly in hospital a couple of weeks ago. Her family were devastated – how on earth can a young mother of four children be suddenly be taken away with no warning and no reason?- and though I didn’t personally know her, it was impossible not to be hit by the tidal wave of their distress during the service. I was present during the service to help with the music and to some photos the family had chosen on a slide show on the TV screen to tell the story of her life, which is something I am proud to have been able to do for them.
The second funeral was for a 77 year old gentle man who was a friend to me and a member of our congregation. You’ll notice I split that word to describe him, but he truly was a very gentle and humble man. He had lots of health problems which mainly stemmed from a brain tumour he had at the age of 13, and he had been given a life expectancy of no more than 2 years after the surgery to remove it.
The service for him was very different to the one earlier. Both were Christian services held in church and both were families who had the Christian faith running through the family, yet they were as opposite to each other as could be. The music – one was mostly pop songs that were played on an iPad; the other was all hymns which were played on the church organ. The circumstances – one was a young woman who shouldn’t be dead; the other was an elderly gentleman who arguably shouldn’t have still been alive. The families – one was totally devastated and lost; the other peacefully accepting.
There were similarities too – the certain faith that their loved ones are not lost to us, just lost from this life and are now with God; the trust that their grief will eventually be assuaged, and they will celebrate having known and loved both of these people.
Of course, as in life, death isn’t perfect either and there was comedy (if not farce) in the day too.
The first funeral was to be held at 12 o’clock, and the second at 2.15pm. That would have been ample time to make sure the service for the first was held with dignity, the vicar could travel the mile and a half to the crematorium to conduct the short service there before heading back to church, and the mourners would have time to move on to the wake without being rushed before the next one arrived.
Only the limousine to take the family to the crematorium for the first funeral broke down and couldn’t be started. The funeral directors sent for another limo, which was fine because at least the funeral could continue and the service at the crematorium would have been on time, but our church is on a main road where there is no daytime parking, and the limo was blocking the space for the next hearse and limo to arrive.
This is a picture of the vicar, who had arrived back from the first one, “helping” the funeral directors trying to get it going.
They got a bit frantic when they realised that the next one was due in about 20 minutes and so ended up man-handling the car further up the road to make way for it, and then rang for the breakdown service.
We didn’t think any more of it until after the second service, when it was getting a bit dark outside and everyone left the church to go to the crematorium, to be faced with a massive bright orange RAC truck – complete with lights flashing – loading up the first limo directly in front of the second hearse.
It was a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place on a hidden camera prank show on TV!
My overwhelming feeling about today is one of thankfulness. I’m thankful that I had the privilege of being able to help a family I didn’t know celebrate the life of Janine, and I’m also thankful that I had the chance to hear Brian’s story and share the sorrow felt by his brother Frank and the rest of his family. I’m thankful that I had the privilege to know Brian personally too; he had the twinkliest blue eyes and he was always cheerful, even on the days when his health problems were getting him down.
I’m thankful too for my own family and for my place in it. I’m thankful for my faith in God, and most of all I’m thankful that life – and death – is a splendid mix of sorrow and comedy.