Thursday, August 14, 2008

A time to mourn...........

In the age of the cult of the celebrity and the accompanying shift in values, as I commented a few days ago, we all too often lose sight of what is truly good and what really should be celebrated.

Last week a wonderful young man called Jon Dye lost his long battle with cancer, four and a half years after his father died of the same condition. He wasn't a celebrity in the normally accepted sense, it seemed that for some inexplicable reason his life was cut short. But, like so many young people with short lives - although his was a short life it was a life complete. Even through his death he will continue to touch many, to remind us all of what is important in life and to move us to value the precious gift we all so often take for granted. On Sunday I was moved to hear that our local paper, Beds on Sunday, had refused to take payment for the notice of Jon's death since he was so well known around town. Even through his suffering, sometimes in excruciating pain, he continued to live life to the full, he loved much and was loved so much in return.

To quote from his mum "Jon lived life fully with enormous courage and determination right up to the end. On July 20 he went up Snowdon on the train and picnicked at the top with his aunt and cousin. A few days earlier he was sea fishing and caught sea bass. Over the period of his illness, he snowboarded in the French Alps four times, visited Morocco twice and southern Spain (in May this year). He had a special day fishing in Shropshire with TV’s Matt Hayes courtesy the Willow Foundation and made numerous visits to Sarah, his sister in Bournemouth. I cannot imagine life without him. He was my beautiful son and the pain of his loss is unbearable to contemplate though I am so glad all his earthly suffering is over. He is at peace, but life here goes on………."

Yesterday I was privileged to be at his graveside, as he was buried with his wonderful father at Elstow Abbey famous for being the place John Bunyan was baptised in 1628. The thanksgiving service at Russell Park Baptist Church in Bedford, where his father was pastor until he died, was so moving. The church was packed to hear his mother, my dear friend Gill, speak with such strength about him. She reminded us that she had been stood in the same place such a short time ago to speak of her husband. She told us wonderful stories of Jon from the moment he was born when he snuggled into her shoulder, a foretaste of the loving child and young man he was to become. She told us of how he displayed his extreme sport tendencies almost from the beginning. She told us her reply when they visited the Royal Marsden hospital recently, when they knew there was nothing else that could be done for him, except perhaps the trial of a new drug, not due to start until September. She was asked how her faith was holding up, her response was about how it was her faith that was holding her up, her strong sense of the love and grace of God that was enabling her to come through. Jon's sister Sarah had produced the most amazing combination of Jon's photos and favourite music (some of which I doubt has been heard in church before!) and had created a memory tree where everyone was encouraged to write on a leaf their memories of Jon. The only time Gill lost her composure was when two young Muslim friends arrived, and as she finished by reading the same lines from Pilgrim's Progress she had read at Peter's funeral.
I spent this morning with Gill and Sarah and continue to be inspired by their faith and resilience. They were both able to remember Jon, and Peter, sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter. I have to say the most amusing thing for me was to learn something I had never known. Apparently the Anglican church buries everyone facing the same way. Except if you are a minister. Then you are buried with your feet facing the other way, so that on the day of resurrection you will be facing your congregation! Well, Gill had explained this to the funeral director, but after the burial he came to apologise to her. Sorry, he had given his men strict instructions, but unfortunately they had buried Jon the same way as his father, was this OK?

Jon's father was probably the only minister of a church who has ever been able to cope with someone who doesn't quite sit in the box (yes I have a propensity to join institutions, the army, the church, unions, political parties that I then find my self on the margins of!) When I went to the House of Commons to protest against the war with Iraq. with red paint in my bra (a fact that was splashed over the front of the local paper) I got a few sideways looks from fellow Christians, Peter's response was "I know your heart Linda". Peter, like Jon, brought people together. He not only organised meetings for church leaders across the town he also built strong relationships with the Muslim community. In the lead up to the Iraq war when we had a march through town he shared a platform with Muslim leaders to speak against the war - his topic "Not in His Name". He was fearless in challenging Christian Zionism and with Gill, founded Elijah Trust to support the work of Elias Chacour and later Mossawa.

And finally a word about Jon's mum Gill. In my life I have been privileged to have some of the most extraordinary and wonderful friends any one could wish for. Gill is the most extraordinary and remarkable. She is one of the most loving, caring and non-judgemental people I have ever met. She has such a compassionate heart, which of course also means the pain she is suffering right now is excruciating. Yet, having been through the agony of nursing her husband through months of deterioration, she has now with great courage gone through the same with her son. As a mother I cannot imagine the agony of losing one of my precious children, I know I would be in bits. But Gill continues with great dignity and continuing concern for others, drawing on a faith which has not been dented in any way by her suffering.

Jon and his dad touched many lives, their legacy is in the lives they have touched. Their true memorial written in our hearts.

(More pix at Jon Dye - Remembering the good times!!!)

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