Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days

So said the Psalmist (39:5). And that seems a perfectly reasonable thing to wish. But having spent a day with a friend and her only son yesterday discussing her funeral, because the cancer that was in remission is coming back, I start to wonder.

The old Prayerbook had a clause in the Litany "from battle, and murder, and from sudden death, good Lord, deliver us". But that isn't a very modern view. Yes, we don't fancy the battle and murder bit, although my Great-Uncle Alf, when he'd been married 50 years said he wanted a medal the size of a dustbin lid, then to live another twenty years, and be stabbed to death by a jealous lover. But sudden, we tend to prefer for ourselves, although we know the trauma it causes for everyone else.

But would we want to know our end, and the number of our days? What would we do if we knew? Would it galvanise us into action we hadn't managed in healthier times? Would we go on a grand jape and blow whatever money we had? And if we have no money, what then? Sit in our sackcloth and ashes knowing it will all be over soon?

Of course, there's more to sackcloth and ashes than money. There are people and animals and aspidistras to be thought of, and to make provision for, no matter how meagre. Most of us would like to know we had been thought of in the final plans of someone we have loved. Despite having known and lost a great grandmother, all four grandparents, and a father, I've never been named in a will. Not even in a "and keep clear of that dodgy bob" clause. Of course, my father knew I'd take over his funeral arrangements, so he didn't have to write it down. I guess not mentioning me was a way of introducing an element of doubt, lest I get carried away.

Over nearly twenty years of taking funeral services for friends, relatives, and strangers, I've often had cause to wish we made our wishes more clearly known. It's sad how often I've asked "and what about a reading, a song, a hymn?" and the holy remnant doesn't have a clue. I spoke to one family in Romford, of four middle-aged men, about their mother, and they seemed not to know anything about her at all.

And when the day comes for me to exchange time for eternity, will people know what I want? Will they be able to guess? I doubt it. I could write it all down, but will they find the file? And will it matter? No, of course not, because I shall be dead, and they will be alive. But they will want to get it right, or as right as you can get it for someone cantankerous and eccentric.

Or maybe they'll just want to get it over with. So maybe, Lord, don't let me know mine end, and the number of my days, I prefer to live in the bliss of ignorance, just for now. But I will open the file.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
June 2014

1 comment:

  1. Sound move. Make a will and leave written instructions with it about your choice of funeral, to be fried, buried or left to medical science. What hymns and readings you prefer and who you'd like to take the funeral and who to deliver a eulogy (if anyone) or alternatively, leave a text to be read out which might thank, express love for some and an alternate for others.

    Go with grace, but disgracefully perhaps :)