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Why I loved Ben’s funeral

by
14 April 2023

Judith Davey celebrates her son’s life and legacy

Alamy

MY SON’s remains are buried under the sunflowers beneath a large oak tree. The sheep that live in the field were munching the flowers. We celebrated his life in the late afternoon so that we would see the beautiful sunset. The tent was illuminated with lights and candles that twinkled as the dark came.

I loved his funeral. Absolutely loved it. And Ben would have loved it, too.

Even in rude health, my family talk about death, and what our last wishes are. Ben had already picked the spot some ten years before — the humanist burial meadow just outside Bath. We also knew what music he wanted: some of the same pieces that were played at my mum’s funeral (which will also be played at mine).

There were so many characters at the celebration of his life, from toddlers to people in their nineties. And quite a number of dogs. One of Ben’s friends was wearing a dressing gown: he’s currently a patient in a local mental-health hospital, and just came out for the funeral. Looking back, I’m not sure whether he had permission to leave or whether he just legged it for the afternoon.

Another of his friends had bought a tailcoat, waistcoat, bow tie, and a top hat from a vintage shop as a mark of respect for Ben. He was slightly the worse for wear, and seemed to be leaning at a 45° angle to the earth.

A number of people shared memories, or funny stories. Ben’s brother Tom’s story was poignant and full of love. Some just sobbed. I remember putting my arm around one of his friends, who was crying as the celebrant spoke. I smiled, because Ben would have done the same thing.

Everyone had the opportunity to scatter some of his ashes, and a couple of people took some of the ashes home with them. We gave everyone packets of wild-flower seeds with “In memory of Ben” written on them, to plant afterwards. God was with us in that meadow, even though it was a humanist celebration.

 

THE celebration of Ben’s life was such a contrast to the circumstances of his death. We don’t know exactly when he died, and his lifeless body had not been treated with respect or dignity by those people who were present at his end. My last memory of him was of his face green and purple with decomposition where those same people had just abandoned him. They’ll have to live with that.

In the months after the funeral, I started to struggle. There were no trauma therapies available during the pandemic; so I didn’t get the medical help that I needed. I was in a very dark place. Very dark. Diagnosed with PTSD, I was floating alone in the blackness. No one could reach me. Family relationships became strained. I was lost. I felt I’d lost my faith (but I never stopped trying to find it again).

Do I feel angry that my son died? Someone who’d always cross the road to help others (without question and without reward), and who’d always help, even if it wasn’t in his own interests? You bet. But I know — viscerally and evidentially — that my son’s life and death has inspired others; so what is irrecoverable for me is still helping others.

I’d give anything to change this, but my son was such a good example of so many things that it gives me comfort to know that he lit, and continues to light, the rugged path for others. He helped others carry their own crosses — something I’ve not often seen in my life.

 

I KNOW now that God was crying with me at what happened to my boy. It was the warmth and grace of local faith communities that made the difference: their faith helped me to rediscover mine.

Blessings are funny things. Sometimes, they’re obvious: palpable, tangible. But sometimes they’re harder to spot. Sometimes, blessings are hard-won, or come out of the most desperate situations — like diamonds, or coal, both of which are formed under extreme pressure, and are valuable in their different ways.

I now realise that you have to acknowledge your pain and loss: to embrace it, but not allow yourself to be consumed by it. Who would have thought that blessings could come out of Ben’s ashes?

My prayer is that, when you are experiencing loss and grief, you, too, feel God’s arms around you as he cries with you.

 

Judith Davey is a Methodist local preacher and the chair of the Methodist Connexional Safeguarding Committee.

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