Cross for a funeral

Terry might not have been known to us, but he was definitely known to God.

I’ve never been to a funeral for someone I didn’t know. But, like many others across Cornwall, I responded to the plea from Revd Caspar Bush to go to Terry Filer’s funeral at St Euny, Redruth. Terry was 85 and died alone, in a care home, without known family or friends.

Storm Eric had been making its presence known all day, whipping Cornwall with its wind and hail. But as I sat waiting for Terry to arrive at his funeral, a shaft of light shone through the stained-glass window. The storm had not only lulled, but the sun had come out. Even the weather had bowed in reverence to Terry’s passing.

Why would people go to funeral, not knowing the deceased?

There was no picture of Terry, no order of service showing happy snapshots of his life. No front rows reserved for close family and friends. But the church was almost full and, turning to my neighbour, I asked her why she was there, “I came because I had to, it’s what we Cornish do. I heard the plea on the radio and couldn’t ignore it.” She was called Robina and had come straight from her small-holding in Redruth, apologising for the mud on her boots and slight rip in her trousers. We both laughed and thought that Terry wouldn’t mind. Like everybody else there, Robina had come along to make sure that Terry didn’t leave this world alone.

“I came because I had to, it’s what we Cornish do. I heard the plea on the radio and couldn’t ignore it.”

Very little was known about Terry, except that he was born in St George’s Bristol in 1933, he had learning difficulties, loved Westerns, especially those with John Wayne and collecting elaborate Western-style belt-buckles and watch straps. So, it was perhaps not surprising that Kent Blazy’s Country and Western classic, ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes,’ was played as his coffin arrived.

If tomorrow never comes

What was more surprising, for me, were the tears that sprang to my eyes as the coffin of someone I didn’t know was carried past. The lyrics speak of the fear of dying before a loved one knows how much they are loved. Was there someone Terry loved? Had Terry ever been loved? Revd Caspar Bush tenderly reminded us that Terry was indeed loved, that he was a child of God and that he was now with Him.

The few people there that knew Terry were his carers from the various homes he’d stayed in. All said what a lovely man he was, how he loved his food and was grateful for the care he was given. Once, when asked who his next of kin was, Terry replied, “The ladies in blue,” meaning his carers. As Revd Caspar said, caring is hard work, unglamorous and undervalued.

Fearfully and wonderfully made…and loved

Of the many reasons people gathered to make sure that Terry didn’t leave this world alone, one would have been the thought, ‘There but by the grace of God….’ His passing spoke volumes about isolation and loneliness and what that can ultimately look like. It was incredibly touching to see so many people there, but, as Revd Caspar said, there are many people still living who struggle with days, seemingly endless, without human contact.

Psalm 139 was read by Jenny from Mevagissy who had heard about the funeral on the radio and felt compelled to come. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…I am fearfully and wonderfully made…all the days ordained for me were written in your book…when I awake, I am still with you.” We might have known how Terry died, but few of us there knew the stories of how he had lived. But he was most definitely known to God and was indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.
As he was carried away and Country Road, Take Me Home filled the church, everyone one of the mourners was filled with the hope that that was exactly where Terry was going.

If you would like further information on funerals and how the Church of England can help at one of life’s most difficult times, please follow this link: Funerals

Written by Jac Smith, Communications Officer at Truro Diocese