Following a series of family bereavements; including my father, mother and only brother over a 2 year period, my elder daughter responded very positively when I said she was coping very well. ‘Dad’, she said, ‘we have become experts at bereavement!’ Notwithstanding, I required counselling having been devastated by my losses; she is now a prescribing community nurse for a Children’s hospice.
As a young curate I conducted over 25 funerals on the Crematorium duty rota in my first month in post. These were for people from all over the region; I met the grieving family at the door of the crematorium and tried to conduct a meaningful service with no prior knowledge of the deceased or their family!
Later, working in urban parishes, I experienced many deaths and funerals; babies, pupils and parents in my children’s school, those of my family, close friends and members of my church. The most traumatic experience was being asked to switch off life support for a 7 year old child with staff and family present.
Visiting London following the death of Princess Diana I was dragged unwillingly to Kensington Palace to look at the “amazing” sea of flowers outside. I found myself in tears, not at all because of the flowers but because of the young princes and the family, friends and staff left bereft behind those walls.
Dealing with the death of loved ones and the fear that brings has been cast to the forefront of our minds triggered by this dreadful virus that the whole world is facing. For well in excess of 35,000 families along with multitudes of friends and colleagues in the UK, bereavement and all of its pain has become a stark reality as it was during wartime.
What positives can be drawn from this tragedy? Hopefully the much-needed advances in science to bring about a vaccine. For me, I have known through all of my pain, some amazing doctors, nurses, carers, friends and many broken but beautifully hospitable and grateful families who I know would rush to support me in times of trouble. I have stared death down and prayed as someone acquainted with pain and preached about a Saviour who was tortured and died but rose again still with the wounds to bring eternal hope and reassurance. Without this I would have lost hope long ago; death cannot have the last word!
Bereavement is woven into the fabric of all our lives; what is there for those of us left to cope post Covid-19? To be thankful for family or friends lost and those who cared for them. To do what they would want in remembering them and moving forward to bring hope, justice, renewal and much needed change in our world for the future. This planet is a precious resource and is being squandered and stripped of life. I may be an expert in bereavement but I hope that the premature loss of so many loved ones is a catalyst for a better world that values every human life.
Rev John Davis of ‘Together Liverpool’ and the Church Urban Fund is an ISR Visiting Fellow.