Today I went to the funeral of a 93 year old friend. We’d only known each other for the last year or so. She was a member of our church, housebound in the time I knew her. I hung out with her each Thursday lunchtime with a few others for a small group run in her home. Beryl was an incredible lady, a tour de force of a human being, a passionate woman, a deep lover of the overlooked and forgotten and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the many lessons I learnt from hanging out with her for an hour or so each week. I didn’t know her very well, I wish I had known her in her more exuberant younger years, I wish there had been more time to soak up her active nature into my soul.
She had lived a fascinating life and was very open in talking about her past, the children she’d had, the ups and downs, the heartache and the stretching situations she had lived in. She never stopped being hopeful even in the midst of despairing over the state of the world and the injustices she saw all around her. She was a walking example of someone who genuinely counted her blessings, I loved her delight in her electric blanket, the birds singing on her balcony and the ways she felt she was rich in this last season of life.
I’m employed for 16 hours a week to oversee pastoral care in our church, to facilitate small groups looking out for each other and ensure we are seeking to be more connected to each other as a church community. As soon as she found out about my job Beryl was on at me to improve the situation, to make sure we put words into action. She was utterly passionate about those who had no voice being given a voice, about the overlooked being seen and the vulnerable cared for. She couldn’t get out much in the last year of her life but she rang whoever she could to harangue them into caring about the burning situations on her heart. She lay awake trying to figure out how to make this world a better place.
I felt like life came into focus when I was sitting in her flat listening to her rage about the people who needed looking after, when I saw her putting action to words and doing what she could to show people she cared. I’m not sure she ever really got just how much she was a massive part of the pastoral care which she so longed to see deepen in our community. She had a profound faith, simple, doubting like the rest of us but secure in the knowledge that she was loved by Jesus and that he loved everyone in this world. She struggled to understand the depression and mental illness that clings so tightly to many but enduringly prayed that these people would know breakthrough. I valued her prayers and concern for husbandface so much.
I loved hearing her stories of the people she would phone each day and week, the teenage lads she met with each week who kept on coming to see her, even when their official involvement in the good neighbour scheme they were part of came to an end. I loved her desire to go to a good party. I’m going to miss sitting in her flat and remembering again the reality that God deeply cares for the people in this world, I’m going to miss the reminders each week that so many people are living on the margins of life and we need to care for each other. I am going to miss someone badgering me to care more for the people on the edges of our lives and community. I’m going to miss being reminded that sometimes all we need to do is to pick up the phone and talk to each other. I’m going to miss her optimism, the ways she got annoyed but never held a grudge and her passion for people.
I hope that I’ll learn from her legacy, I hope that I will get better in caring, in bringing action to my desire to care for people and I long, in someway, to live differently in honour of what she brought to my life and the lives of many.
So long Beryl, have fun ranting at God and enjoying his love as you hang out in eternity. See you soon.