A year or so ago a young woman whom I had known as a child and a teenager re-emerged in my orbit of friends. She had had a traumatic, abusive life and had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was 45 now. She had been back in touch with a couple of her several estranged sons. She had recently converted to Islam. She was living in a loving, caring community housed in a number of simple terraced houses in a small street in Bradford. ‘Our TLC’ offers residential care for learning difficulties, mental health and substance abuse. God breathes through the pores of ‘Our TLC’!
Susan (not her real name) had been through unspeakable things in her life, but when I reconnected with her she still had the impish smile and giddy personality I remembered. After a number of hospital stays, she found herself needing to use a wheelchair. At this point she decided she wanted a wake before she died! A party to celebrate her life with friends and family whilst she was still alive! The other TLC residents and staff rallied round and worked with the help of the local pub landlady to arrange it, publicise it, make food for it, book a DJ and decorate the pub.
I went along, with my daughter who had been friends with Susan when they were growing up. The love, joy of life, and hope were palpable. Susan had chosen a bright dress and. glam shoes which she wore with joy and pride sat in her wheelchair with a big beam on her face, and seemingly oblivious to the various tubes attached to her.
Her TLC friends reminded me of Jesus’ disciples – a motley crew! – and their love for Susan screamed compassion, understanding, acceptance, unconditional love. The music was joyful, celebratory – and when Rick Astley’s ‘Never goin’ to give you up, never goin’ to let you down’ blasted through the speakers, Susan danced in her wheelchair with my daughter, as they relived their friendship thirty or so years earlier! The spirit of Godness was everywhere in that pub bar. Goodness oozed from every pore of humanity, and every fibre of being.
It wasn’t many weeks after that when Susan died. Knowing her wish to be buried as a Moslem, the TLC staff made the arrangements within the customary 24 hours. Her family wanted to hold a Christian ‘thanksgiving’ service for her sometime later, in a church in a local town. I went to that service. I found it sterile, forced, ersatz compared with the wake. Jesus was at the wake, dancing, laughing, joining in the joy. He was not in the church. Maybe he was outside weeping.
Or maybe he was in the pub.