So, I went to another funeral recently. I rather enjoy a good funeral, me. Yes, they can be sad but they can also be beautiful, bittersweet and uplifting. This one was all three and more, a two-hanky gig. And a beautiful, family party al fresco on a gorgeous day of sunshine and clear blue skies over the green lawns of Home Counties England at her finest; Jerusalem, The Lord’s My Shepherd, Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah. Need I say more?
The recently departed was 89 and, as was revealed in the eulogy, she had lived a life of service to others, a life of love and of faith. As a younger woman she had been a nurse, often in frightening circumstances in Africa, and sometimes in ways which had been life-threatening during war and strife and uprisings. She put the wellbeing of her patients before concerns for her own safety even after having become a mother herself.
She had given birth to five children who had gone on to produce sixteen grandchildren, all of whom loved her in a way in which I don’t think would have been possible in earlier generations. I loved my grandparents, for sure. But I didn’t have the sort of exuberant modern relationship with them that these young people were fortunate to enjoy with their Grandma so their loss was so much the greater, as was clearly visible. You know what I mean…popping round on your own and hanging out with your grandparents in an informal way which was less about respect (though certainly not without it) and more about a real, living and lively friendship and an everyday loving exchange, not just saved for high days and holidays.
I think the thing which impressed me most was that she was an example to us all and I don’t just mean this in a sentimental way which funerals can provoke. I mean that if I don’t take it upon myself to pick up her mantle and carry on in the world as she did, then we risk her finest qualities being lost to us and to future generations forever.
Love, love and more love; whatever life throws at you, however challenging your relationships, greet everyone and everything with love first. Be love. Embody love. And peace, and calm, and selflessness, and lack of ego, not needing to look big in anyone’s eyes yet all the while continuing to serve those in need due to health or life’s cruel circumstance. She Helped the Aged, despite being way older than many of them. She volunteered all across the globe with the homeless, refugees and the dispossessed. She went to church, faithful to the end to her own beliefs though they are no longer fashionable. She was her own woman, quiet yet determined.
I am fearful that what this fine woman represented will die out. As we thought about and were grateful for her gifts to us during a service of thanksgiving, there cannot have been a person in the church who wasn’t inspired to be a better person, unless they were made of stone. I know we are a bit likely to sanctify those we love who have recently passed. This was not such an occasion. In fact I would say that the loving tributes erred on the side of modesty, as did she to whom they were dedicated. In death as in life.
Amongst her relatives I did see some of her qualities scattered. No-one embodied them all, as she did, but as long as we have them sprinkled between us, then the future of humanity is safe. But imagine if we can be inspired to take on a few more now we don’t have her to do it for us, or even just one more of her better qualities, each of us, then we shall be more than safe, we shall be greater than the sum of our parts and we shall have a small reserve in the bank of human kindness. We shall be active contributors to a better world, the sort of world I know I want to live in and see thrive, not wither and die, the sort of world she sought to create by playing her individual part, knowing that was all she could do and that it was sufficient.
I am sure this lovely lady’s qualities and values will seem old-fashioned to many but, when examined with a little more sensitivity, it must be clear to all of us that the little bit of Grandma that lives on in each of her grandchildren, albeit in a funky modern version, is only a good thing. I saw them exhibit love and fun and passion and determination and ambition and good manners and kindness and humour and beauty and inspiration and yes, even service. Long may we all continue to honour her memory in that way.