Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

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Dying Alone

Today I celebrated the passing of a life. Emily Hanwell, age 95, died alone in her home. She had lived through two world wars, the sinking of the Titanic, the advent of television, and four monarchs. She is survived by two sons - both no longer living in the area.

Emily died in her bed. The coroner listed her cause of death as ‘suspected natural causes.’ It was the best the coroner could offer. Emily had been dead for several weeks before her body was discovered. Nature had followed God’s mandate and there was little of her mortal remains left.

I spoke with one of her sons. He had already been made aware of her death. He told me that he was 'too busy' to attend her funeral, but he was sure that his brother would ‘try to do something.’ He said his mother had become difficult to deal with and it was a ‘blessing’ that it was all over. I asked him when it was that he had last spoken with her. He said he had spoken to her on Christmas Day ‘when she had called him.’

When I arrived at the funeral directors, I discovered there were no flowers. There had been no calls about Emily, or anyone asking about her funeral. Her coffin was of the ‘particulate variety,’ a polite euphemism for cheap board, with colourless plastic handles, which was all the government would pay for. I went next door to the local florist and purchased several bunches of daffodils to place atop her coffin.

And so we headed to the chapel at our local crematory. In Britain the pallbearers are the professional staff of the funeral director. There was no one there to receive Emily. And it was impossible not to have tears form in my own eyes to see this pitiful coffin lifted up and placed upon the catafalque, with no one there to mourn her loss or celebrate her passing. Often my children have attended funerals I’ve celebrated, when I know there would be no one to attend. But in my heart I was certain that at least one of her sons would find time to attend their mother’s funeral.

Just as with any funeral I celebrate, I prepare a Homily that is unique to the deceased. Sadly, there are times when I have nothing more to guide me than looking at the face and hands of the deceased. For me, there is often an endless story that is revealed in the lines on someone’s face. This was the case with Emily. But in my Homily, I did say to the pallbearers that I wondered what the last days of her life were like.

One of the greatest fears that a human being can experience is the fear of being abandoned by family and friends and being left to live one’s life all alone. Prison guards know this when they place recalcitrant inmates in solitary confinement and torturers know it too when they need their victims to confess to fictitious crimes.

To be cut off from human contact is immensely painful, but it pales when compared to being cut off from God. And yet that is the daily experience of too many of His children, wandering about this earth with no sense of any larger purpose or destiny and no vision beyond the blank wall of death. What a tragedy, and how unnecessary it is!

And as Emily’s soul was committed to God’s care, I was able to smile, knowing that she was not alone, nor ever would be.

Emily, I know that as God opened His arms to receive you, the angels danced.


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