Memorial Service, 6 June 2009
Eglise des Dominicains, Strasbourg
Reverend John Murray, Strasbourg Anglican Chaplaincy
We have come here today to celebrate a life, to share our memories of someone who, in various different ways, meant a great deal to each of us here in this church, and to give thanks for her.
As we celebrate the life of Patricia Wimberley, Pat, we are, of course, painfully aware of it as a life cut short; a life that should, we feel, have gone on longer; a life left incomplete.
only..., we say to ourselves....
If only Pat had lived longer, if only she had not been struck down prematurely by disease;
how much more she would have given to us and to others;
how much more she could have done and enjoyed;
how much longer we could have enjoyed her company and her friendship.
Yes, we are full of “if only”s. That is natural and inevitable, but at the same time we know in our heart of hearts that the “if only”s of life will get us nowhere – because they take us into a realm of fantasy, into a never-never world -and that way darkness lies.
This being so, the only healthy response is the
total realism of Job in the bible, who, when everything he loved and
valued had been destroyed, could still say:
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
which, of course, his wife retorted:
“O for heaven’s sake, Job, get real.
Cut out the pious platitudes – Curse God, and have done with it.”
But Job said: No, the world is as it is, a mixture of good and evil, of sorrow and joy, and the only way to survive in a world like that is to concentrate on thanking God for all that is good rather than eating our hearts out over the things that go wrong.
And when we come to Pat, we have so much to be thankful for.
Lucy and Michel and Martyn and Louise have reminded us of many of those things, and we all have our own memories, our own reasons to be thankful to God for having brought Pat into our lives.
So we will want to thank God for Pat’s ability and energy and strength of character, which showed themselves in many ways, but especially in the causes she got involved in: from Tibet to Uganda, from human rights to HIV/AIDS and palliative care.
We are deeply, conscious too, of the constant support she gave to James in his work at the Council of Europe, and the friendship and hospitality she showed to so many of the European experts.
Personally, I think with deep gratitude of all the kindness I received from Pat – and James – in my early days in Strasbourg, an inexperienced young man rather lost in a new environment.
Pat had wide human sympathies, but she didn’t leave it at sympathy for people in distress: she got stuck in, and did something about it, and inspired others to get involved too.
But above all, perhaps, we think of Pat’s deep and unfailing love for James, and for their children, something which only they know fully, but which was visible to us all.
Mind you, Pat was also demanding of those whom she loved. She demanded that they live up to their best selves, and when they didn’t, she was not afraid to tell them so!
So: there are many, many things to give thanks for. Even if it was, as I said, a life left incomplete. But was it incomplete, really?
After all, what are we put on this earth for? Well, I think the answer to that is very simple: we are placed here in order to learn how to love. In the words of Jesus and the Jewish tradition: to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourself.
Plus, for those who, like Pat, are blessed with the gift of faith, to understand that the love we give here on earth is but a faint reflection of the passionate and consuming love with which God loves us.
This, I think, is what life is all about; and Pat knew these things, and these were the things she did her best (imperfectly, as she would have been the first to say) to live by.
So let us not say that Pat’s life was incomplete. She made good use of her time here on earth. She knew the things that mattered, and now we may believe that she enters into the full knowledge of that divine love which far surpasses anything we can imagine here on earth.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory.