I love to write short stories with difference, especially paranormal stories which have their own very individual story to tell. As the years have gone by I have also been struck by the inadequacy of a Christian Funeral service as regards dealing with death and bereavement. Finally I have always wondered about where the soul goes after death, so putting all these interests together this tragic yet tender, almost mystical ghost story was born.
I will say this though as a word of warning. This is a compassionate story, but it deals withy the death of a child run over by a car, so should anyone have any personal; sensitivities or unbearable recollections of such incidents then this story may not be for you.
So it is that I give you Beattie, an unamed courier, Susie, and a much loved Teddy bear called Arthur. It is a new story, yet, in a sense, it is a story as old as time. I hope it is one that you enjoy.
I hope you also enjoy the YouTube video. I love this music, and I think it speaks for all life and for all time
A Nice day for a Funeral
By Chris Wilson
“Nice day for a funeral, been here long?”
Beattie put down the book she’d been reading. She looked at the young man who, with a casual and almost flippant attitude, was now sitting beside her, and nodded a silent yet cut reply. No cough, no formal introduction, and no manners, she thought to herself. Younger than most of them that were sent over. Aged 19 or 20, she reckoned, and he was dressed rather casually in a baseball cap, a sweatshirt, and a scruffy old pair of jeans.
Far too casual thought Beattie. No dignity, and no sense of occasion, but she knew only too well why he had come to the funeral. Life was faster now, there were more cars, more people, and more pressure, but then something’s in life never changed, and, now, as ever, children still ran out into the road
Why do people have to drive so quickly, she thought to herself, and , as the funeral cortege came up the long church drive towards her, why did so many children have to die?
They both rose to their feet as the cars passed them. She would go into the church for the service, for she always tried to comfort the living. She knew he wouldn’t join her, for it was his job to wait outside. Two helpers, one for the living, and one for the dead; thought Beattie, with a sad, silent, and painfully small coffin between them
Why did such things have to happen, Beattie thought to herself, as she looked at the now ancient doors of the old Nornan Parish Church before her. What they had witnessed during their silent lifetime, and whether they ever thought, as she had often thought, if such days would ever come to an end?
They certainly had witnessed her life story, and the lifestory of her husband. Beattie Simmons, black haired, vivacious, and slim of figure, born 1820, married 1839, died 1862 of tuberculosis. Married to Edward Simmons, a train Guard on the Midland railway, and Mother of two girls, both of whom she saw lowered into their graves. It was a hard life, but a good life, and a happy marriage, but although infant mortaility was commen within their communiuty, Beattie and Edward never really came to terms with the death of both of their daughters, especiallly as they died at a very young age.
At least they were at peace, and today the sun was shining. It was springtime, cherry blossom was in the air, it was a nice day for a funeral, and the organ had begun playing. Unlike the courier she had no official job to on such an occasion, but she purposefuly, walked in through the open doors.
“The Lord is Righteous in all His ways and kind in all his deeds. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon him in Truth. He will fulfil the desires of those who fear him; He will also hear their cry and will save them. The Lord keeps all who love him, but the wicked He will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.”
Psalm 145, verses 17-21, it was always Psalm 145, verses 17-21 with this vicar. As Beattie looked around her at the assembled mourners, the verses were going unhindered. They were also incongruous for the living, and a cruel reminder of the little girl’s short life, and of her dreams that would never be fulfilled.
“Hear these words about our great, unchanging God…”
The vicar had, as ever, proclaimed from the pulpit, yet such words, either from the psalms or from the pulpit, had no value. Not now, not today, and certainly not for the little girl who lay resting inside.
Beattie moved silently, and to most invisibly, to a pew that was alongside her, as was her practice on these occasions. That’s where the girls the family were standing, all alone in a land that had no meaning, and all alone, as they stood silently in a row. Glazed, desperate, frozen with grief they stood like wind and sea swept blind Easter Island statues. Oblivious to all those around them, they saw no future before them, as for them, at that moment, and trapped in that pew, life had lost all meaning. Yet they could still see and hear terrible things that would forever haunt them. The thump as she bounced off the car bonnet; and the thud as she had hit the tarmac below. The last failing gasp of breath from their daughter, as she died, and lay, crumpled, bleeding and broken, and so still and limp in her mother’s arms.
Beattie put an arm around first the mother’s, then the children’s shoulders, but it was no use, not today. They were too far gone to feel her warmth and comfort, yet it was the father that really struck Beattie, for never before had she seen a man so destroyed and so desolate, and a man who so needed to cry.
He was the driver of the car that had hit his daughter, and looking over the churchyard wall, Beattie had seen everything. He hadn’t been going that fast, he was a careful driver, but she dashed out between the parked cars to greet him. He had the best view, and therefore the worst view of the accident as, almost in slow motion, she had spun like a rag doll off the bonnet of his car.
Now he stood frozen and motionless, and Beattie could only guess just how much pain he was feeling. Mercifully he was clearly still in shock, so certain levels of pain were hidden from him, and real men don’t cry, that’s what his father had told him. His long dead, but, as Beattie knew, his still stupid father; but one day he would cry. One day his wife, his family might even forgive him, and one day that slow motion replay might fade away or die. Yet there would never be any self forgiveness, though or any inner reconciliation. No-one would ever bring back his daughter Susie. He would never hear her infectious bubbling laughter, and never again would he see her sleeping peacefully, with her favourite Teddy bear cradled in her arms.
What else was going through his mind, Beattie thought as she quietly studied him. What dreams had he held for his beloved daughter, and what hopes faded away as she had died in her mother’s arms
” You’ve done what Ben, you’ve proposed to Alice and she says she’ll marry you! Why you’re nowt but a pup, lad and still wet behind the ears! You need to be man to get married, and to be a father. I takes, guts, hard work and commitment lad, and by heck you’ve still so much to learn ”
That’s what his father had told him, when Ben had informed him of his and Alice’s engagement, but they had proved him wrong. It had been a good marriage, and a happy marriage, but that had all changed when Susie had run out into the road.
She’s gone to a better place, the church and friends had told him and his family, but what was this new place really better than being with her family, her loving family who wanted to see herb growing up and going to university, and to one day see her cradling her own child, and Ben and Alice’s grandchild, in her arms. Before the accident Ben and Alice had been committed Christians, but not now, and maybe never again. The God they had trusted in, their loving God who had sworn to protect all his children, had betrayed them, and no priest, no book, prayers, and no incantation, would ever bring Susie back by their side
If only she hadn’t run out to greet him, if only he had come up the road two minutes later, and if only she hadn’t been so excited as it was her birthday.
Yet if only’s didn’t matter now.
Nothing mattered now, except supporting his family.
He had to be strong, he had to stand tall and hold back the tears and the pain that threatened to overwhelm him. He was a man, he was the head of the family, and his father had constantly reminded him since adolescence; real men don’t cry.
Would he ever see Susie again, he wondered, as he heard the pallbearers coming toward him? Was there really a heaven, would angel really look after her, or was the church lying to him and was life after death simply a meaningless, lifeless, and cold aching void.
Tap, tap, tap, from the pallbearers shoes, as they now came up beside him, but there was no hello from his Susie, no smile, no infectious giggle, and no warm touch from her warm, soft, and tender hands.
Slowly, and with much sorrow Beattie moved away from the family. There was nothing that she could do, nothing that she could say, and no comfort or future that she could offer anyone. Silently, she slipped back into the shadows as the service stumbled and bumbled along.
She thought about God, as the service continued. About his so-called infinite wisdom and mercy, and the opening words of the psalm that she had so recently heard. Was he really so righteous, and was the little girl so very wicked? Wasn’t she just a four year old child, with nothing but innocence and happiness inside her? Why hadn’t he pulled her back when she saw her father coming, or at the very least shielded her as she ran across the road?
God is good, God is merciful, and God is all around us, thought Beattie wryly.
Some God, some good, some mercy, and some care for his children.
Was he sleeping when the accident happened, or was it some part of some incomprehensible cruel or cunning plan?
Beattie pursed her lips, and shook her head, as she looked towards the altar. Maybe, one day, she might again sing the Lord’s praises, and possibly even respect him, but not at this moment. She heard the measured tread of the pallbearers, and saw the little girl’s pure white coffin as it slowly came passed by her side. Mercifully, at that moment, nobody wanted to talk to her, or even seemed to see her. Standing right at the back of the church, she just listened and thought about her future, until the service drew to a close.
“Today we remember, and we feel both loss and comfort. Today we reflect, and continue our journey of healing. We are older than we were one year ago; older, and perhaps wiser, but certainly changed. We are at once both less and more than we once were. We will always feel the loss of Susie, who has been taken from us, but we will hold her memory deep within our hearts. We will always miss her, and we never not forget her, but now she steps out on a new journey, a better journey that one that one day we all shall know
So as we come to the end of our service ,and say goodbye to Little Susie let us rise now and join together In remembering her laughter, her spirit of adventure, and the joy that she brought into our lives. Go forth but keep these thoughts within you, for if you do so she can never die”
Fine words, vicar, thought Beattie, great and comforting words, but, on such an occasion incomprehensible and unheeded. Silently, and almost invisibly, she slowly walked outside.
“Well, is it done?”
There was no cheekiness from the young man now, just tender compassion, and a sad yet grim determination to get a difficult job done. She knew he would be there, sitting on the bench beneath the old yew tree. That is where they always sat, folder in hand; the couriers. That is where they always met, before leaving with the newly departed; the pair of them often staying back briefly, to watch the body being lowered into the grave. It was interesting to watch them, as a bystander, as no two transfers were the same.
The older souls were often happy, as they had lived their lives and were ready to go through the tunnel. The younger ones were very rarely ready to do so, as they felt that there was so much still to do. Yet the couriers brooked no arguments. They knew all about the tunnel, and its transitory nature, and, all too often, they had experienced the cost of delays. There was just one moment, one tunnel, one light, and one special journey for everyone. Other tunnels might become available in the future, but not for a very long time
Beattie looked at him for a moment, then turned away, pointing towards the old church doors. The mourners came out first and formed a corridor through which the coffin would come. Then the vicar, and the coffin and pallbearers, followed closely by the family as they, half stumbling, half walking, blindly came behind. The party moved away for the final burial, another party, another hole in the ground, and another painfully new and shiny headstone. Behind them all, and seen only by the courier and Beattie, one little girl, clad in a nightdress, animal slippers, and a bright pink fluffy dressing gown stayed behind.
It was with Susie. Rubbing her eyes as if just awakening, she clutched a much loved, much kissed, and hugged, by now earless golden haired Teddy Bear. She looked around her bemusedly, clearly not fully understanding why she was there. Then she saw the young man. He rose from his seat, took off his cap, and quietly smiled at her with welcoming arms. She looked at him, puzzled to see him there, and pointed towards her chest and her bear.
Do you mean me, she seemed to be asking, what’s going on, and why me? Are we going somewhere, and can I bring my Teddy bear; or must I leave him, and go on alone? He nodded slowly, as if sensing her questions, stepped forward slightly, and beckoned her towards him. Now bareheaded, dappled sunlight from between the wind tugged yew branches above him played across his bald head. Looking into his understanding yet tired, sad, shadowy eyes , and at his young yet thin and wasted body, Beattie could almost see the cancer, or something similar, that had probably led him to the grave.
If this was so, then he was beyond any pain now, and as Beattie watched the pair of them came together, and began talking. They both spoke very quietly, but as she was showing him her Teddy Bear, which she called Arthur, he was preparing her for her journey to come. Slowly, as he pointed up towards the yew tree canopy above them, she seemed to realise what was about to occur. She looked up towards the branches, then back towards the courier, all the time clutching her bear close to her, just in case she was told to let it go. Susie needn’t have worried, the bear was hers for all eternity. No courier would have ever taken it from her, and after a brief glance, a blown kiss, and a parting wave from Susie towards the now distant funeral party, the two of them got up from the seat and put their hand on the trunk of the yew tree.
That was the way it had always been done, in this graveyard, for the yew tree was the gateway to, the tunnel entrance, and the promise of a better life to come. Beattie had always known this, for she always had been physic even when she was a teenager, and she watched, as she always watched on these occasions, the pair of them, and of course Arthur, waved goodbye. Then they stepped into the yew tree before gradually, yet with absolute finality, fading away.
Would she ever see Susie again, she wondered, would Susie ever come back, with Arthur, and wander through the graveyard, and what of her courier, would he one day come back to stand by Beattie’s side?
A distant screech of car brakes ran through the graveyard. Too many cars, and yet more children; she thought to herself mournfully. He’d be back, the courier, or a courier like him. All too soon another boy or girl would be standing with him by the old yew tree. Waving to her and holding a much-loved toy or teddy bear, as they silently slipped inside.
With dusk now falling Beattie walked back through the now silent graveyard. She stopped in front of a lichen covered grave and headstone. Looking around her for a moment, she smiled and waved briefly at an old friend who, long dead now, was still taking her dog on its evening walk through the graveyard. Then, as was her daily pleasure, she gratefully climbed back inside.
It had been a nice day; a nice day for a funeral, but there was peace, security, and comfort in the cool dark moist earth that for many years had surrounded her. Now she wanted to see her husband, as he lay forever sleeping. She wanted to curl up to him as she had done every day of their 23 year mortal marriage, then, as ever and for all eternity, to sleep, and rest; before, in the morning, waking up by his side.