A Letter from Bewcastle – June 2024

Dear Friends,

Funerals. We’ve all been to one. Some of us have been to several, and the older we grow, the more we
will attend as family, friends, and loved ones reach the end of their sojourn among us. All are sad, some
are tragic.

We do not like talking about death. We think of it as morbid, a topic to be avoided, as if by not thinking
about it we can make it go away. But we all know that, as the old adage goes, “there are only two
certainties in life: death and taxes!”

These events mark one of the most important times in our communities. Farming funerals, especially,
are amongst the most well-attended occasions in our parishes, with numbers frequently in excess of a
hundred, sometimes as many as 250-300 people. That’s over 10% of the entire population of our
benefice, although many at these funerals will have travelled from well outside the area. They are times
when we come together to support the family, to pay our respects, and to meet folk we may not have
seen for a long time. The experience of being together to share memories of times past is part of what
binds us to each other, of what makes us as communities. The events and times that we have shared
with the deceased have become part of our own lives, our own history, part of the fabric that makes up
the story of who we are.

The sadness we feel at a funeral is a measure of the love we had for the person who has died. The
greater the love, the more intense the grief. For when we love someone, they become part of us – we
allow them in to our inner sanctuary, to share our fears, our longings, our joys and our sorrows. Their
parting from us is, then, a ripping out from our souls, and this can be agony. We feel raw, lost, stricken,
unable to see a way to live without them. Somehow we just have to get through. But it is precisely here
that God meets us with his passionate and unquenchable love, just at our point of greatest pain.

The busyness of the period after the death of our loved one can, in one sense, help us through the
immediate aftermath. We just have to keep going, contacting the undertaker and vicar, organising the
funeral, obtaining death certificates, letting relatives and friends know, arranging the wake, getting the
notice in the papers, on and on the list goes. And then there’s all the cards, the phone calls, the
visitors…

But in some cases, there are none of these, and this can be an excruciatingly lonely time for
the one left behind, especially if the deceased was a quiet person who didn’t go out much and preferred
the stillness of a more reclusive life. Tragic, or untimely deaths, too, can leave us feeling utterly
devastated with guilt, anger, or bitterness. And here, too, God’s gentle love enfolds, and comforts, takes
our pain and offers us a still place of refuge.

The funeral, itself, always marks a fundamental milestone in our lives. It is here we gather, to
remember, to support, and to send off. Whatever our beliefs, they are times we are brought face-to-face
with our own mortality, the prospect of our own end. We listen, we pray, we sing, we cry. And we laugh.
A good funeral for a live well lived always has some laughter. It is a mark of remembering what was
good about someone, how they brought joy into the world. I remember one funeral I took a few years
ago of someone I used to visit. He was a good age, house-bound now, but had lived a life as a
Bewcastle hill shepherd with stories from a past now lost. Despite his poor health, he still had a twinkle
in his blue eye and the hint of a smile on his lips as he told me his stories in response to my questions.
Like many bright Bewcastlers he had passed his 11+ and gone to Keswick grammar school as a weekly
boarder since there was no daily transport to attend the grammar school in Carlisle. I said to him, “you
did better than me. I failed my 11+.” Quick as a flash he replied “that’ll be why you’re a vicar, then.” The
whole church cracked up when I told that story at his funeral – it was just him, sharp, witty, with a
mischievous grin! But it was a fitting way to remember and say good bye to someone who was dear to,
and respected by many. The laughter helps heal the pain.

Our attitude towards death fundamentally, and paradoxically, shapes our attitude towards life. For until
we know how to die well, that we really are safe in God’s hands, we will always be trapped by our fear
of it, and so unable to live well. That’s why faith is so important to life.

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-june-2024/

2 comments

  1. That’s very kind of you, Tim. Thank you. But you’re the one makes the Forgotten Lands festival happen, and without you it wouldn’t. So thank you.

    • Timothy Coombe on 30th May 2024 at 10:10 am
    • Reply

    That’s very well put and all so true. Thank you for sharing your thoughts each month in the Newsletter and for supporting the Forgotten Lands Festival (and me) so faithfully. Your contribution is unsung but hugely appreciated by all those in the know!

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