WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD
And we take nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. We have come here today, to remember before God, our sister Jean, to give thanks for her life, to commend her to God our merciful redeemer and judge, and to comfort one another in our grief. Let us pray. Almighty God. You judge us with infinite mercy and justice, and love everything You have made. In Your mercy, turn the darkness of death into a new dawn of life, and the sorrow of parting into the joy of Heaven through our saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. We will now sing one of Jean’s favourite hymns, Morning Has Broken... But. You won’t sing, will you. You’ll just stand up, the back of your knees pressing against the hard wooden pew as you stare straight ahead at the coffin, imagining the carcass inside, that lifeless thing that was once your mother, now looking down to your hands as the voices sing Sweet the rain’s new fall, and all you will see are the faces of your mother’s two sisters when you got here in that long black car, their reddened eyes narrowed and accusing, their trembling mouths on the cusp of telling it, your uncles curbing their contempt as they drape arms around their crying wives, turning their backs as one in a stifled mutter of loathing, you, the son that killed the mother, inch by inch, the bile and spite of years wrapping barbed-wire tendrils around her heart until... As children of a loving Heavenly Father, let us ask His forgiveness. For He is gentle, and full of compassion. God of mercy, we acknowledge that we are all sinners. We turn from the wrong that we have thought and said and done, and are mindful of what we have failed to do… And in the flowers lay the faces of your cousins, turned heads blossoming with indifference as you followed the coffin down the aisle, the same indifference you drew from your stepfather’s sister in that long black car journey here, that same journey where you avoided the eyes of your stepfather, the air between you musk-heavy as orchid scent… For the sake of Jesus, who died for us all, forgive us what has past, and help us to live each day in peace. Amen. Today we remember the life of Jean. Wife to Chris, mother to Billy, and mother-in-law to Grace. Grandmother to Scarlett and Joe, sister to Julie and Belinda, and aunty to Barry, Daniel, Jason and Lance. Lord, we pray for these left behind to mourn the passing of Jean, as we pray for all of Jean’s family, a loving family that loved and cherished Jean in turn. And now let us sing another of Jean’s favourite hymns. Abide With Me… But. Once again. You won’t sing, will you. You’ll just stare at the coffin with its gold-plated handles and darkened pine finish, a box carried in here by men you didn’t know and never will, placed on these pedestals in front of you as the soft staccato barks of crying women punctuate… What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?... Your eyes following the cracks between the bone-grey slabs from the coffin to your black-shoed feet, and the lace of your left shoe has come undone… Through cloud and sunshine, Lord… now look to your daughter by your side, who cries for her Nanna stiff and sunken-eyed in that box, your son as pale as a lily, moving his lips to Death’s dark sting, fixed to the hymn-sheet in awkward hands, limp fringe hiding his eyes, not seeing, not wanting to see, and by his side stands his mother, your wife of seventeen years, those long dark locks scissored, and do you feel it at all?... God of mercy, Lord of life. You have made us in Your image to reflect Your truth and light. We give thanks for Jean, for the grace and mercy she received from You. For all that was good in her life. For the memories we treasure today. Saviour in mercy, hear our prayer. Lord, Your mighty power brings joy out of grief. Life out of death. Look in mercy upon Jean’s family who mourn. Give them patient faith in times of darkness. And strengthen them with the knowledge of Your love. Amen... And now, Jean’s son Billy will say a few words… You walk slow. You think you hear the whispers. You finger the piece of paper in your pocket as you walk the narrow staircase up to the pulpit. You look up, once. Faces. You breathe in. Out. You look down to the coffin. You speak… Love. If it means belonging to someone, then I belonged to my mum. She had me in the Sixties. We lived with Nannan. She’s gone too. My mum wasn’t married when she got pregnant. She had to go away to have me. People treated my mum like she was bad because she got pregnant. People made her feel bad to be a mum. She was going to give me away. Nobody would know she’d had me. Then people wouldn’t have called her bad. But… she kept me… She told me once, that when I came out of her, and she held me, she knew she couldn’t give me away. So she kept me. She took me home. People treated her like she should be ashamed. That’s what people are like… Isn’t it… I was told I should read a poem out if I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know any poems. So I wrote some things down… Mum. I wish I could talk to you again. But I can’t… I wish we hadn’t fallen out so many times. But we did… I wish we could mend things. But we can’t… Everything always goes forward. Never back… I should have been a better son. But I wasn’t… You should have given me away. Then I would’ve hurt someone else… Not you… And you will not look up as you leave the pulpit. You will walk straight down the aisle and out the church, sitting down on the steps outside, and when they all come out they will cosset you, because now you are Jean’s loving and penitent son that spoke the words, and then by that hole in the ground they will gather around you, a family tree wrapping its branches around your dull husk, Ashes to ashes, that dry earth falling through fingers onto dulcet patter of unhollow casket, that hollowed-out you helped into that long black car… Pub.