One Friend plans a funeral but celebrates life in the 'Thought for the week'
‘And the end of words is to bring men to the knowledge of things beyond what words can utter.’
- Isaac Penington
The answerphone was blinking: three missed calls, all saying ‘Please ring me as soon as possible’, each with a greater sense of urgency. They were from a cheerful, well read, deeply committed member of the Meeting whose health had begun to fail. Some years before, in healthier times, he had asked me about a Quaker funeral. Might he join me when I next attended a Quaker funeral or ‘Celebration of life’, he inquired? He did. Now, some years later, we were continuing that conversation.
I rang him as requested. He greeted me warmly, ‘Girl, I am in a bad way. Can you come?’ ‘Whenever it suits you,’ I replied. There was a long pause as he struggled with his breathing before replying, ‘Come Friday’.
Over the next two days I searched for the right words. I was overwhelmed, filled with a sense of being inadequate. I prayed and then in utter despair, told God I had done my best. I felt I could do no more so it was ‘over to you’.
To my surprise I slept well and woke refreshed and at peace. The sun shone, I travelled lightly with a bunch of garden roses. I arrived, let myself in and joyfully called his name in greeting. Silence. I ran upstairs to the bedroom.
My heart jolted when I saw no sign of him. Only the tiger on the duvet stared back. Oh no. But suddenly he appeared from under the bedclothes, not well but smiling.
We laughed and talked easily. The service would be beautiful in its simplicity. His two requests were for the depth of the living stillness found in a gathered Meeting and the joy of the warm friendship in a Quaker handshake. He understood the meaning of Isaac Penington’s words. Coming to Meeting knowing he would not hear the spoken ministry, he hoped and trusted in the gathered silence. I was touched; I had not realised the extent of his deafness. I understood why words were not for him.
He spoke of being a choirboy and then in his sixties realising a spiritual element was missing from his life. Quakers’ lack of dogma appealed. His face lit up as he mentioned his delight about ‘speaking the truth’: no oaths, one standard of honesty. He questioned me. Could he continue to call himself a Quaker, even when membership was not for him? He would understand if my answer was no. I reassured him all was well. As we reflected on this funeral he said he felt as if he would be present. Later, he mentioned this sense of feeling part of that gathered group. We were held in the stillness.
Four years later he lives on, after major heart surgery. Recently we again shared our thoughts and fears and talked at a deep personal level about our faith. This time he asked what plans I had made, should I go first. This is my answer: Let us celebrate life, now and the coming day, precious shared moments, enjoying, questioning, as we live our Quakerism, knowing we are loved, valued and supported by our Quaker family because of who we are.
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