While we were away in Nevada, one of the pillars of our parish passed away unexpectedly as a result of what should have been a minor injury. A man in his 80s, he took a bit of a fall and hit his head. He felt fine immediately after and thought nothing of it. However, because he was taking a fairly significant dosage of Coumadin, what would have been a minor bump on the head for most people, for him resulted in a fatal cerebral hemorrhage and a massive subdural hematoma. A couple of hours after the fall, he was unconscious and two days later his family was deciding to remove life support….
A colleague who had been associate pastor in my parish under a former rector filled in for me and handled the Requiem. After we returned, I officiated at the committal of his ashes in a military-honors ceremony.
Since our return, another older member of the parish has passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and we have scheduled her funeral for next week.
Meanwhile, other old friends are retiring and moving away ….
Whether by relocation or death, the loss of friends causes some feeling of diminishment. The world is a smaller, paler, poorer place without their presence. I know full well and good that they are not gone … those who have moved elsewhere are only a phone call or an email message away. Those who have passed on are not dead (“life is changed, not ended” as the eucharistic preface for funerals says), but living in God’s nearer Presence. Yet … the sense of loss and loneliness is no less real.
At the committal of my friend’s ashes, I read this meditation by Canon Henry Scott Holland, a part of his sermon entitled “The King of Terrors” preached on the death of King Edward VII:
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
I know full well that this piece is sentimental and sappy, and lifted out of the context of Holland’s sermon it fails to give a full portrait of his theology. Nonetheless, it is comforting and it is a reminder of the truth that for God’s faithful people “life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”