The worship yesterday was everything anyone could have asked for – and it almost didn’t happen! It was Pentecost and the congregation was scheduled to join with the other Churches in worship. The Council, however, decided that in the light of Marg’s death, we should meet as usual. And I am so glad we did. It gave me the chance to say something to a congregation that has come to mean so much to Marg and I.
“I am so grateful that we are here this morning and that I can light a candle in memory of Marg. If tears come when I am speaking please ignore them and listen to the words. And I hope you will excuse me if I leave immediately after the service as I am still somewhat fragile.
Last Sunday about 6.30 am Marg was on her knees getting a spot off the carpet. The family was gathering for mother’s day and you couldn’t have a spot on the carpet! I was in the adjoining room and heard her call “Nev, I can’t get up.” I got her on to the bed somehow. She said that she had a splitting headache and then lapsed into unconsciousness. I rang the ambulance and they were there in about ten minutes. Their diagnosis was that it was a stroke and we were into the ambulance and a fast ride to the hospital. When we arrived at the emergency department, she was quickly wheeled into the scanning section and after a little while a doctor came out to say that the stroke had already damaged over half the brain and that she would not survive. There is a gap in my memory as to what happened next. The next thing I can remember was being with the family as they said their goodbyes and Marg being moved to another room where the final vigil began. After midnight I was alone with her. As I sat there I thought of about our life together and I knew exactly what I would do when she died. I would go to the weekender we have in Kalamunda, five acres of bush overlooking a national park. It was Marg’s favourite place and where she used to “weed the bush”, something that I found incomprehensible. But Marg loved native flowers and she had done a bush regeneration course. Her husband helped where he could but wasn’t very excited about “weeding the bush”.
When Marg died at 3.10am last Monday, I had a couple of hours sleep and Ian dropped me off at Kalamunda where I shed many, many tears and made my official complaint that it was I who was supposed to go first. I grieved and “gave my attention” to it all for about six hours, and then rang Ian to pick me up, still grieving but at peace. It was a good decision to go to Kalamunda and return to begin a very different life without the one whom I had loved for over sixty years.
We were a good pair. I was the Prophet person and Marg was the People person, with us occasionally swapping roles, I with those in prison and the aboriginal settlement at Saunders Street, and Marg in protesting the cause of peace. On one occasion when she was arrested at Hillarys the police sergeant booking her in asked “Colour of hair?” and Marg replied “Clairol 46”. The Sergeant rolled his eyes, but the Magistrate the next morning listened intently to the grandmother with a concern for the children of the world.
And now, it’s all over, with so many people speaking so well of Marg and being so supportive of me, and the family. This is a community where we share life in its most significant dimensions.
And to demonstrate this let me read to you an email I received from Ashley. Ashley came into this community as a young teenager about ten years ago and today is a social worker in Auckland and a force to be reckoned with in social concern, the care of others, and peace issues. I have greatly appreciated all the cards and expressions of the value of Marg’s life, and particularly these words of Ashley.
(I then quoted to them the letter of Ashley whom they all knew)
I think her words capture beautifully the impact of Marg’s life on so many people. And then there are the words that so impacted me. “I hope you are grieving well. There is much to grieve”. Indeed there is, Ashley! Indeed there is!
The Spirit of Marg lives on in people like Ashley and others of you here this morning. Thanks be to God! And to you to for your loving concern for Marg and me and the world in general. What a privilege to be a member of this faith community and to have someone say to you “I hope that you are grieving well. There is much to grieve”.
As most of you know, I am an early riser usually about 3am. It is for me the best time to give attention to what is important in life. On Friday at about 4 am, I walked outside. It was a remarkably clear night with myriads of stars clearly visible, and I found myself saying “You’ll always be around Maggie!” – and so I believe it to be, because she loved, and she loved deeply.
Yesterday I opened the paper and saw the headlines “A Fine Romance” and my first response was that at last the newspaper had got it right. Maggie and I really did have a fine romance. I then discovered that they were talking of a couple in England whose marriage is of no significance to me whatsoever. I turned to the bereavement notices and there was one from the Uniting Church of Western Australia saying how our philanthropy had helped many. Philanthropy! Is that what the Christian faith is about? I literally cried when I saw it. I cried for the institutional church. It tries hard but so often completely misses the point, and there is a huge responsibility on congregations like ours to hold the life and light of Jesus before the world because it looks very much like “if we don’t , who will?”
Maggie has played her part. And the rest is up to us.”
(At the Table)
“I light this candle in thanksgiving for my dear wife Margaret who really knew what it is all about, and lived accordingly. May the light she shed ever enlighten our path.”
The service ended with the singing of “Let there be love shared among us” and I left during the last verse.
As an old friend emailed me a few days later “So often in crisis or grief people stay away from worship and it is hard to reach them. By contrast you went as usual to be amongst “the people of God”, to be received, loved and healed by them, and even to reflect with them on the momentous event of Marg’s death. This is truly reclaiming death and setting it within the community of faith!” He put it well.
So did a group of children meeting in an adjoining room. Their teacher put a piece of paper in front of them with a photo of Marg in the middle. She told them that Margaret had died and asked them to write some words to describe Marg. The words were well chosen: “caring”, pretty”, “loving”, “helpful” – and there was one that stood out: “she made you feel special”. And on the bottom of the sheet one of them had written “we will rembre her”.
Indeed we will!