It is fair to say this has been one of the more difficult weekends. On Friday, I attended the funeral of a fine young man. His name was James Murphy, he was 20 years old and he passed away in a tragic accident whilst Kayaking in New Zealand, on a trip with his University friends. His Mum and Dad are friends of ours. The funeral service was at St Pauls Church on the Ridgway. It is fair to say his friends and family did him proud. There must have been 500 people at the service, friends and family come to pay tribute to an exceptional young man. The circumstances of James passing were a testament to just what an exceptional young man he was. Although the deatils are not clear at this stage, James went into very cold water to save a girl who was in trouble in her Kayak. Although he managed to save her, it appears he got too cold and suffered from hypothermia.
Whilst the grief must be beyond comprehension for James parents, they paid enormous tribute to the way James friends have rallied around. They have made their home an open house for James friends, who came to share stories and pay tribute to James. Video clips from phones, photographs and anecdotes have brought a light to the family in the darkest hours. At the start of the service tribute was paid by James father John to James friends and how they have brought such positivity to such a tragic event.
As a parent with a daughter the same age as James, the mere thought of such a tragedy simply fills me with dread. The sad news broke the day before I took my daughter to Leeds Uni. The thought of my baby being away from my love and care was hard enough without the risks of life being thrown into such hard focus. I have no idea how I could possibly cope in such circumstances.
At the service, many of James friends made incredibly moving and heartfelt tributes. His two younger brothers spoke of what a great brother he was. But even more all emphasised that James was no saint. He was incredibly strong, kind and caring, but he had a wicked sense of fun. In his 20 years he lived life and loved life. The hundreds who turned up to pay tribute, some travelling across the world, show just how many lives he touched. The service and the stories at the wake showed the depth of the love he generated.
As I do every Sunday, today I went to mass at The Sacred Heart. I use this time as quiet time to reflect on the things which matter. Whilst I am not someone who believes that "going to church makes you a better person" I find that setting the time aside for quiet meditive reflect is of enormous help to me personally. Many of us pray for many things. I only ever pray for two things, the strnegth to overcome the challenges I face and the wisdom to deal with them. I believe this is all we can reasonably expect from any God we may choose to believe in.
Sometimes it is harder to have the strength and wisdom to pull through. These are the times we need our friends and family. But even with them, we sometimes still struggle to make sense of the terrible things that happen. As I contemplated the terrible events of James passing, my mind turned to my own father. During the war, he flew Wellington bombers for 40 Squadron. His rear gunner, F/O Andrew "Spud" Murphy was not much older than James. When my father was shot down over Ploesti in Romania on a bombing mission, F/O Murphy was the only one of my fathers crew not to bale out and survive. My father once confided to me how deeply this affected him. F/O Murphy was the youngest of his crew and the most full of life and mischief. My Dad would regail us with stories of their sheannigans with their squadron in North Africa and Italy. My father was taken to identify his body and he was given a military funeral by the Rumanian airforce. To the best of my knowledge, my father was F/O Murphys only friend at the funeral.
As I pondered this, my mind went back to a conversation I had with my Dad over a few Guinnesses and a few Scotches. We sat up until 2am chatting on a Tuesday night, about a years before he passed away. I remember because he was intrigued by a project I was working on. I was about 23 at the time. He suddenly, as was his want, started regailing me with stories of his wartime shenanigans. In each story He'd lovingly refer to Spud. Generally there was much alcohol and a hapless senior RAF officer as the butt end of the story. Towards the end of the night, he said "You know what, the thing is that no matter how sad I felt about Spud, I've never ever been able to think of him without smiling and thinking how lucky I was that he was on my crew and that we were mates". My Dad then gave me some great advice. He told me that "Spud was so full of life, you could never imagine him not being there. I guess the one thing I learned was to appreciate your friends when you have them"
I am sure that in years to come, the friends and family of James will feel the same. They will always feel his warmth and smile when they think about him. The sadness will always remain but the good times will be there and those are the things which stay with us forever. I am sure we all sometimes ask "whats it all about and why are we here" or "what is the meaning of life?". I can't shed any light at all on that question, but I can categorically state that life is better for the people we love, so appreciate them while they are here. All of those silly pictures and video clips on your phone, all those memories of drunken nights, bad dancing and silliness, all of the jokes, laughs, music and love we shared will be with us forever. So appreciate them as best you can. As I thought about James and Spud, I realised that if we have friends we are lucky, if we touch peoples hearts we are blessed. And if we have a damn good laugh in the process, then we've probably got this whole life thing sorted.