A Funeral is an odd topic to write about: but death faces each one of us, and I have now reached the age where these occasions are more frequent. Belatedly, I realise that I have judged each one. I could not have specified the criteria on which I based that judgement until recently.
In the spring of this year, a very old friend of mine, who had been a Consultant Psychiatrist, was dying. Over the years, I had only spoken by phone to his family. However, on his death, they kindly took the time to inform me of his passing. I wondered, as I made my way to the Service, what he would have planned.
He was an assiduous man for detail in life; I presumed that, in full knowledge of his approaching death, he would have a PLAN. I was not disappointed.
Let me set the scene.
I arrived just five minutes before the appointed time, and could hardly park. The Church was crammed to capacity.
The Funeral commenced with Handel’s “OH, COMFORT YE MY PEOPLE”, while the Kirk Session(senior members of the Church of Scotland who deal mainly with spiritual matters) filed in as one. The first Hymn, “PRAISE MY SOUL THE KING OF HEAVEN” raised the rafters.
The Bible readings were short: all gave the message that God was in command. The Minister’s Tribute was personal and thoughtful, with areas of light and shade. This was followed by a rendering of “I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVETH”.
Then, astonishingly, his daughter stood up and read to the assembled congregation, a message written by father. Normally, when close family members speak of the deceased, they are overwhelmed by emotion at some point. But these were her father’s words, and she was one step removed. She was standing in his shoes, conveying what he wished others to know.
In his message, he thanked us for coming and apologising courteously for not being able to be with us in person, thereby raising a smile. Strikingly, he confessed to not being proud of everything that he had done, and expressed his gratitude that he had not received his just desserts, but had, instead, been blessed. He personally named those who had supported him, and demonstrated a value-based life.
This was true humility from a great man. He had singlehandedly raised his four children after the death of his wife; simultaneously coping with his Medical career, and struggling against ill health. But his struggles, difficulties and heartache were not mentioned.
The closing hymn was “THE DAY THOU GAVEST LORD IS ENDED” and for the first time, I really appreciated the depth of meaning. It came as quite a shock, as I have played it and sung it many times. This time, however, I saw the glory. Astonishing!
The Service ended with “AND THE TRUMPET SHALL SOUND”. Once outside, the Kirk Session lined the Church driveway for that final journey.
Everyone I spoke to said: “He was there!” and felt that they had been comforted.
All the points that a funeral should meet were addressed: comfort, consolation, dignity, solemnity, and the promise of a life hereafter.
Through his message, he had spoken after death, to each one personally, and empathised. He had found a sensitive way to give his daughter a confident voice.
It stimulated awe and inspiration.
©Linda Jane McLean