I attended a funeral this week of an inspiring lady from my church, ‘D’. Her death, while expected in some ways due to the leukaemia that had taken over her body, was a shock to her family and friends nonetheless.
She and her husband are both committed Christians and have done a lot for the church in their lifetime. However, the funeral wasn’t so much about their depth of faith, but was about how ‘D’ had lived her life and the impressions she made on people. We learned how she was the kind of woman to make the most of every day. How she was always challenging herself. How she used her creative talents to benefit others. How she was involved in community work and selflessly reached out to support young and old. All the while raising two children and being a dedicated wife, grandmother and homemaker. She had lived a life many of us aspire to, but did so without self-congratulation or pride, but humbly and modestly, and with an awesome dose of humour! She dealt with her illness with great courage and dignity.
It spoke volumes that the church was full of mourners and there was standing room only for some. While not originally from our village, all ages and people from all her life attended. A testament to who she was. A much-loved person who gave more love in return. I had only known her relatively briefly, a few years, and we socialised at church events. But there was much about my own relationship with her that made me feel a connection to her and such sorrow at her death.
She first introduced herself to me at the first church service I attended after my daughter’s funeral. This kind-faced couple approached me and she told me how they knew something of our loss, as they had lost their eldest grandchild in similarly sudden and unexpected circumstances at a similar age to Abi (who was 12 when she died). Ever since, they always made a point to say hello or to have a chat whenever they saw me. While there were periods where I didn’t see them for a while, I felt welcomed as an instant friend and there was a genuine sense of care and love about them.
When I heard ‘D’ had died a couple of weeks ago, my heart sank. I turned to my Bible and found this verse.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our troubles
so that we can comfort those in any trouble,
with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
I shared it with my church friends and was told by a close friend of hers that she had already pre-selected this verse to be read out at her funeral! I was surprised by this link as it was not a verse I was familiar with.
I contacted her husband to send him my regards, and he told me that, along with many other people, she asked him to keep me and my family in his prayers. Remarkable!
Her casket was a beautiful willow one, like we had for Abi. The pall bearers were from the same company we had used and I recognised one of them, who knew my daughter and also carried her casket.
A relative read a poem chosen by ‘D’ (who had planned her own funeral in very careful detail); it was the same poem we’d had read at our daughter’s funeral and, at that point, my tears spilled out. I felt the grief start to overwhelm me so I was in some way relieved when the service ended and I could get some air. I had to compose myself in time to collect my son from school… always pushing emotions back in in order to protect others.
I suppose being ill for so long and being such an organised soul, ‘D’ was able to plan the service which made it so personal and she was able to comfort us through it … because I did take comfort from her funeral. The hymns chosen, the readings, the many similarities to my own daughter’s funeral were all a comfort and a way for me to allow myself some much-needed time to mourn.
‘Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep.’
After the service, I was able to reflect on the experience. To think about my own faith. I wanted to leave the world in a similar way. I wanted to have true faith in knowing where I was going. I wanted to be remembered for living a life based on love and service to others. Like ‘D’, I wanted my service to be filled with spiritual love and hope as well as natural sorrow. I’m some way off that it feels, but I thank God for putting ‘D’ in my life to inspire me to live my life in the full faithfulness of God’s love.
My daughter’s funeral was an entirely different approach of course, as we weren’t expecting to hold a funeral for our child so plans had to be made quickly. It was still a special moving day filled with immense love and community support, but at that point it lacked the depth of faith I have now.
I get a sense that many funerals focus on the death, the shock and pain of the loss. There might be a lack of spiritual confidence, more that we should hope for the best that there really is a heaven. The mourners may feel numb and perhaps detached from God as they haven’t ever really considered, not really, what it means to know God. At ‘D’s’ funeral, however, I noticed, through the tears, the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was unmistakable. The room was naturally filled with Christians from ‘D’s’ family and congregation; the human and spiritual support in the church was like a force of God in itself.
I ask readers, especially my loved ones, to consider seriously your faith. Consider how you feel about dying. Consider what your funeral will be like. Be certain of your spiritual beliefs (if you have none, that’s of course your choice, at least you have explored the options). It will make an immense difference to both you on your passing and those you will leave behind, and will also be a huge benefit to your life in general. Dying really does matter.
I got the impression that none of the mourners felt ‘D’ was ‘lost’ or ‘abandoned’ in her death. There was deep sorrow, yes, but everyone knew her convictions and that through all her suffering she was able to keep that depth of faith until the end. I felt a strong sense that ‘D’ really was at peace. I almost sensed glory in that. I felt the pain of the family and my sorrow was more for them than for ‘D’ as they adjust to life without her. To love so deeply means to miss even more deeply.
You don’t have to be a ‘Bible-bashing martyr’ to appreciate the Christian faith – in fact not many are! So, why not work on truly ‘getting right with God’, and each other? Find peace in your heart. And tell people. A way to start could be by popping along to your local church or by attending an Alpha course near you. And, if you allow God to enter your heart, let others know so that they too can share in your comfort. There is no time like the present.