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.

Hopes and Dreams


What happens to our hopes and dreams?

We are full of them when we are children. We dream of good things; a happy home, a nice garden, a good job, children, families of our own. Success. Holidays in the sun. Travel. Real friends.

But what happens to those things as we grow up? We take our exams, we leave school, we have children, we go to work and have holidays but it never turns out quite the way we dreamt it would. Life as we dreamed it is bloody hard work. “Having a good job” means long hours in spent in the office or having a physically demanding role that exhausts us. “Being married” means having to compromise every decision you make so that you can live in harmony with someone else. “Having children” means the constant worry that is the natural phenomena of being a parent – is my child happy? Hungry? Hurting? Are they occupied? Are they learning? Are they safe?

We began doing “Experience Easter” in church yesterday with the children of Blackley. It is a program designed to tell the Easter story interactively, and we are working our way through three primary schools over the next two weeks. That’s about 1000 children (wow!!!). There are six stations that we use to tell the Easter story: Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ death on the cross and the Resurrection.

Part of the story involves the children thinking about their hopes and dreams, just as the people of Jerusalem would have done when Jesus arrived on his donkey 2000 years ago. Back then, they dreamed of a leader who would overthrow the brutal Roman occupation; they hoped Jesus would set them free from their tyranny. We asked the children about their hopes and dreams for the future yesterday. Their answers were perhaps not surprising: “I want to be a doctor”, “- a vet”, “- a beautician”, “go to college”, “have good qualifications”. One little boy got angry with me when I asked him the question. He shouted at me and waved his hands in the air, saying “I’ve got a lot on at the minute, I can’t think about the FUTURE!!!” (this from a 10 year old. Makes you wonder what his life is really like). I suggested that perhaps he hoped and dreamed of peace and some space in his life. He welled up and said “chance would be a fine thing”. So sad, but it does make you think about what hopes and dreams are to some people.

I thought about everything the children said to me yesterday. Mums were having new babies, there was turbulence at home etc but there was an underlying thread in what they all said and that was that they wanted to be successful.

I wondered about how as adults we sometimes lose sight of that childlike desire and how we let everyday things dominate us. Maybe we should be more like children and instead of hoping and dreaming of things, concentrate on hoping and dreaming of the way to just be.