'I wrote the following blog for the HCC website back in January 2013 and thought back to it recently when I reflected on the service we held to celebrate my husband’s life and decided an update would be good.
“Understanding brings freedom” I have had a challenging week where the truth of that principle, that understanding ourselves and the situations in our lives brings freedom, has proved true again. It’s a principle that I’ve come to understand in recent years, mainly through the teaching and support I’ve received from this church, and I’d like to share a very practical outworking of that teaching. My husband is nearing the end of his life and I’ve had the nagging worry at the back of my mind for a while that at some point I’ll have a funeral/ celebration of his life to organise and I feel totally inadequate and out of my depth at that prospect. My worries range from not honouring the life he’s lived, upsetting his family to simply not getting it right. Practically it’s a challenge because we attend a church with no appropriate building and my experience of funerals is limited and quite negative! Last Sunday I heard a testimony in church that prompted me to start to think seriously about the matter; I subsequently had an opportunity to speak to one of our pastors, which I took, and with great trepidation I even paid a visit to the local Cooperative Funeral Service. It has been a challenging week but one in which I’ve clearly seen the Lord’s hand leading me. Throughout the process I’ve sought to understand my thoughts and feelings as I’ve found that I have some very strong and unconventional views about how I would want to celebrate my husband’s life, views which could cause offence in his family. Through sharing my thoughts I have come to a place where I think I understand why I feel the way I do and that understanding has brought me to a place of peace and freedom. I don’t know at this point what I’ll do when the time comes but I do know that the Lord will be with me and guide me as he has done this week and that, because I’ve gone through the painful process of understanding the issues and feelings involved, I will be free to hear from the Lord and be gracious in the decisions I make. I believe that will result in a service that honours my husband and glorifies God and that I need not worry about it any more.'
It was good to read back through what I wrote and to see the outworking of that in practice. I believe that the Lord did lead and guide me in every decision I made and enabled me to be gracious, yet without compromising what I believed to be right. We held a short service of committal at the crematorium which was respectful yet informal; we had minimal input from the funeral directors; we omitted the use of black cars and processing behind the coffin and encouraged people not to feel they had to wear black. We then held a celebration of his life at Marske Leisure Centre, a community venue near our home where we had celebrated his 50th birthday with a ceilidh 6 years earlier. I felt that Marske Leisure Centre was the right place to hold the celebration yet was concerned about the availability of the building which is in use all day, every day for community activities. When I approached the Centre I was told that it was closed to the public for one week each year for maintenance, the week we needed it, and we could have full use of the building any day that week. Our church and the church in Marske, where Stephen had worshipped for a number of years, supported us incredibly well by setting up the venue, providing music, hosting and catering and I felt so blessed by the Lord’s provision and the support of his people.
My daughters and I planned the service, produced a slide show of photos from his life and designed the stationary as we wanted it to be very personal to him; we included a tribute from Blackburn Rovers Football Club as well as his service to the Lord over many years, both of which were very close to his heart. The service portrayed Stephen’s heart, which had always been to serve the Lord, rather than what he had done or how he had done it. We also celebrated the saving grace of God and the sure knowledge that Stephen is free from any more pain or suffering and is safe for eternity.
The service was excellent! It was attended by over 200 people and although one cousin was heard to remark ‘I thought this was supposed to be a funeral!’ the response was overwhelmingly positive. We truly celebrated Stephen’s heart and the God he had sought to serve all his life with no compromise or apology but with grace and dignity which was appreciated by the very wide range of people who attended. As I’ve thought about it since I’ve realised again that it is that understanding and ability to work through issues that really does bring the freedom to be and do all that God wants for us. I will always remember the day, with sadness but also with a deep sense of satisfaction and joy at a difficult path walked well with the Lord and with his people.