Tricky – but great too

It was odd to be setting off for a funeral with all my family – normally it’s just me, and I was aware of being withdrawn beforehand.  I think I would be usually, but I don’t generally have a couple of hours’ car journey with other people to contend with.  As we drove up, it was very cold and very still.  The plumes coming out of each cooling tower at Didcot weren’t mixing until around 700-800 feet, and then the plume went straight up for another 1000 feet or so, until turning a sharp right angle against the blue sky.  It looked stunning.  It also served to remind me of my previous “life”, when I would have thought about a cold snap quite differently.  Less than two years can be a very long time.

We arrived in good time, and already people were gathering, so I did my usual identification of people doing tributes and had a quick chat.  They were all Cricket Club based, and as they worked out who I was, not as priest, but as village, they thawed even more quickly.  

It was odd to be at the Crematorium which was the closest to my childhood home – I’ve been to funerals there myself, but not for years, and not with any professional interest!.  So it was a relief to get in and examine buttons, and work out who would be where.  Crematorium staff don’t get nearly enough credit for the simple things – the quality of welcome they give to a priest who has never officiated there before, and probably never will again, the attention to detail of cleanliness, tidiness and care.

And so we gathered – a family, friends, colleagues, neighbours.  It took three repetitions of “Jerusalem” to get everyone through the doors, and it was odd to be standing at the front and see so many people I knew, many of them not expecting to see me.  I don’t normally introduce myself in any detail at the start of a funeral, but here I did, just to put myself in context.  The difference is that usually I wouldn’t be part of the context of the dead person, certainly not to any great degree.  Mostly people need to know I am the officiant, and they can work that out from the robes!  

We began, we continued.  A poem he had had published was read with (typically) great courage by his daughter, his younger son spoke words of welcome, thanks and invitation, friends recalled him.  My talk reverted to the simplest theology – Love God, Love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.  We can’t know how much a person loves God – it’s hard to measure, but we can tell love of neighbour by action, and so I wove the story of my neighbour with the story of God and His children.  

The hard moment came as I did the committal, and I was the person who got the last glimpse of the coffin.  I wanted to say “God Bless”, as he did so often to me, but found I could only do so in my head.  That intertwining of personal and professional was hard.  However, with tongue pressed firmly against the back of my bottom teeth (a great trick for not crying) I did a final prayer and blessing.  We left to the Test Match theme, which made everyone laugh as it began, and so I recovered.

It was interesting how many people said “it must have been easier because you knew him so well”.  It was certainly easier to make the service very personal – but it was much harder to stay behind my professional face.  I still struggle to get a balance of how much of “me” is allowed out into the “priest” – and let more and more out as I become more confident, but this funeral is the one where I was most myself.  This was a funeral for people who knew me long before priesthood was on the cards, hiding was not an option.

The wake was great fun, it was lovely to have my family there too and catch up with everyone.  But best of all was knowing that so many people prayed for me over the previous week, enabling me to do a decent job, and knowing that God was right in the middle, with care and with love.  Alleluia!


3 responses to “Tricky – but great too

  1. Hi Claire,

    I hope you get this because you must know this, you were amazing at Dad's service. I mean AMAZING! You'll never know how much you helped us that day. Having a friend who knew dad, warts and all, made the service and the long run up to it so much easier to bear. We knew it was a lot to ask so from the bottom of our hearts – thank you!

    I know the only reason I managed to read Dad's poem was because of your reassurance that you would to step in should I crumble. I know that you would've judged the situation and that meant the pressure was off me. So thank you. Thank you for giving me the gift of courage so as I could honour Dad my way.

    I speak for all of us when I say that, yes Dad's service was remarkably 'fun' as well as hard. I too kept thinking that any minute now the sound of Cricket will resonate round the room and I will smile. A smile helps the lump go down a little easier doesn't it?

    Mum is doing really well and your service is re-live by each of us daily, hourly in fact! We, especially Mum draw a lot of comfort from that day. It helps take the edge of the hurt for a little while and that is a most wonderful and powerful gift to give anyone. And you did that for us – how humble we are….

    I know that Mum and I would love to come and visit one day this year, perhaps come to one of your services. We want to tell your parishioners just what a truly great person you are! I'm sure they're all learning this now though.

    Much much love and….God Bless!

    George xxxxxxxx

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