RICHARD AUSTIN JERRAMS sketched out the Order for his own Funeral Service as he felt the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease seven years ago, and as his life on earth drew to its close, his wife of 56 years brought his notes to me. “I hope it’s alright to bring him here”, she said. “I’d love you to meet him actually. He hasn’t been a religious man in the conventional sense but, well, if you met him, you’d see.”
Few things are more alright in my life than extending welcome to the religiously “unconventional”, that’s how I first came to be attracted to Jesus. So I did meet Richard. I went to the hospital, at Ann’s request, to anoint him, though on the understanding that he wouldn’t speak to me. The Alzheimers had taken too deep a hold on him for that. So I went, and I took with me some words of Bishop Jeremy Taylor – “the Shakespeare of Divines” – that Richard had detailed in his “arrangements”.
Take away but the pomps of death, the disguises, and solemn bug-bears, and the actings by candlelight, and proper and phantastick ceremonies, the minstrels and the noise-makers, the women and the weepers, the swoonings and the shriekings, the nurses and the physicians, the dark room and the ministers, the kindred and the watches, and then to die is easy, ready, and quitted from its troublesome circumstances. It is the same harmless thing that a poor shepherd suffered yesterday, or a maid-servant to-day ; and at the same time in which you die, in that very night a thousand creatures die with you, some wise men and many fools ; and the wisdom of the first will not quit him, and the folly of the latter does not make him unable to die. – Jeremy Taylor 1613-67
Ann has been in the habit of quietly reading favourite poems to her husband. I now whispered Jeremy Taylor, and gently squeezed his hand, whereupon Richard smiled and whispered with perfect clarity: “Thank you. I needed that.”
Richard’s family and I needed today’s really rather lovely Funeral. But only as reminder and opportunity to thank God for the fact that Richard Austin Jerrams nows lives in peace, in company with wise and fools alike, rejoicing in “that harmless thing” where “the wisdom of the first will not quit him, and the folly of the latter does not make him unable to die.” During the service I’d noticed two especially quiet and prayerful family members. They were Quakers, they told me afterwards, Quakers who were grateful, in their quiet reflections, for their belief that undergirding and beneath the manifold ceremonies of this life God had been in the heart of the man. I share that faith, and their gratitude. Requiescat in pace.