Before Covid struck, in 2019, a long-standing friend asked me to take the funeral for his wife. Visiting the family, working on the service, preparing my words was an experience that from one point of view was familiar. All my ministry, visiting the dying and bereaved with responsibility for the funeral and pastoral aftercare was a significant dimension of my work. This 2019 service with a full church and a large turn out from the regional Guides organization (of whom she had been leader), expressed Christian hope with celebration for her life.
But, from another point-of-view I felt something unfamiliar as though this marked the end of the road for taking funerals. Sadly, I know that attending them would continue ever more frequently. Yet, the process of undertaking pastoral responsibility for them seemed too much to bear.
In January, a friend asked Carol and me to visit him. It was clear that he had something serious to share. Recently he been diagnosed in the last stage of cancer with only a few months to live. Deliberately, he did not seek further details about how long. He would live each day as fully as possible. And, yes, he asked me whether I would take his funeral. Perhaps you can imagine my tension, feeling that this aspect of my ministry had closed...yet.
Carol, unawares of this inner tension, which in fairness I had never clearly defined, lovingly answered that she was sure I would. Those who know Carol will not be surprised at her being spokesman! Of course, she was absolutely right.
Through these last months I have been visiting him as he became increasingly frail. On Saturday, surrounded by his family, he died. As we spent time with his widow and sister yesterday, I recognized the familiarity of praying and preparing, yet also knew the unfamiliarity that this will definitely be my last funeral.
It will be a big funeral. Robin Page is a local controversial character with a national profile. I need to share some more details about his action-packed life in another post. He truly added to our lives. So, importantly prayers and love go out to his family at this sad time. But this moment in my life has brought me to a whole set of pastoral reflections.