Between 1989 and 1996, I spent seven years in a country parish on the east coast of Co Down. Four miles south of Downpatrick, there was a cluster of three tiny country parishes with a combined population of two hundred and fifty souls.The people of those parishes were some of the kindest and the best people that I could ever hope to meet.
Among the farming families who constituted the majority of the parish, there was one where particular care had been taken to pass down through the generations the name “Davi. There had been David,(born on 30th September 1891, died in August 1990) who had been known as Davey. There was his son, David, who was called Dee, and naturally the grandson on the farm would have been David as well, except there were four granddaughters, so when the first great grandson was born, in the spring of 1992, he was named David.
David was loved by the three generations that preceded him. He was a fine and healthy boy, who enjoyed being on the farm with his grandparents, he had all the excitement of a small boy.
When David was eighteen months old he fell suddenly and broke a leg, it seemed a strange occurrence, there was no reason for it. Two months later he started showing signs of losing his balance. He was taken for tests which showed an inoperable brain tumour. His great grandmother asked what sort of world it was when, at the age of ninety, she was still fit and well, while her great grandson was so ill, “Mr Poulton, I wish I could change places with him, I would give anything to change places with him.” David died at the age of 21 months—on the day after Christmas in 1993.
Standing at his graveside, there was nothing that could be said, nothing that would dispel the smothering, overwhelming pain all around.
I sat in the congregation at a funeral yesterday, the funeral of a heroic six year old little boy who had fought a two and a half year battle against cancer, the pain of those who grieved was expressed in a profound silence, for what words were there adequate to such an awful situation? Determined that a boy who had fought a great battle would be remembered in a happy way, they asked that everyone wear bright clothing; even the undertakers wore cream-coloured coats and bright ties. The priest who presided at the funeral Mass was inspired in the words he spoke and in the way he spoke them. Of course, words are inadequate, but words are all we have. At the end of the ceremony, people clapped along to a country and western song. It seemed initially incongruous and then a wonderfully defiant declaration that death would not be the end.
Nothing dispels the pain, but even though there are no words adequate, death never has the last word.