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This page last updated 9 August 2010
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Letters to AO

EVERY WEEK WE PUBLISH a selection of letters we receive in response to something you've read at Anglicans Online. Stop by and have a look at what other AO readers are thinking.

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Letters from 2 to 8 August 2010

Like all letters to the editor everywhere, these letters express the opinions of the writers and not Anglicans Online. We publish letters that we think will be of interest to our readers, whether we agree with them or not. If you'd like to write a letter of your own, click here.

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On Anglican Burial rites (1 August 2010)

Your recent essay on sending off the dead and the accompanying photo reminded me first of my amazement when I saw some of the church yards in England, the ground uneven and lumpy with old head stones, in some places set three deep and secondly of my own experience burying my mother.

My mother was an atheist, and my father was raised a Roman Catholic, but has devolved into something approaching unitarian belief. The only time we went to church as kids was for weddings and funerals. We children have all found our various ways into Christian belief. When my mother died in 2007, we were faced with the task of 'what to do with mother'.

My father needed to have a church service for his wife, even though his wife died an atheist. He wept many tears in fear that 'the church' might not want to help him bury her because of her lack of belief. Since I am Episcopalian, we turned to my church and the liturgy of the BCP to put together a service that helped him feel that the right thing had been done. The burial service prays "acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own flock" and in those words my father's fears were healed. The willing flexibility of the priest who only insisted that we have a gospel reading, is a testimony to the way that ministry is done in this church and to the genius of the BCP. Good liturgy ministers to people of all sorts, even those who do not realize they need to be ministered to.

And the irony of the whole thing is that my atheist mother's remains are now interred in the church columbarium. I wave to her on the way to choir practice. My father trusts the church to care for their remains in perpetuity, as he bought a spot for himself next to her.

Oh yes, we did have a reading from Gibran, too, "What is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? ....when the earth shall claim your limbs, then you shall truly dance."

Michelle C. Jackson
Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento
Elk Grove, California, USA
2 August 2010

This week's "Burial" Letter was really fine.

Thanks for all you do.

JC Eriksen
St Clare's
Blairsville, Georgia, USA.
3 August 2010

“With each passing year, we all deal with serious illness and death among our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours”

Ain’t it the truth. Sooner than we necessarily think. My oldest friend a few months ago had some sort of intimation of mortality and took it into his head to ask me to deliver the eulogy at his funeral when the time comes. Not that that is likely to be any time soon but I was happy to agree: an easy task at this stage when we baby-boomers still think ourselves immortal, and actually a rather pleasant exercise to spend a few hours reflecting on the great value of a much-loved, lifelong friend while the issue is entirely moot. (My no-nonsense mother figured he had just got a little too enthusiastically into the scotch.) We were, after all, born well into the reign of the present queen and were only aware of what we were doing when we heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

Then two weeks ago I myself became only the second person of this generation of my friends and family to have a confrontation with the Reaper: I had a stroke. Me, mind you! Maybe I should email my friend’s children the draft eulogy: I may not be on hand to deliver it in person. I appear to be safely and quickly on the mend: as you see, I am again able to type, though I may not play the piano again (other than perhaps Ravel’s music for left hand) or sign a cheque.

But here are a few of the fascinating insights that emerge from the unexpected and improbable reactions of family and friends, not to speak of medical personnel.

“Are you religious?” (A Malayali Orthodox Christian nurse.) “Depends whether I’m in trouble. At the moment, you bet your boots.” “Great answer! I’ll use it myself!”

“How can you be in such good spirits when you’ve just had this happen?” (A German registrar.) “Are you kidding? After a wake-up call like this, being depressed is a luxury I can’t afford.” “Good point. Nor me, come to think of it, and I haven’t had a wake-up call.”

“Dad! You look like you’ve gone through a snow-blower! It’s horrible! I’m getting you an electric shaver!” “Oh, relax. I have to get used to shaving with my left hand: this was only my first attempt.”

“Do you want a box in the ground or ashes on the flower beds? And what hymns?” “Not so fast, my dear. I’m not done yet. But the latter, when the time comes — and do have them whip out anything first that someone else might find useful. Same hymns as for my Aged P, but the Marquess of Lorne’s metrical version of Psalm 121 instead of ‘Abide with me.’ And all verses, even of ‘For all the saints.’”

“You have to get serious: no more of all this rushing about madly in all directions. You’re a sick old man.” “I’m certainly not: just cut this out at once.”

But here was the really strange part. It was only the most authentically and deeply pious among my connection who completely lost it. (Does faith not enable us to confront these issues better? Nice to know one is cared about, though it’s not all that helpful expressed this way.)

“Why did you take so long to let us know?” (Pakistani wife of an Indian Muslim friend: well, she’s a friend too of course.) “S [her husband] cried when he heard!” (Well, they were out of town and I was of course in hospital.)

“Don’t joke. This is horrible for me.” (Saudi friend.) “Oh, you are just dreading having me drop dead on you over coffee.” “Exactly. No, no, not just that. I really like you. Please don’t joke.”

God willing — and my own willingness to scarf down a huge bulk of pills morning and evening (“Take with food,” the instructions say: how much food can one swallow with all those pills?) — it will be a long while before anyone will be singing hymns or delivering and hearing a eulogy at my defunctive orgies. But yes, it will be BCP all the way, with perhaps the addition of the lovely latter-day Alternative Services’ “Everyone goes down to the dust, but even at the grave we make our song, ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Mac Robb
Holy Trinity Fortitude Valley (occasionally)
Brisbane, Queensland, AUSTRALIA
7 August 2010

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Earlier letters

We launched our 'Letters to AO' section on 11 May 2003. All published letters are in our archives.


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