Today I attended the funeral of a good friend who was only 32. Mandy died of cancer which had been preceded by a long-term condition she had endured for most of her life: growths on her spinal column that often caused her discomfort and pain. It is weird to think that she is gone and that I will never speak to or hear from her again for as long as I live. It was also strange to see her body carried in a wooden box down the aisle to the front of the chapel and then disappear behind an automated curtain at the end of the serivce.
I was deeply moved by the short address that was given by the headmaster of a special needs school. Working as a volunteer for 17 years (yes , seventeen!) Mandy was tireless in her efforts in supporting children who needed significant levels of care. The picture he painted was of a dedicated young woman who was more interested in getting things done - being there for the kids - than receiving any recognition for it.
I feel somewhat guilty, however, that I don't feel sadder than I do. I spent plenty of time with her, but she wasn't my closest of friends and she wasn't family. I think perhaps what is stopping me from being overwhelmed by her loss is that I know she is no longer in pain and in a much better place. She gave her life to God many years ago, and in that I am assured of where she is now (as much as I can be about anyone). In Heaven, her body and mind have been renewed and she is with the Lord - dancing, laughing, singing and smiling with utter joy.
I am happy for her and, to be honest, I'm slightly envious. I can't wait to be in Heaven - to be close to God and experience indescribable peace, joy and contentment - but I know it is not my time yet. I have a family to look after, and I am sure there are a number of things God wants me to do before I go.
What did sadden me, though, was seeing her family was mourning the loss of a precious daughter, sister and auntie. They will miss her so much more than I, and when I think of that it genuinely makes me sad.
Funerals are a stark way of reminding us of our mortality - of the fragility and uncertainty of life. That is why I am determined to make more of an effort with people I care about. I know that I am pants at keeping in touch, offering a shoulder to cry on or knowing when to encourage another- but what today has shown me is that rather than shy away from these things, I need to at least try.
So long, Mandy. It was great to know you. You were a good friend and an inspiration to us all.