Grief works its way out in different ways. I do much of my thinking by talking with friends, then writing it out in a journal. It’s not exactly therapy (so don’t try sending me the bill after reading this) but it does help clarify things. The events and memories of the last few days will take time to process, to try and understand exactly what was going on from the time Jill suddenly fell sick- and work out what, if anything, I’ve learned from it all.
Several thoughts are knocking around my head. One is about the conversations with just a few of the hundreds of grateful people whose lives were obviously touched by Jill. Some were helped by her campaigns against sexual violence. On the day of the funeral, many wore something purple, to remember this. Others were just individuals she met who found her a good companion when life was difficult. These encounters might have gone unnoticed, but each was just as significant as the more public things she did.
Another thought came from the world of fantasy, particularly the quivering pen of Mark Gatiss, whose melodramatic script for the last episode of BBC’s Sherlock gave his character the following lines:
“Heaven may be a fantasy for the credulous and the afraid, but I can give you a map reference for hell.”
That’s dark. Gatiss is a horror fan, but that laboured quote possibly sums up the feelings of many people in early 2017- but it’s not the whole story. Jim Butcher, another fantasy writer, suggests something different. In ‘Blood Rites’, one of his characters (a vampire) suddenly exclaims:
“You can have everything in the world, but if you don't have love, none of it means crap," he said promptly. "Love is patient. Love is kind. Love always forgives, trusts, supports, and endures. Love never fails. When every star in the heavens grows cold, and when silence lies once more on the face of the deep, three things will endure: faith, hope, and love."
And the greatest of these is love," I finished. "That's from the Bible."
First Corinthians, chapter thirteen," Thomas confirmed. "I paraphrased. Father makes all of us memorize that passage. Like when parents put those green yucky-face stickers on the poisonous cleaning products under the kitchen sink.”
Jim Butcher’s point is that Evil cannot handle anything to do with genuine Love. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never understood it. Most people think St Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians refer to marriage because they’re often used at weddings, but that wasn’t his purpose. Paul was writing to a small community of Christian believers, who were trying to work out what it really meant to be alive and open to what Jesus might be saying to them, in 1st century Corinth. So Paul wrote to them about Love, the real thing that does so much to contain and heal the rampaging effects of Evil.
20 centuries later, those words came back to me at Jill Saward’s funeral service, when I saw those people wearing purple. She was an ordinary person who used a horrendous personal experience to do extraordinary things by the grace of God, so Evil didn’t have the last word.
To rephrase Mark Gatiss, I wonder if Heaven is actually a place where you'll find the curious, the broken, the forgiving, the courageous and the compassionate- and it doesn’t have to wait until we die for any of us to see it. As long as there are people like Jill around, Heaven may be closer than we think. Last Tuesday, I could have given you a map reference for catching a glimpse of it in Lichfield.
Prayer by St Chad's shrine, Lichfield Cathedral