As I get older, I reflect that the rate people die around me, who I have known, increases. This is not just celebrities (and I note there is a Radio 4 program each week that looks back on the lives of well known people who died in the preceding week, invariably some of who I know about and have impacted me, over a long time) but also people I knew personally, sometimes over a period of many years. I often find myself attending their funerals. There are many reasons for doing so: I get to pay my respects, reflect on life, support those who are close to the deceased and get to meet old and new friends.
In the past week, I got to attend two funerals, both cremations, and both of the services were less than half an hour. In neither case had I met the deceased and in both cases I only became aware of them recently. The first funeral was the son of a cousin I have known since my childhood. This was especially sorrowful given he left behind a young family and for parents the thought of outliving their children is always sad. But the service was dignified and went off well. As usual after there is a sense of the surreal but it was good to interact. As is becoming more the case these days, it was a humanist one. While I would have liked it to be a Christian service, it was the request of the decease. I felt the thought that something of the deceased and what he meant, stood for, gave out had left its mark on many of those left behind, was a lovely one and it gave me food for thought. As for my reasons for attending in the first place, this was more than justified; I was glad I could honour my distant relative.
As for the second funeral, it was the mother of a friend of a friend, and I was asked to conduct the service, as I have done on a number of previous occasions. It was good to spend time with those close so I could get some idea of the sort of person the mother was and of the family’s wishes concerning the service. I was reminded how slick the organization of these funerals are, by the person who organizes the songs, hymns etc. and the undertakers. I gave it my best shot and I think the family was happy. I was able to conduct the service on Christian lines, even though I was unsure what the beliefs of the deceased were, using as I usually do parts out of the 1662 Prayer Book. Besides playing tribute to the deceased, I spoke on a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes: “there is a time to be born and a time to die”. I reflected on how brief life was, the need to live life to the full, but also to prepare to meet our Maker. I shared while we weep we can also laugh and while we mourn we can also dance.
My attending two funerals in a week is exceptional. I have no doubt there will be many more to come, until it is my turn. I do not mean to be morbid, but one thing these times do bring out, besides those objects I set out earlier, is a sense of awe and wonder, humility and urgency. We are but a speck on the continuum of eternity, soon gone and forgotten all about. While my faith is such that I believe in eternal life, I agree with the humanist preacher: we all pass on something to/for those left behind, and may it be the good stuff.