A Stranger’s Funeral

Last weekend, at Mass the priest had announced a funeral service would take place on Wednesday at lunchtime. He also explained that the deceased would have only a small contingent of family and friends present. What really caught my attention was when he observed if any of us in the faceless congregation could make it, it would be appreciated.

When he said that, I made a mental note: if I could, I would be there. I awoke yesterday morning and remembered it. Working at home as I do, there was really no excuse not to go.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cross.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cross.

As you may know, Roman Catholicism and I have had a bit of a “complicated” relationship over the years, and my books reflect that. I packed the novel-writing away for all of an hour or so. As I closed the front door, I reflected on the fact that I could not recall ever before having been to the funeral Mass for a total stranger.

There were indeed only a small number of family/friends. I counted 17. It was his widow, several adult children, adult grandchildren and a few other relations/friends.

How many parishioners were there? It was nothing to be proud of: I counted only 10 of us, including the reader and an altar server. There were so few people we were all handed the order of service that is usually only for the family/friends, and it contained photos of the deceased as an older man and as a youth.

The service opened with us all singing the first five verses of “Abide with Me.” As we did, I found myself thinking about funerals for those I’ve known…. which I could not attend, especially Kam’s last year. It also hit me that naturally when numbers are few is also when you can make your presence most count in this life.

During his homily, the priest eloquently and neatly summed up the life of the deceased. He had been born almost 90 years ago, in then Soviet Ukraine. He had immigrated here to Britain when young, married, started a family, and worked for the British army as a civilian for his entire career. He retired in 1990 (I believe the priest said he had worked at nearby Warminster barracks), and afterwards had lived his last years peacefully.

Among the mourners, there was also what seemed to be a (probably younger) brother. In a wheelchair, only he ventured up to receive Communion (pushed by someone who did not receive). Everyone else among the family/friends stayed in their seats, not even opting for the blessing, so they were all apparently non-religious. (Non-Catholics, including non-Christians, at a Mass are invited up to receive a blessing when the Catholics receive Communion.)

Following other parishioners on the way up to Communion, I touched his casket.

He had chosen this country, lived his life here, passed away and, in the end, had been seen off by a devoted, albeit small, group of family and friends.

I suppose I saw a little something of myself in him.

After Mass concluded and pallbearers had carried the casket outside to the hearse, as I was standing waiting for the family/friends to file out in front of me, a couple of them nodded my way and smiled at me lightly.

While I had never known him, by the time I’d left I felt, in a tiny way, that I’d had.

I was glad I went.

It was a gorgeous, sunny early afternoon. While walking home, to return once more to my desk and the Surface Pro 3 and the half-finished Distances manuscript, the idea for a brand new, subtle, plot point nearly knocked me over. It resonated, I thought, beautifully, and once inside the house I threw it on the PC as quickly as I could.

Have a good Thursday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.

3 thoughts on “A Stranger’s Funeral

  1. It is a good thing, to go to a funeral. (I think I’ll use that line somewhere 🙂 Whether we think about it or not, we are motivated by death. To want to leave something behind, children, friends who remember us, ideas, work, the difference we made.

    So when we go to a funeral, we honour the dead, but also, our compact with death. As the Muslims say, to God we return. Whether we are Jewish or not, we say the Kaddish. Each us take Communion, to remind us of rebirth, and eternal life.

    Death, I have beaten you
    Grim Reaper, Weeper,
    I have beaten you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everyone likes happy occasions, of course. Going to, say, a wedding is easy. But we MUST go to funerals to support survivors precisely BECAUSE they are hard and uncomfortable to attend.

      Liked by 1 person

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