On dying well?

Nov 18th, 2007 | By | Category: Spirituality

Yesterday evening the telephone rang, an undertaker asking if I would conduct the funeral of a man who had died elsewhere, but who had expressed a wish that his funeral service, without music or ostentation, be conducted in our parish church.

It was odd, I had never heard of the man, nor had he any connection with the parish, yet at some point the church had become sufficiently meaningful for him that he requested that it be the place of his final farewell. The undertaker was not optimistic about the level of attendance, but does that matter? Isn’t the only thing that matters at the hour of our death being received into the arms of God? I am thrown back onto words of the brilliant Sebastian Faulks in his novel Charlotte Gray.

A diary entry of Levade, the Catholic Jew living in Vichy France in 1942 reads:

“No child born knows the world he is entering, and at the moment of his birth he is a stranger to his parents. When he dies, many years later, there may be regrets among those left behind that they never knew him better, but he is forgotten almost as soon as he dies because there is no time for others to puzzle out his life. After a few years he will be referred to once or twice by a grandchild, then by no one at all. Unknown at the moment of birth, unknown after death. This weight of solitude! A being unknown.

And yet, if I believe in God, I am known. On the tombs of the English soldiers, the ones too fragmented to have a name, I remember that they wrote ‘Known unto God’. By this they meant that here was a man, who did once have arms and legs and a father and a mother, but they could not find all the parts of him – least of all his name.

God will know me, even as I cannot know myself. If He created me, then He has lived with me. He knows the nature of my temptations and the manner of my failing. So I am not alone. I have for my companion the creator of the world.

At the hour of my death I would wish to be ‘known unto God’.”

In a moment of ultimate loneliness, there is an inexpressible companionship.

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