Yesterday, I had a call about officiating at the funeral today of a woman in her early sixties who'd died unexpectedly on Sunday evening, after emergency surgery, from which she didn't recover. She and her husband came over for several months annually, as they had done for a dozen years. I arranged to meet her husband and three daughters at a beach restaurant in La Cala de Mijas. They were all stunned by the suddenness of her end. She'd lived with physical disabilities for many years, but was such a confident and strong character that she'd not only raised a family, but travelled all over the world, disregarding the difficulties that she might encounter.
We all met again at the Fuengirola Cemetery Chapel this afternoon, for a service attended by friends and neighbours from their urbanzacion as well as family. There were three dozen of us, a remarkable turn-out at such short notice. One daughter read a moving tribute and a grand daughter, recently trained as a sound engineer took charge of producing music from an iPhone attached to a small portable sound system dock. Her husband spoke movingly too. Afterwards mourners assembled for refreshments at a bar in La Cala, much loved by the couple and their kids. I joined them, and chatted for a while before slipping back out of their lives to let them come to terms with the far too fast movement of events over the past four days.
I was aware the funeral director was a young woman, poised, confident, warm and considerate, acting in a quietly supportive way to the bereaved husband as he made an effort to lead his family with dignity while attending to his own need to spend a last moment alone with his dead wife. As the time cycle for funerals is still much shorter here in Spain than it is in Britain, the experience of helplessness in the face of fast moving events can be a cause of distress. The pastoral sensitivity of those providing the funeral service is as vital as that of the officiating priest. All involved have a stake in moving a family through parting to a quieter space in which they are free to grieve, and re-make their lives.
In this setting, very much like back home, I'm amazed at the willingness of people to trust me as a total stranger to come into their lives at short notice and work with them to create a rite of passage that will be the vehicle for them saying farewell to a loved family member. I do my best and people mostly make an effort to express their appreciation at the end. In return I try to make the effort to say thank you to them for welcoming me into the family circle. It's the least I can do for the privilege.