I officiated at a funeral yesterday- something I have never done before. I found myself having to learn the language and rhythm of collective expressions of grief. A friend of mine who does all this for a living (or used to) helped me to appreciate how the way we shape the service can act as an essential grounding rod for our emotional response to death.
So yesterday, we celebrated the life of Bob, who left behind a wife of almost 70 years, two daughters, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
His eldest daughter, my dear friend Pauline, told me a story about his last days.
She was alone with her father in the hospital room. Bob was very unwell, slipping in and out of consciousness, but when he was awake, she noticed that he was distracted by something in front of him. It was so real to him that he assumed Pauline must see it too.
It was a door.
Bob said that he knew he had to go through this door, and that he could take nothing with him.
Of course, we don’t know what this means. Perhaps his mind and body were preparing him for death; his subconsciousness was somehow allowing him to confront the inevitability that is facing all of us.
Or perhaps he was indeed being called onward for the next part of his journey.
I wrote this for the service yesterday;
…all we know is that a door opened in the corner of the hospital room
Seen only by him
He watched for a while, wondering what lay beyond
Wanting to stay but
Knowing he must go
Held for a while by tender threads, until even they
At the door, he lingered, then
Stepped through, drawn towards the light
Blessed are we who mourn
Blessed are you, whose hearts are breaking
Because without great love, there can be no mourning
Without the shelter of our shared companionship
We could never feel the searing pain of loss.
Without this wrench of separation
We could never hope to meet again
It always takes darkness
For us to see the light
So, may your coming days be gentle, your companions ever kind
May memory bring great joy as well as pain
May grace find you like a feather, blown in on the breeze
May it lift you high into clear blue sky
Where only blackbirds go
And in those moments when grief overwhelms you, remember;
You are never alone.