The Chaplain’s tale

News and Comment from Roy Lilley.

The cold November wind pulled at David's crisp white surplice.  He looked across the fields and in the distance could see a sprinkling of snow on the hills.

He waited whilst John Edmundson's boys went about their usual routine.

'Boys', David chuckled to himself, '...not one of them under 65'.

Edmundson & Son had been burying the dead around here since before the last war.  The six 'boys', in their morning suits, stood at the back of the hearse; a 1989 Daimler Sovereign, 98,000 careful, slowly driven miles, in showroom condition.  John's pride and joy.  It had the special, cherished number plate his father had transferred from a moped, years ago.  It was worth more than the car!  

They lowered the stops and slid the pine coffin along the rollers and in one movement, hoisted it onto their shoulders.

The Rev David Pyke fell-in behind.  The organist played Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and as they swept into the municipal crematorium, as he had done so many times before, David read from John 14:6;

'I am the way, the truth and the life...'

In his line of work David deals with mankind at its lowest and despairing.  

He turned and faced the tiny congregation.  Huddled in winter coats, sunken eyes, testament to a week long, painful vigil.  Watching someone you love, die.  Emotions wrung out.  Squeezed dry, minute by minute.  Gaunt. 

The organist played the opening bars of Jerusalem, David Pyke invited the family and friends to sing.  A very elderly lady struggled on her walking frame, insisting on standing.  The others followed.  Whatever thin voices the congregation mustered was drowned out by the organist.  She knew what to do to 'give 'em a good send off'.

David did his best to enthuse over the life of man he had seen only in death and learned about from a daughter who lived in London, a neighbour who couldn't remember and the district nurse.

David looked up and noticed a young woman had slipped, silently into the pews by the door.  She unwound her scarf and her warm winter coat parted revealing a blue that David recognised in an instant.  

On cue... the district nurse.

David pressed the button, the maroon, velvet curtains slid, silently across and Dad, grandad, neighbour, friend, war-veteran, 30-a-day smoker, frailty and at-risk-listed patient was gone.

Outside, under a dazzling blue sky and in the bitter cold, everyone wept.  They hugged the nurse, like one of the family and couldn't thank her enough.   

No one noticed when she was gone.  A small wreath of chrysanthemums, 'With condolences from the community outreach team'... to witness she had been.

David packed his vestments into the Vanpoulles carrying bag, pulled on his Barbour, put the heater on full blast and drove back to the hospital.  He wasn't looking forward to the meeting with woman from the finance turn-around team.

The memo said, to 'review the Chaplaincy Budget in the light of new restraints on spending' and 'the need to contain revenues'.

The upshot; no more flowers at funerals and the Trust would charge a fee for Chaplains to officiate at services outside the hospital.  Staff would be encouraged to attend funerals but in their own time....

This story is based on real-life events, told to me by a chaplain who wishes their identity to be with-held.  No budget is sacrosanct and even chaplains can be bullied.

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