Life Events: Funerals

If someone in your household is dying or has just died and you need to speak to the vicar urgently please contact her . Whilst many people no longer want death bed rituals the vicar or hospital chaplain will nonetheless attend if they possibly can to hear a last confession, anoint with oils and pray with or for the dying person and their family.

O Death – where is your sting?

Everybody dies. As the funeral service says “in the midst of life we are in death” yet when somebody you love dies it is the most terrible thing. Christians believe that because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead when someone dies they can enter a new life with God where pain, sorrow and illness are no more and where they may live in peace and love and joy for all eternity. That is wonderful news and does mean that death is not the end but frankly, for those left behind the sting of death is still terrible, paralysing and appalling. Life is never the same again.

Often the death of someone you love can leave you reeling, even if it is not unexpected. You are in unknown territory, in emotional turmoil, possibly feeling physically ill and with a host of things that need doing which you have no idea how to do. You may also have a houseful of family and friends wanting to help and grieve with you and it can all be completely overwhelming. So in case it helps here are some of the practical things that you need to do.

PLANNING A FUNERAL OR CREMATION SERVICE AT ST MARTINs

If you are inviting a vicar to take the funeral the assumption is that you are comfortable with a Christian funeral and probably entertain some hope of heaven for the one you love. This does not mean that you have to be religious or a regular worshipper but simply that you are happy for the Christian hope to be expressed during the course of the service and if burial is your choice that you are comfortable with consecrated ground in the churchyard. If this is not the case please ask your undertaker for details of secular officials and a municipal burial site. The Church of England is most people's default choice for funerals and all are welcome but if you are strongly anti-Christian then you might prefer to choose something that you will feel more comfortable with.

Funerals can be highly personalised these days you can choose music and readings that are right for the person we are remembering. A Cremation service is restricted to half an hour whereas a funeral service in the church itself can be as long as you need. You might decide to have a small cremation service for family and friends followed by a longer service of memorial and thanksgiving at St Martin’s or a Funeral Service in Church followed by burial in the cemetery or a short cremation service. We can do whatever you need. Whatever you decide the vicar will come and sit down with you to discuss options, plan the service and learn more about the person you have lost so that she can provide the best possible funeral.

CHURCHYARD - MEMORIALS AND HEADSTONES

Burials
There are more regulations around graveyards in rural churches than in council-run cemeteries. This is partly about appropriateness and partly about heritage and environment. The churchyard is a holy and peaceful place of rest and the rules are intended to help it remain so. The vicar is not authorised to approve applications for memorials that are outside the regulations. So we raise the main issues here so that there can be no misunderstandings.

Because space is limited you will not usually be offered a choice about where the grave will be dug. Unless you have previously reserved a space near other family members the new grave will normally occupy the next available space in the current row. If you are thinking ahead it is sometimes possible to reserve a particular space. There is a fee for this and the application has to be approved by Faculty through the Diocesan Registrar so you will need to be fairly determined. If you wish to discuss this further please get in touch with one of our churchwardens.

It is possible to arrange to have the grave dug “double depth” when you bury a loved one. This means that you or another family member can eventually be interred there without need for a faculty or reservation fee, although you will pay more for the digging of the grave itself than if it were dug for single occupancy.

Headstones
Once the burial has taken place and the ground has settled (six months minimum) you may decide to install a headstone. We adhere quite strictly to Diocesan regulations on the type of memorials that are permitted. Most local stonemasons know the rules but if you would like to see a download of the current diocesan regulations please click here

Please be reasonable if the vicar declines to authorise a particular design that falls outside the regulations. She is not being wilfully difficult and will work with you to solve any points of difference..

Burial of Ashes
After Cremation it is possible to bury the ashes at Welton Church. Ashes are buried in uniform plots with views over the countryside. It is a wonderful spot to sit and remember.

Coping

Although loss is loss death can raise different issues depending upon the circumstances.

Death in old Age
Although we may be devastated to lose someone who has been a permanent fixture in our lives it does not generally come as a shock and we do not tend to demand of God what he thinks he is playing at! We have a sense of a good lifespan and a life well lived (or not!) and can accept that there is often much to celebrate as well as to mourn. Our experience of life tells us that we have to accept the death of someone very old. We do not feel robbed or cheated even if we feel sad. Funerals of very aged people can be a tremendous opportunity for thanksgiving and reconciliation and for learning something important about the values and lives of previous generations.

The following quotations from the bible may be helpful:

'I thank my God in all my remembrance of you' Philippians 1:3

'For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; ...' Ecclesiastes3:1-22

After a long illness
Losing someone is never good although sometimes when a long illness has robbed the deceased of any dignity or quality of life or when pain is unbearable it can come as a relief. There is no shame in admitting this. Death can actually be the healing that we pray for although it may not be what we had had in mind when we prayed. But if we love the person what we want for them is the removal of pain, disease and unhappiness and sometimes death and going to God is the only way that can happen. The difficulty is that often, bound up with the love we have for someone, is the terror that we also have, of losing them and that concern for ourselves clouds our judgement about what is really the best and most merciful outcome.

You may find the following quotation from the bible helpful in this instance:

'He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' Revelation 21:4

Sudden death
It is impossible to make sense of a sudden death. A coroner may give a physical reason why the person died but that often simply does not stand up against the eternal question “Why?” You may be struck by the unfairness of a potential unfulfilled and years stolen from you. Once the initial shock is over and the funeral arranged there can be towering rage at God for letting it happen, at the deceased for going off and leaving you and at anyone happy who reminds you what you have been cheated out of. You are not alone in this. There can be so many things left undiscussed, so many things unresolved and the potential to feel guilt mixed in with the pain and anger is enormous.

If your world has been shaken by a sudden death you may find the following bible quotation helpful:

'For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.'Isaiah 54:10

Death of a child
This is perhaps death at its cruellest. Although only a century ago child mortality was commonplace today it seems unnatural and inconceivable. Why did God take him/her? What kind of a God would do that? Couldn’t He have done something to stop it?

'Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” …'2 Samuel 12:21-23

FAQ About death- Rev Sarah offers some perspectives.

Why did God let this happen?
Practically speaking death is a necessary and important key to planetary survival. Imagine if we didn’t die! At one level death is a sign of God’s providence because without it we would not have sustainable life. But probably you accept this and your question is actually about the nature of God.

If he is good and just (as we are told) then why do bad things happen to good people and if he is all-powerful (as we are also told) then why doesn’t he stop those things happening? In the Old Testament Book of Job the answer to the question is more or less summed up as “Mind your own business. I’m God and my methods are so out of your league that you cannot possibly understand” But I’m not sure how much that helps when you are devastated by death.

The way I see it is that God created a world that works on some basic principles (gravity and evolution, for example.) How just and good would it be if God changed the rules for some people and not for others? How just would he be if he reversed gravity so that a young Christian falling off a mountain would not hit the ground and die? If he refused to let one sort of life form evolve and mutate because it might affect someone he loved? Some accidents, illnesses and, yes, deaths, happen because that is the way of a world created in love and permitted to evolve and flourish freely. God did not pick on your parent/child/partner. The world just happened to them. I think he technically has the power to stop bad things happening but I also think that for the sake of justice and freedom he has a moral obligation not to do things that undermine the basic laws on which the world is built

But he is with you in your suffering. He is with you in those who help and try to heal and he will redeem the tragedy. In part he already has because the chances are that because of Jesus’ resurrection your loved one is in glory with Him. He will build on the ashes of your despair too in time.

I prayed for a miracle and God didn’t listen
We don’t know why miracles sometimes happen and usually do not. I do not accept that it is anything to do with judgement of the faith or morality of the person who does not receive the miraculous healing as some Churches might suggest but I am lost for an explanation. For me it is a given that God wants the very best for each one of us and so perhaps in some instances the best is actually the ultimate healing of death. Perhaps he listens better than we think. The more I see of the officious determination that nobody shall die even if their lives turn into a protracted hell of suffering, infirmity, dependence and indignity- just because others cannot face saying goodbye – the more I think that God is very likely right.

Where is he/she now?
Christians the world over debate the issue of who gets to heaven and who doesn’t. This is because the Bible makes many statements which people tend to assume are exclusive. I have a fairly liberal view of whether any given person finds their way to heaven because Jesus died for all of mankind. Not just for holy people. He rose again so that death stopped being final and to enable God’s people to go to be with God for all eternity. Some people say that only those who affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ can go to heaven. Personally I wouldn’t want to second- guess God in the matter of salvation. Maybe he does not have a simple tick box set of criteria as we tend to assume! Good to the poor? Tick. Repented of sins? Tick? Regular worshipper? Uh oh. Believed that Jesus is the living son of the living God? Tick.

I think that we need by our very last breath to want God to be real and to repent of the harm we have done. I cannot truthfully say that everyone who dies regardless of faith zooms off to heaven because I don’t know. I think that it is possible because God’s grace and mercy are massive – much bigger than we imagine. Yet he is a just God who cannot tolerate Sin and not some benign old grandpa who permits bad behaviour all day and then doles out sweets at bedtime!

I hope that those who you love are in heaven but I cannot be entirely certain. God moves in mysterious ways. Pray for them and consider growing your own faith.

'Lord, if your people still need me, I will keep working'     St Martin of Tours