This week saw the six-month anniversary of Linda’s death come and go. Now I’m not someone who normally gets particularly bothered by dates, times etc; things like that don’t tend to get to me (they’re just “another day”). But this time it had a bit more resonance for me as I was asked to take a funeral on Tuesday, 6-months after I’d spent my last night with Linda holding her hand all night as her body packed up.
The funeral was of the sister of a good friend of mine here at FFMC who together with his wife have been very supportive to me personally. Christine had contracted measles aged 18-months at the same time as Ian; Ian recovered but Christine didn’t and as a result, spent her life effectively as an 18-month old child in an adult’s body, passing away aged 55 on Good Friday.
I know that when you have cared for someone through some of the harder knocks life throws at you, when they pass on from this life for those of us left behind there is a whole range of emotions. On the one hand there is a deep sadness, emptiness. Something triggers a memory and you find yourself crying for seemingly no reason. They are no longer sitting in their chair like they have always done. You walk into their room to speak to them before you remember they’re not there and perhaps walk out again feeling a bit cross with your self. Or perhaps there is a sense of relief, a sense of being set free both for them and for you, or a sense of business-like “that’s life”. And then you feel guilty for thinking such things.
All these things are natural, normal responses to losing someone special, and it’s important that we allow ourselves that time to grieve. To give ourselves permission to do so is an important, healthy decision to make, not to bottle it up but to allow ourselves to express how we feel honestly, openly and healthily.
Times like this also cause us to ask what some people call “the first order” questions of life – or to put it another way, we ask questions of life and death. Perhaps we each stop and ask what life is all about, or what happens when we die. How can we be sure of what happens after we die – does anything happen when we die? Or maybe when we look at Christine we ask questions of life – why – why did God allow Ian & Christine to both contract measles but only Ian to recover and Christine to have her whole life changed in that one moment. Why does God allow lives to be so tragically cut short, potential lost?
As someone who recently had to face these very questions myself, I know that sometimes there are simply no answers that can be given. To listen to a minister or any well meaning person try to trot out trite answers to questions of suffering can sometimes be offensive or hurtful. I have found that chasing answers to these questions can actually sap our energy, and sometimes prove to be a fruitless search.
But what I have found is that as a Christian, God is never far away from us at times like this, and rather than trying to make sense of the pain I have found it more helpful to draw strength from simply choosing to trust God. And so I prefer to focus upon those things we can know, the answers we can find and be sure about.
Who has the right to measure the value of anyone’s life? Who has the right to say that one person’s life is more valuable than anyone else’s? And how do we measure life anyway? I would suggest that the value of someone’s life can be measured by the effect that they have on other people. Seeing Christine at home with Ian and the family, and watching them struggling led their neighbour to begin the Charnwood Trust which has a significant impact working to build bridges between handicapped and non-handicapped children. Without Christine, would others have ever benefited from this care?
I believe it is therefore fair to say that the best of human virtues are wrought through the most difficult of circumstances. And in seeking to share God’s love with people hurt, damaged, disadvantaged in life we are actually walking in a way close to God’s heart.
I think I surprised myself with how I got through the service! My “weepy” moment came at the end when I was on my own at the door looking back at the coffin while everyone else was listening to a reflective CD by Michael W Smith. But I don’t think anyone noticed….
Family news: scary, but my kids are growing up too fast! Olivia dressed up for her school disco last night in a pretty dress, high heels, had her hair done, make up and perfume. She looked really pretty – but she’s not 9 until the end of May! Help!Oh, and I’m being ordained on the evening of Friday 9th May at Renewal Christian Centre!God is good!