It was my father’s birthday in January: the first since he died last summer. It felt odd not to send him a card and I wasn’t sure how we should mark the day. My mother and I decided that we would have lunch together and raise a glass to Dad.
I have been surprised at how my father’s death has affected me. Death is never far away from the working life of a minister and I have lost count of the number of funerals I have conducted. I have worked with hundreds of families in their time of grief, but my father’s funeral was the first that I have arranged myself. It all went well, but it also went quite quickly. The funeral and thanksgiving services were on a Friday and we were off on holiday on the following Monday. After our holiday I was back to work for the start of the busy Autumn programme and I thought that this would mean life was back to normal.
I have been surprised at how often I have thought about my Dad over the last few months. These have not been sorrowful moments, but rather occasions of fond remembering. If I have any regrets it is that I had no opportunity for last words. Perhaps I have watched too many films – something for which I can blame my father – but I have felt that there were many things that I might have said if my father’s death had been more predictable.
It is hardly surprising that death does not follow a script, when life – as our American friends might say – tends to throw us so many curve balls. Why should we experience life any differently at its end?
The Book of Ecclesiastes is full of sombre Hebrew wisdom about the inscrutability of God and the mystery of life. One of the more encouraging passages is this: … there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. [Ecclesiastes 3:12-13]
Life is full of mystery, and there is much that we cannot control, not least the last words that we might say to our loved ones. However, our role is fairly simple: to enjoy the life we live, to do good to one another and to love God.