For many years I have been very friendly with an elderly couple. With two of my friends, we would visit them for tea several times a year. About a year ago it was no longer possible for them to come to church as their health and physical fitness began to deteriorate. Eric had severe emphysema and needed oxygen most of the time and Joy had a severely handicapped hip which required her to wear a brace that gave her a lot of pain. This past January they left the home where they had brought up two lovely sons and went into a very nice retirement home. Within weeks Joy health and well-being had deteriorated to the extent that it was necessary to move her into an intensive care nursing home. She died less than a week later. Her funeral was scheduled for last Friday.
The Wednesday after Joy died a very close friend and I visited Eric. He was very realistic, but sad -- and spoke about how much he dreaded the funeral that was to come. On Saturday Eric had a massive heart attack and died in the same hospital as his beloved Joy. They were born 8 days apart 90 years ago and died 10 days apart. Last Friday there was a double memorial service to celebrate their lives. And a beautiful service it was, too.
While all this was happening I was trying to find an affordable flight for me to go to the States once again to help my mother celebrate her 95th birthday. I have a favourite flight that takes me from Manchester to Hartford, Connecticut in a reasonable number of hours both to-ing and fro-ing but it takes patience and nerves of steel waiting and hoping that the price will go down -- which it did when the calendar went from February to March! While there I will be making another trip to Raleigh with my sister to see my ailing brother, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's dementia and who is now living in a nursing home near to his son. Two days ago he turned 64, which from my point of view is 'young'! He has, however, aged considerably since last August when his life turned upside down... (see here)
Until I got older I did not appreciate how death and illness would gradually become more and more part and parcel of daily life. I have become aware that the world has been taken over by the 'young' and 'young' is now defined for me as anyone under 60... Today one of my favourite public characters, Tony Benn, died. I didn't agree with his political views exactly, but I appreciated his integrity and niceness. And I so liked the fact that he 'was' and that his beliefs were so incorruptible.
This excerpt from Choruses from the Rock, 1934 by TS Eliot was read at Eric and Joy's service and it seems very appropriate:
In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light
We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends;
and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired:
children who are up in the night
and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration,
we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day
and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle,
put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light,
that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who has moved us to building, to finding,
to forming at the ends of our fingers
and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light,
we may set thereon the little lights
for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give The thanks for Thy great glory!