“Imagine dying in Dunstable.”
Dunstable is no worse a place than anywhere else to die, except passing through on a grey September day watching a funeral through the car window, there seemed a sense of complete anonymity. Who were the people who had lived in the neat 1930s semi beside the main road with its seemingly never-ending line of traffic?
Of course, they were not anonymous. No-one is anonymous, everyone is some mother’s son or daughter. Had we followed the cortege instead of continuing northwards from the English town, we might have found a funeral service at which a life was celebrated with vibrancy, joy and hope. There may have been a warm and embracing community that enfolded the family in their sadness. No view through a car window ever tells the full story.
Sitting at 8.30 this morning, laying out an order of service for a funeral in the Best Beloved’s church on Friday, thoughts of Dunstable returned.
Imagine dying in Dublin.
Especially imagine if you have come from a far distance, and have lived in a hostel, and there is no-one to make your funeral arrangements except the social services. Imagine coming here from Zimbabwe in the hope of a new world and a new life and dying through illness before you have ever had a chance to even dream what might be possible.
Typing in the woman’s name, there was a sense of desolation; is this what a life comes down to? A stranger having to check the spelling, someone you never knew existed going over the details of your last farewell?
Yet she was not anonymous. The individualism, the cellular existence of many Europeans, was no part of her culture. There are no words for the hymns on the order of service because her community will sing their own songs; songs that have a life that cannot be captured in the prosaic terms of our liturgy.
How many of us could travel to a far country, have nothing with which to pay for anything, and yet be sure that should anything happen, there would be a gathering who would vibrantly celebrate our life?
Perhaps we should choose carefully where to die.