So… I did have to preach a different sermon from the one I had originally planned. Lesley died in the early morning of Tuesday 17th and so when I started to write the sermon she was already gone. I chose to preach on Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11), one of the grimmest passages in the Bible. It came into my mind because it is about premature death, and also about a death that is anticipated so that the person has time to prepare. I think the sermon went well – at least I didn’t break down in the middle of it. I have known Lesley for almost 20 years and she has been one of the most significant people in the church for me, and for many others. Now her son Adam is left without any immediate family, as his father and sister both died within the last 10 years. He is only 26 – not an age at which you expect to be orphaned.
Since then, The Grouch has been extremely busy helping Adam plan the funeral, which will happen this Friday. It has been very stressful for him, and I have tried to support him as best I can. Meanwhile I have been called on to write a tribute which I will deliver at the funeral, to proofread the order of service, to find a photo for the cover, to give my opinion on our paid elder’s planned sermon, and in the midst of this to start writing Bible notes on Mark 1-4. Oh, and I have also been to a parents’ special needs day (very useful), a mini Shipmeet (delightful) , and an arts evening (see below) where I was selling the speaker’s books. I have also volunteered three times at my new voluntary job (one afternoon a week) doing admin at a local carers’ centre. Not much to do then… I’ve hardly had time to grieve, but I think the funeral will give me that.
The arts evening turned out to be a reunion with many people from my past, including a man ten years younger than me, on whom I had a crush approximately thirty years ago. He is still gorgeous, but also still queer as a nine bob note, so no more hope there than there ever was. Silly me.
…and I expect you know the rest. Death has been much to the fore in the last couple of weeks. First, I finally managed to meet up with my brother’s school friend, whom I had re-discovered in an extraordinary way through a conference brochure our tenant gave me. The connection with death is that my brother committed suicide in 1975. My mother had often wondered what became of his school friends, and it is really quite miraculous that we found this guy, and not only that but since I knew him as my brother’s friend, he has become a Christian and is involved in counselling with a Christian outfit. So a couple of weeks ago I met up with him and his wife and took them to see my mother, which was a strange but in some ways healing event (he confessed he felt he had not supported my brother adequately at the time, so maybe it was healing for him too). It is all so long ago and we were all so young at the time – he is now 63 and it is poignant to think Stephen could have been 63 now and had a wife, children and maybe a grandchild as his friend does. I found the whole occasion quite stressful but am glad we have made this contact.
Secondly, and much more immediate, is the fact that my friend Lesley has suddenly got much worse and is clearly in her last few days if not hours. About 10 of us from church went to see her in the hospice yesterday, had a little service of prayer for her and sang at her bedside, but she was either asleep or unconscious the whole time. In the last eight years we have lost her husband at 50, and her daughter at 20, both from the same genetic condition which can cause cancer. I am quite sure it was her daughter’s death which brought her own breast cancer back. Now her son, who is only 26, is going to be alone in the world apart from extended family who are all some distance away, and our church which he has grown up in but not joined. To make things worse, she did not manage to complete her will and was not able to sign a completed version the other day.
This is all intensely painful – she has been part of our faith community for over 40 years and of the congregation for its whole life. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for her son.
Life is really on hold at the moment, while we wait to spring into action for her funeral, but in the meantime I have to write a sermon for next Sunday and don’t know if I will have to change it at the last minute. And I also have a series of Bible notes to write by the end of the month. So hard to try to put aside the grief and get on with things.
This will be long. Just warning you.
1. Good news
1.1 I got the electronic version and the typescript of the book off to the editor. No response yet, but no news is good news.
1.2 Genius Brat went off to stay with his little friend and friend’s mum in Devon, and then they all went off to Centre Parcs (but not before Genius Brat had been picked up by an 11 year old girl in the park, which had been duly discouraged).
1.3 This meant The Grouch and I could go off for five clean days in Brighton, after I had led worship on the Sunday (which stopped us going for a whole week as soon as Genius Brat had gone).
1.4 All of us had a good time on our respective holidays.
1.5 Best news of all: we arrived back to find an email telling us Genius Brat has been awarded a place in the autistic spectrum unit at a mainstream school, which we had asked for. This is really a miracle, as they were only creating two 6th form places in the unit and there were already at least two other kids interested.
1.6 We had a very busy but good weekend: me at a book launch on Sat, with the couple from the US who founded our congregation (sadly not ‘funded our congregation’ as I typed first…!). Sunday, a church lunch, also with this couple, then a lovely service, then a question and answer session with aforementioned couple, who are very important to our church’s history. Then a party to celebrate 40 years of one very special lady’s history with the Mennonite Centre and the church. And lots of people from the church’s past attending one or more of these events.
1.7 I’m on Premier Radio on Friday morning, and speaking at Christian Resources Exhibition on 11th May, both about my depression book (Crying for the Light), of which I have discovered the publishers still have 500 copies so it’s still worth plugging it.
1.8 We have another busy weekend ahead, with a church awayday on Saturday and a civil partnership celebration on Sunday.
2. Not such good news
2.1 We weren’t sure till the last minute whether the special lady could come out of hospital to attend the party, as she is dying of cancer. The good news is that she was able to come and take part fully, and that we were able to sit round her and share memories of her, and tell her nice things about herself while she was still with us.
2.2 She has moved to a hospice today, and we don’t think we’ll have her for much longer. And her husband and 20 year old daughter, both much beloved of our church, both died of cancer within the last 8 years. As you can guess, our party with her was very emotionally moving.
2.3 Much less importantly, I weighed myself after coming back from Brighton, and I weigh as much as I did when 9 months pregnant. Time to engage in some Lenten discipline, methinks.