THE Interim Dean of Truro, Canon Simon Robinson, has spoken of the private “living funeral” held at the cathedral for Kris Hallenga, 37, a co-founder of CoppaFeel!, a breast-cancer-awareness charity for young people.
Ms Hellenga was diagnosed with incurable secondary breast cancer in 2009, at the age of 23, and given a life expectancy of two years. She founded the charity with her twin sister, Maren, and revealed last month on social media her desire to be present at a living funeral: an event “where my people have a thing or two to say about me, where I have the opportunity to show how much they mean to me”.
The event was reported nationally, not least because of the participation of Dawn French, in her role as the Revd Geraldine Granger, from the BBC TV series The Vicar of Dibley. The actor, a friend of Ms Hellenga’s, shared a picture on Instagram, describing it as her “privilege and joy to ‘dibley’ it up. . . So much love filling Truro Cathedral. It was her own festival celebrating an extraordinary life.”
Canon Robinson said on Tuesday: “Kris approached Truro Cathedral to see if we would be willing to host a celebration of her life. We took her request seriously, given that this was not something we had facilitated before. The cathedral is regularly used for private events, and we are often approached to host these by local people and local organisations.
“Kris is a true inspiration. On meeting her, it very quickly became clear that she is truly brave in the face of her eventual dying, and has a significant positive impact on many people.
“We discussed what she was looking for, and what the shape of her celebration would look like. This was not a funeral, it was to be [in her words] a FUNeral: a celebration with a serious message at its core — that we would all die, and many people die from cancer — whilst also celebrating Kris’s work and her charity, for which funds were raised.”
DAWN FRENCHDawn French preaches as the Vicar of Dibley
Ms Hellenga worked with Legacy of Lives to put together the event, which included tributes from family and friends, food, dancing, and entertainment.
“There were no prayers, since this was not a religious event — rather, there were many beautiful words of joy, celebration, and appreciation,” Canon Robinson said. “In conversation with Kris, I found a very wise and brave woman who has lived daily with her eventual dying. It was an honour to offer her the space to celebrate her inspiring life with her family, friends, and colleagues.
“Truro Cathedral, like many cathedrals, tries at all times to speak into, respond, and work with our local community. This was not a religious service — rather, a wonderful celebration, whilst also helping Kris’s family and friends look at death: something we all need to do.
“Kris and I had several conversations about this, and found common ground between us. I’m very glad to have met such an amazing person.”