God's help in unexpected places

Rev Linda Chester remembers her favourite aunt.

How can it possibly be September already! Surely, I can`t be the only one to think that these past months have simply flown by? I have to look back at my diary to actually remember all the things that have happened - it`s so easy to forget as one week turns into another. And it`s interesting the things I remember best, not necessarily the most recent events.                

I suppose it`s been quite a mixed few months, with all the usual ups and downs, but also a few unexpected things thrown in. My favourite aunt had to be taken into care and, sadly, as the months went by she continued to deteriorate physically as well as having dementia. Little did I think that when the time did arrive for me to take her funeral service, Covid restrictions would be in place and all the Methodist Churches in her circuit in Somerset would be closed. I had already drafted ideas for what I would do; I realised we would be restricted with numbers, need to keep our distance and wear masks. Obviously we wouldn’t be able to sing, but at least I had found her favourite hymns and music on CD with choirs or congregations singing. She was a gifted musician, playing organ and piano, so my cousin Adrian and I felt music would be an important part of the service. Although the little church she had formerly attended would be closed, I was sure the main church in Burnham-on-Sea would be open. I hadn’t bargained for all the Methodist Churches in a 20 mile radius to still be closed!

As I hadn’t been allowed to visit Auntie Sylvia at the care home, and even Adrian her only son had only been allowed to see her once in 6 months, feelings and emotions were running high. But, there was nothing for it, I`d have to devise a suitable service to take at the graveside with no music and just hope the weather would be cold rather than pouring with rain. It was still only 1 March. So much prayer went into planning that service, I felt quite helpless at times. It just wasn`t what I`d wanted for her, especially after six months of isolation in a care home. At least I`d been allowed to put together a lovely paper Order of Service, including pictures of her beloved local beach and the sea.

A few days before, I suddenly had the idea of asking my sister and my other two cousins if they would be willing to share a brief memory of Auntie Sylvia, following on from my eulogy. Although I knew there was no way they would normally offer, under the circumstances, I hoped they would see it as offering additional support to Adrian who had been her sole attentive carer for many years. They all agreed!

The day dawned and I was up early to allow plenty of time to drive over to Burnham, about two hours, so a good time to reflect and pray. I knew there would probably be about 20 of us, with family, friends and neighbours. She`d lived in the same house for 67 years, and within a mile radius of Burnham on Sea all her life, and she was well known as being quite a character! She was a complete hoarder and would never throw anything away; she was determined, self-opinionated and said exactly what she thought, but I also knew her as the caring, fun aunt who always made time for me when I was growing up. There was always plenty of laughter when she was around.

I think my biggest concern was how to lift the dismal feeling of just meeting in the cemetery, with no uplifting church service first and no refreshments and chat to follow. We were going to celebrate her life remembering the good things, while on the other hand keeping the simple service completely dignified. ‘Over to you, Lord’, I prayed.

Well, were we blessed! The day was cold and crisp, but no rain. Having grown up in the same road as my aunt, I knew the friends/ neighbours who came and so I was able to greet them at the cemetery gate by name. I`d already arranged with the funeral director for me to arrive early to take my aunt to the grave, so I could walk with Adrian to lead the group over, quietly sharing memories as we walked. Everything went like clockwork, and although there were a few tears, there were lots of smiles. The extra memories shared were so positive and added to a lovely communal atmosphere as we stood together in a semi-circle. Quite unexpectedly, it became the service I had really wanted for my dear aunt. And afterwards everyone was saying how much they had enjoyed it!

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