We came back from holiday to meet bad news. A colleague, in hospital as we left, still there when we returned, has now been diagnosed with terminal cancer. A friend finds that she is in urgent need of an hysterectomy. An elderly Aunt distressed because of financial constraints she was not aware of, deeply disturbed. A neighbour, handicapped by age and illness, having a particularly bad time whilst we were away. And then the news that one of my old college friends had died.

In hours the impact lessened. The colleague , now in possession of exact information, brave as she is, is coming to terms with her new but unwelcome life, sustained by the prayers of many friends. The local hospital is arranging for an hysterectomy in the next few days for our friend. The money problem was due to inefficiency at the bank, and has now been sorted. Our neighbour continues to cope with the burden of a brilliant mind confined by in an ailing body. And following the news of my friend’s death, I then heard there would be a Service of Thanksgiving for his life.

It was yesterday in Bristol, and I and many others were there.

This has become a new custom in the U.K. – the funeral taking place in the presence of close friends and family, and then a less formal occasion later usually in a church (though sometimes in a pub) when tributes can be paid, memories shared and in words and music some sense of the person who has died can be vividly portrayed. It was so yesterday. John’s oldest friend spoke, a colleague during his years in abroad recalled his work in village and city, and another who had worked with him when he a programme organiser at the B.B.C. shared some memories of him. A member of a church in the inner-city where his full time ministry ended, spoke movingly of his work.

I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, but enough to know that he was exceptional : he had a rigorous mind, was a deep thinker and enjoyed life to the full.

His wife says he read more books than he ate meals. And the meals were good! Both famed for their hospitality, we were entertained by them a couple of years ago and were made so welcome and enjoyed their return visit to us.

It was nostalgic for all us yesterday, but for me prospective too. Inevitably I left wondering, as one does, how it will be when my end comes. It will howeverw be one of the events I will leave others to organise as they wish!


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