A while ago I posted the address I wrote for the funeral of my mother.
I'd written the first draft four days before she died. Thoughts had been circling my head while sitting with her in the hospice. That morning the plan had been to go to the local church but people going in looked too happy and they had a big baptism in the service so I decided I couldn't face being there so walked back to my parents' house and found myself writing, getting some of these thoughts into a written form.
In the two weeks between that day and my mother's funeral I edited and amended what I'd written frequently. And I lost the whole section that I'd initially written to begin the address. It just didn't seem to fit or to flow and I couldn't find a conclusion for that section which seemed good enough or real enough or in any way wise enough. So I just deleted the whole thing from the address and began where I began.
I think that's a good thing and the final article was improved greatly by not including the original starting section. Those thoughts had come to me first and were almost written before beginning to type but I felt they had to go.
What follows is that section and it still lacks any coherent conclusion and still wouldn't lead into the address as it was spoken.
But it's here anyway and the question of "What is good and what is bad?" is a valid one even if I couldn't find the words to ask it about the death of my mother. I still can't find those words. I know it's not a grand global tragedy for a seventy year old to die and I know it is a source of joy that she didn't die twenty years ago when death was the most probable result. But I find, a month after her death, that I still can't really contemplate the question in relation to her passing.
Anyway, here's what was lost from the funeral address, still in the form it was written on that Sunday morning when writing the first draft.
I'd like to begin with a story told by a Taoist teacher.
Many years ago a man lived with his family on a mountain road in China. It was a hard life and the man had to work long hours growing enough food for his family.
One year the roof of the house was leaking. This was a bad thing.
The man gathered the tools to repair the roof and climbed up to do the job.
The job proved easier than expected. This was a good thing.
But that meant the man relaxed too much.
He fell from the roof and broke his leg. This was a bad thing. The family would struggle to hire someone to harvest the crops.
The man and his family spent the night fretting about everything.
The next day a contingent came from the Emperor. Every able-bodied man in the area was to be conscripted to fight as cannon fodder in the latest pointless war. Probably nearly all of them would be killed by the enemy.
The man, with his broken leg, was left.
Suddenly his accident – the bad thing – became a good thing.
What is good? What is bad? Can we tell. There are hundreds of stories like this from Taoist teachers and all ask the same questions. What is good? What is bad?
Today as we remember Paula we can only feel it is a bad day. We feel the pain of our loss.
Paula and her family have felt that pain before. My nan died young, also of cancer. She didn't get the chance to see her grandchildren grow. I never met her as she died several years before I was born.
At that time Paula, her brother Roger and her family could look and say it was a bad thing. Indeed their sorrow was very real and an early death is always tragic.
But looking at things today, 45 years later, we can see the good that came out of the bad.
My granddad, Harry, remarried. Jenny is here today. And they had children who in turn have children of their own. Of course I can't say what would have happened had not my nan died young but I can say that had she not died Matt and Ruth would not now exist and the world would not have been given all the things they have brought to it. Certainly the childhood of myself and my brother would have been poorer had not Jenny, Matt and Ruth been a part of it.
The last months of Paula's life would have been very different too had not her mother died young. I'd like to publicly thank Jenny and Ruth at this time. They are busy people but have been able to give so much time, energy, comfort and practical help to Paula in her illness. I know they take it for granted that this is just what you do for someone you care for, but that in itself is an amazing thing. Without Jenny and Ruth the last months of Paula's life would have been much harder. Thank you Jenny. Thank you Ruth.
So what is good? What is bad?
At this time of grieving and loss it's hard to look at Paula's death in the same way as we can look at her mother's death. We are in pain. It's right that we should know that we have lost someone important, who brought light and love into our lives. And it's hard to see that any good may eventually come.