Love and Loss


angelOver two days this week I have been involved in four funerals. When I say “involved” I mean that I have provided the music for one, delivered the eulogy and address at one, supported a friend who was delivering his first eulogy at another, and at one to mourn the passing and celebrate the life of a friend. It might seem that to go to four funerals in two days is a bit much, but to be honest, I found those two days a journey of personal and spiritual growth, and I have learned more about myself and the relationships I have with people around me after reflecting on the lives of the four people I said farewell to.

For the first funeral (Wednesday), my role was to play the music during the funeral of Daniel*. He was an elderly gentleman whose family had chosen to have a church service and burial, and his funeral was attended by lots of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. He was a big Blue (a big Manchester City fan in case you didn’t know) and he was brought into church to the beautiful singing of Mel Torme and “Blue Moon”. In the congregation was Fred Eyre who used to play for City and who now provides match commentary on Radio Manchester. The tributes were read by Daniel’s friend, and by an 11 year old little girl, who lived next door to him. It was very moving to hear an 11 year old child speak about the gentle giant that Daniel was, and she brought me to tears with her emotional speech.

On Thursday morning I attended three services at the crematorium, one in each of the three chapels there. I had the privilege of giving my very first funeral address. It was for William*, who had died in October and whose family were unable to organise the funeral for him. I did manage to speak to a couple of people who knew William and I learned a little of his life and the manner of his death, and I drew on that information and the gospel message to be able to write an address for him. I didn’t expect many family members to be present, but as it turned out there were about 50 people there to hear the funeral service and to mourn William’s passing.

Straight after William’s funeral was the service for George*. My role was two-fold, first to be a support for my friend Nick, who was also delivering his first funeral address, and also to be a mourner for George who had only two distant family members there for him.

After George’s service was the funeral of one of my own friends, Bryce. He was a cornet player and involved in many brass bands over the years so the chapel was full to the brim, with standing room only at the back and down the sides. I estimated over 200 people were there for him today, and the tributes were rich and emotional, moving and joyful. The band played “Nimrod” as a piece of reflection music, which again was very moving, and there were lots of tears shed at the very end when Bryce’s own cornet playing was relayed to the gathering in a recording he made about 18 months ago of “Ave Maria”.

So, four very different funerals. Four very different people, and four different views of death and saying goodbye to them. When I look at them as a group of four, I see the differences that life throws up to us. One man drew a couple of hundred mourners, another drew just two; one man’s family had split down the middle and didn’t really know about each other – not because of any argument but by a simple drifting apart and not speaking to each other; one man had no family to even fall out with and was truly alone in the world.

The differences go on and on, but it’s the similarities that strike me.

All four men at some point in their lives had met with hardship and struggle. With health, with learning difficulties, with failed marriages, with family splits. They had all loved and lost in one form or another, and yet they still managed to survive into later years, to about 70-80 years old each.

Another similarity is that they were all loved. Love is love, and to me it doesn’t matter whether there are just a couple of family members and “staff” from the local church to mourn you, or whether there are 200 people and a big brass band gathered to send you off, the fact is that these men were all loved and were mourned.

But it’s not just love that we understand in human terms that these men experienced, they are loved by God our father who loves us all, no matter how lost or broken we may feel, or how messy and chaotic our lives may be, or how we view ourselves as failures and so on. The love that sustained these four men sustains us all too, and we all have the promise of resurrection in glory at the end of days.

Death is a great leveller, and I realised on Thursday that no matter what our life’s achievements are or what may try to accumulate in material wealth, we all end our days on earth here the same way.

 

*Names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the individuals concerned.

Recovering From Grief


Our regular study group at church last night was a little bit different, and we had a discussion around death instead of our usual Bible study and worship. We looked at death in today’s society and our experiences of it with a view to how it will help us in our ministry to those who are grieving or who are having difficulty moving through the stages of grief and bereavement. It might sound a little bit morbid, but to be honest, I found it a really uplifting and enriching experience and it wasn’t the least bit fearful or distasteful as it might first sound.

We looked at our own experiences of loss and grief, and then we looked at various aspects of death and, using discussion prompt cards, had a chat in small groups about a couple of them.

One question that really stood out for me was “Do we ever recover from grief?”.

My initial response was “yes, of course we do”. But then we got into discussion about it and after hearing a couple of other people give their experiences of grief, I realised that I was not really in a position to answer that question quite that easily, because I hadn’t lost someone very close to me such as a spouse or a child. I have lost close family members and I have grieved for the loss of them, but I am fortunate in that I still have both my parents, my husband and my two children alive and well alongside me. That means that my viewpoint of the question is slightly different from my friend H who lost her husband within the last two years, whose answer was “no, you don’t”. She explained that she has learned to cope with her loss but she doesn’t feel secure in the knowledge that she has “recovered” as such. I was moved by her explanation and it has given me a lot of food for thought today.

I talked about this question with my husband Kevin earlier, and we talked a little bit about how grief has affected us individually and how that the idea of “recovering” from grief very much depends on the person who has died and the nature of the relationship we had with them before they died.

After a bit more thinking and talking, we came up with this analogy:

crumpled-paperIf you take a piece of paper – clean, white, unspoiled paper – and crumple it into a tight ball, then open it up and smooth it down again, you could say that the piece of paper having gone through the grief process of being crumpled up then straightened out again is still the same piece of paper as it was before, only it has been changed by it. It isn’t quite the same; it bears marks and scuffs that show it has been through some sort of trauma, and while it can still function as a piece of paper, it has been changed by it.

smoothed-out-paper

Thinking about it further, I came up with another one that might explain what it might be like to lose someone close:

eggTake an egg, and plunge it into boiling water. When you take out that egg, it is still an egg and is still fully serviceable as an egg, but because of the boiling water experience, you can’t even begin to put it back to the state it was in before. The intensity of the boiling water did something to its internal structure and it cannot physically or emotionally be the same as it was before, yet it is still an egg.

And so it is with us. For some of us, recovering from grief may be a little bit like the piece of paper analogy. Yes, we go through some pain of being crumpled up, and for some of us the process of smoothing out again can be a further source of pain but eventually we get there. Not quite the same as we were before, but we are more or less as we were before we experienced loss. However, for some of us, recovering from the loss of a loved one is more like the egg. We go through the intensity of boiling water for any length of time and yet our outer shell might look the same as it was before, our innards have irrevocably changed and we cannot be the same people as we once were. We still have a function, and we still look and taste the same, but to say that we have “recovered” would be wrong.

 

 

2014 In Review


It’s been a funny old year, but I am so glad to report that I have arrived at the end of it in one piece and with all my faculties intact. There have been some losses, some gains, some highs and some lows. A few notable mentions:

My Gran – my Gran passed away in February this year and even though her health had been suffering for some considerable time, it still came as a shock and her death has left a huge hole in all our lives. She was a wonderful lady whose love for others marked her out above everyone else. Gracious, cheerful, loving, hospitable, generous to a fault, she will be forever missed.

Education – I passed the first module in my renewed assault on my degree in June this year. It wasn’t a brilliant pass mark, but it was more than I was expecting and it has set me up to carry on with the two modules that I started in September. All being well and good, I will have my BA in June this year. My son passed his Grade 4 Bass Trombone with Distinction in March and he scraped through his Grade 5 in November. He might have done better if he had learned his scales, but hey, everyone knows that scales and kids don’t mix!

Work – I managed to earn some money this year by invigilating exams at my husband’s school, and I also managed to get a few hours supervising in the classroom too. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it paid a few overdraft fees so I’m not complaining.

Church – I completed my first year as an Authorised Lay Minister (ALM) with my church this year, and I am in a period of contemplation and prayer about what – if any – my next steps are. I have had an absolute ball at Messy Church this year. It has been fun, noisy, messy and challenging and I’m really looking forward to more of the same next year. I have delivered two sermons this year – one at our partner church in Blackley, and one at my own church. It was a bit strange, but also entirely natural, to preach to my “own”. I actually felt myself grow during the process of research, writing, editing and then delivering them and it’s something I may have a bit of a touch for. Let’s see what God’s plan is for me this year!

Finance – if you have seen any of my posts about this subject you will know that finances have been extremely tight this year. To be totally honest there have been several weeks where they have been non-existent and had it not been for my parents and my friends we would not have eaten for days at a time. We have cut back so far even on essential spending over the years that when the crunch came, we had no more to cut back on and so the only option was to not buy food. Or medicines. Or fuel. Or pay bills. Anyway, that particular storm has passed and we have got a financial plan in place that means while we don’t have any spare cash we can now at least pay for things like dental care and eye care. I can also pay for my medicine again, so we are ending the year on a high note as far as finances are concerned.

Family – you must know by now that my family is a barmy lot! We have had some great times together this year, including an impromptu roast dinner yesterday (aren’t they the best?!). We have played carols, watched the sunrise, played with a kite on the beach, been for bike rides, seen a wild barn owl, watched Santa’s sleigh pass overhead, fallen out with each other over daft things like “who left their trainers THERE??!!”, played a lot of games, listened to a lot of music, laughed a lot, cried a lot, missed each other a lot and generally got on like families do.

family dinner

Music – I have conducted the band on top of the world this summer (OK, well perhaps not up Everest, but it felt that high to me after a 2 hour hike up to Stoodley Pike!), been eaten alive by the world’s most ferocious midgies (OK, perhaps not, but if you’ve ever been in Todmorden park on a summer’s evening you’ll know what I mean), played the Last Post at a friend’s funeral, arranged a Queen song for brass band that included the use of half a dozen bicycle bells, begun writing my own song (required for my music module for my degree) and made a start on a Christmas song for my friend Gill (I promise I’ll get it done for next year Gill!). I had the privilege of conducting my son making his debut as a soloist this Christmas and have cried at the sheer emotion of 20 toddlers singing Away in a Manger. It’s been a varied one!

All in all, 2014 has been good to me and I feel like the hard bits have made me stronger. It’s not often I can say that but this year, truly, it’s been a blessing.

My best wishes and my prayers to you dear reader and I will see you safe and sound in 2015. God bless you.

 

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Boxing Day Ramble


keep calm its boxing dayIn the UK the day after Christmas Day is called Boxing Day, which is today. Nobody knows really why it is called that, but we think it has something to do with the giving of alms to poor and destitute people in the past. Nowadays it is all about shopping – as if there wasn’t enough of that in the last couple of weeks. It is also the feast day of St Stephen. You know him. He of Good King Wenceslas fame.

There are numerous Boxing Day traditions here – the aristocracy go hunting, the loonies go swimming in the North Sea amongst them.

In our house, Boxing Day is traditionally a day of rest. We make no plans to do anything or go anywhere, just to sit and relax and enjoy some time together after the hustle and bustle of Advent and Christmas. Today has been no exception. We had brunch of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toasted bagels at about 11 am and I have had a great time crocheting a blanket for Emma whilst watching “Stuart Little 2” and “Meet Me In St Louis” this afternoon. Heaven!

I made a soup for tea tonight using the leftover veg from yesterday and some of the leftover turkey meat. It was scrummy and just what the doctor ordered. Not that we overindulged yesterday – far from it! We had a simple Christmas dinner yesterday – turkey, pork, roast potatoes, new potatoes, carrots, sprouts and parsnips with trifle to follow – and between six of us we drank about 3 bottles of wine all day and evening. To be honest things have been so busy in the last three weeks or so that none of us had the energy for anything more adventurous and by 5 o’clock we were all totally wiped out. It was a case of clock watching until about 9pm when it was deemed “appropriate” for us to one by one slip off to bed. The last one up turned the lights out at about 10.30pm last night. Not so much feasting and festivities as crashing over the finishing line and craving sleep by the end of the day.

If you remember I gave you a little insight into what I’d been doing over the course of a couple of days when I wrote my last Daybook Entry. I would do the same here but to be honest there has been so much going on that it is all a blur and I can only remember the key points, such as playing as a family for our Carol Service on Sunday in church (immensely proud of my family for pulling that one off),doing Messy Church on Christmas Eve afternoon (great fun, and very messy!!!), playing for our neighbours in the street yesterday morning (thanks to everyone who gave us a wave and cheered us on), playing for our service yesterday in church (by now our little family quartet were getting rather good at playing together and we didn’t want to stop!) and visiting the in laws yesterday afternoon.

You might have gathered by now where the “rambling” part of this post’s title comes from… I do have a lot of stuff swishing round my mind at the moment and I thought if I could share it out there in blogland it might help me put some of it to rest.

In amongst all the “busyness” of the Christmas lead-up, there have been some really poignant and significant events that have happened either to me, or to someone I love. They have made me reflect on things and I wanted to share them with you in this ramble. Forgive me…

My cousin celebrated the 18th birthday of her eldest son just before Christmas. While in normal circumstances that is a big enough milestone, when you consider that when he was born he was a whole two months premature and for weeks and weeks it was touch and go whether he would survive or not, his 18th birthday means all that much more to us.

One of my friends lost his father on 5th December and his funeral was held on Friday 13th December. It would have been his 80th birthday that day, but instead it was his funeral. My friend now has no immediate family left and to all intents and purposes is all alone in this world. He does have close friends, but it isn’t the same as having family is it? He has never married, he lost his brother around four years ago and both his parents have now passed. I love my friend and wish there was something more I could for him and with him, but what can I do? I feel his pain and want to share it with him, but his very alone-ness makes it impossible to get closer to him.

I lost two of my church family in December – Neville and Brian. Both of them were elderly men and they had entirely different backgrounds and lifestyles but I loved them both and I will miss them.

One of my friends from church has been told that breast cancer has returned for a second time. She will be having a mastectomy in the next few days and my heart aches for her. She is putting a brave face on things but you can see that the light is dimming behind her eyes at the minute.

A lady I got to know from New Zealand died the week before Christmas too. Her story is remarkable and that she had survived as long as she did was a testament to her strength and faith. She visited her family here earlier this year and we knew then that her illness was terminal and that we would never see her again, but she managed a return visit at the end of the summer holidays and into September. The journey from NZ to Manchester was a gruelling one and she had to spend a few precious days away from her family and in hospital to recover. She travelled home with her husband in mid-September where her condition worsened, and she gave up her grip on life here on Earth on 16th December. Her gentleness of spirit and strength of faith in God shone like a beacon from her during both her visits and she touched the hearts of everyone she met.

My cousin, who lost her Dad two years ago, posted on Facebook on Christmas Eve how much she was missing him and how they will still enjoy Christmas even though it wasn’t right that he was not there to share it with them. She posted a photo of him too; I cried.

All of these things (and more) have gone into the reflective mood I have found myself in over the last couple of days. I haven’t come to any sort of conclusion, but the fact that Christmas is as much about loss as anything else has become more obvious to me this year more than at any time in the past.

Christmas itself is so emotive – the fact that it comes right in the darkest part of the year; the fact that there are so many images of the “perfect” family enjoying the “perfect” time together; the fact that everyone else seems to manage  to buy their kids the best of everything with gadgets and technology galore while you can’t even come close to your kids’ Christmas list; the emphasis on FAMILY and TOGETHERNESS; the pain of putting a brave face on things while you are dying inside; the guilt associated not fully grasping, or not wanting to know about the religious aspect of the season… Why do we insist on punishing ourselves when all we have to do is look outside of our own circle to see it just how things are elsewhere?

Here in the UK we have had massive storms that have left thousands of people without power, without homes even, and unable to celebrate Christmas at all. There are huge floods everywhere and Christmas has been ruined for hundreds of families right through the country. For those of us who haven’t been affected by the storms so far we are still left with the worry of not being able to meet the bills for heating our homes adequately. And we haven’t even got to the worst of winter yet.

Life goes on doesn’t it? Even in the midst of heartache, grief, bereavement, worry, hardship and threat, life goes on. The best we can do is a) to live each day to its full potential, and b) to make sure that those we love are given the encouragement to go on living their days to their full potential too.

Forgive me this Boxing Day ramble – there have been a lot of words washing round my head and I needed to share them!

We are going to be going out tomorrow for a proper ramble. I hope to have some pictures to share with you tomorrow instead of all these words.

I trust your Christmas has been everything you wanted it to be. Blessings to you all.

Pam x