FIVE FUNERALS

That’s how many I have already attended – so far – in 2017.  It’s characteristic of my time of life when friends or their spouses pass away.  All these so far have been males. In some cases, I knew the wives better as classmates or volunteer colleagues. In my own family, it has meant a lot when people turn up for a visitation or a funeral so I try to return the kindness.

Of course for most,  funerals are passé these days.  Instead people gather at the golf club or a bar, have a few rounds of drinks and share memories and stories.  There is validity in this – but I wonder if that marking of a death glves the kind of closure that a traditional funeral does –  with its words of comfort, words of inspiration for those left behind, challenges to carry forward the best qualities of the beloved people we have lost.

The most recent funeral yesterday was the most inspiring of the five. The setting was a cathedral dating back to 1833.  People were lining up to get in an hour and a half before the service started and they were smart to do so because every seat was taken.  Among the guests of honour were a former governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and its Premier.  There were dignitaries from other denominations, an endless procession of robed bishops and clergy. And what they all had in common was love for a man named Terence Finlay – but who always said on meeting anyone new, “Just call me Terry”.  In his life of nearly 80 years he had many titles – husband, father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, Anglican priest, parish rector, Bishop, Archbishop – and after retirement,  interim priest while parishes looked for a new one, chaplain to other bishops, and a member of a commission designed to heal the hurts and injustices of one of the most worst violations of his Anglican church – the role in its residential schools.

Terry was working up to Christmas of 2016 and told everyone that being back in parishes was something he loved.  I saw him in early January when he was giving a final blessing at the first funeral I attended in the year.  Soon after came the news of a serious diagnosis – and messages of decline, but always coupled with “He’s still cheerful”.  The timing of his death, while expected still came as a surprise.

We were told he had planned his own funeral.  At the visitation the night before, his widow told me, “It won’t be like anything that you are used to.”  She was right.  The long entry procession took place to the sound of a drum and a smudging ceremony with the singing of a mournful loud chant sung by a woman with a stunning voice.  Before that we had heard a jazz pianist play “It’s a Wonderful World”.  While the funeral liturgy followed a traditional pattern, the choices of hymns and readings were Terry’s own favorites – all inspiring and positive.  It was poignant to hear something that contrary to the prediction was totally familiar – arrangements by a musician who was a dear friend and whose funeral was number three in my 2017 attendance – among those arrangements, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelluia. We all joined in its chorus as the long procession departed.

Terry had time for everyone.  One woman summed it well when she simply said – “He was so kind and he always had time for everybody”. At one time he visited a social centre dealing with sex workers.  One of the ladies loved his purple ecclesiastical shirt and wanted one just like it.  He named the store and said, Just tell them Terry sent you”.  He was funny,  remarkably humble and not afraid to admit his mistakes and say how sorry he was.

When he asked the Primate (Senior Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada) to preach the homily several weeks before, he said, “Everything is all arranged.  It will be lovely and I won’t have to do anything but just lie there and enjoy it.”

He did – and we did too. A fitting end to a long life well lived.  Rest in peace.