Farewell to Nicky

We had gathered for those few precious minutes to bring closure to the death and, of course, the earthly life of Nicky; but also to celebrate the hope of a future opening for her into eternal life and immortality.

To help us to do this honourably and honestly, I offered three lines taken from three different psalms – from that ancient hymnbook that tells it like it is. Nicky, I was sure, would not have wished us to perform this duty in a soppy, sentimental style with fancy, fairy-tale frills! Each line begins with the same simple phrase, according to Today’s New International Version.

[] The first of the three is Psalm 103:15,

            ‘As for mortals, their days are like grass.’

Thankfully, two verses later the psalmist adds,

‘But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness [his right way] is with their children’s children.’

As for mortals, their days are like grass. Not yet 40, she was often in pain and under medical treatment and surgery, sometimes with loss of dignity.

As for mortals, their days are like grass was true for Nicky; even with her senior citizen’s bus pass; it’s true for me – and true for us all. But, our second quotation tells a different story:

[] Psalm 18:30,

‘As for God, his way is perfect . . . he shields all who take refuge in him.’

We cannot blame him for human errors. No doubt, many were made throughout Nicky’s treatment. Even when she died inconveniently at a weekend, ‘the system’ caused distress in how they dealt with her earthly remains.

How much of the neglect was ever due to human selfishness we do not know. But there will be a day of reckoning when all will be revealed and assessed by Almighty God – whose ‘way is perfect’.

How re-assuring is the follow-up line: ‘he shields all who take refuge in him.’

Although often restricted because of her Chrone’s predicament, Nicky was a fighter for life. Her mind could rove the galaxies with Mr. Spock,’Trekking’ the cosmos; and her heart was in the wide, natural landscapes of the Serengeti and Massai Mara game reserves of Africa. She had a set of old fashioned moral values in which ‘right was right and wrong was wrong’, with a care for threatened species of wild animals, adopting a tiger through the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – her wish was ‘No flowers, please, when I go – they perish; donations instead to IFAW’).

Never religious during her life, and never going to be forced or cajoled into faith, yet Nicky was often in my prayers (though I never met her), and in our prayers as a church in those last few years because her mother, Jackie, and Dave her husband were members. Her good friend Anita could talk to her on any subject under God’s heaven – and above and beyond the galaxies. She often spoke to Nicky about the Lord.

The day before she passed from us, Jackie, now relieved to see her daughter cared for 24/7 at last, said: ‘Now those needs are taken care of, lovey, isn’t it time you turned your attention to the Lord/’ This time Nicky replied, ‘You are right. I’ve been thinking for a while that I should.’

What goes on between a person and God in life’s twilight hours is often shrouded in secrecy. Forty years before, around the time Nicky was born, I heard Rev. William Fullerton, a Methodist minister from Belfast tell of a red-blooded RAF officer whose wife and son were members of his church; but this man always said, ‘That’s for women and children and those who need a crutch.’

One Sunday afternoon Bill Fullerton received a phone call from the officer’s wife, ‘My husband is in hospital in a coma with poliomyelitis in the throat. They don’t expect him to live more than a few days.’ Bill dropped by at the hospital on his way to evening service and prayed over the patient. By Tuesday he was awake, sitting up eating his lunch and out of danger. Bill visited again and told him of the prayers of his family and their church – ‘the reason that you’re still alive.’ ‘I know, and I am most grateful.’ he murmured.

Bill then quoted words of Jesus from the end of the Bible:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.’

‘He visited you as the great Physician. Now you need to invite him into your life permanently as your lord and closest friend,’ Bill advised. ‘I did that,’ said the patient. ‘When?’ asked the astonished preacher. ‘When you prayed over me on Sunday afternoon.’ It was no flash in the pan, no nine day wonder. Rev. Fullerton told us, ‘That man has been an active member of our church for the past eight years.’

What if he had never recovered? He’d have gone to be with the Lord, but his wife and son would never have known that good news!

On Wednesday night of Nicky’s last week of life, her mother Jackie dreamed that she saw me standing before our people at a Sunday service announcing, ‘Nicky has died.’ The very next Sunday she and Dave watched me do just that! As for God, his way – and timing – is perfect.

[] Our final phrase is Psalm 17:15,

As for me, I shall … see your face. When I awake,                                                             I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness.’

The funeral was nearly two-and-a-half weeks after Nicky had said, ‘Beam me up, Lord’, and left her mortal remains for us to dispose of, as she awoke to see Jesus face to face. Oh joy!

Her flat was crammed full of video tapes, so let me explain things this way. On Sunday 7th April around 7.15 a.m. God removed the video-recording of Nicky’s life from her old broken, earthly VCR – the body that had served her purpose these forty years. She had gone to glory to be re-edited onto DVD. Nicky also managed to collect a few computers. There are two programmes available that illustrate what has happened since she went: one is called ‘Disc Clean’ and the other ‘De-Frag’ which takes the cluttered and broken fragments on the personal computer and streamlines them for the user – she knows not how! (Any more than she knows how her family cleaned out the crowded magpie’s nest of her flat – it took them a whole week, but eternity has no such time restriction!) When Jesus returns, that tidied-up version of Nicky will be inserted into a state of the art DVD player, a body like his body of glory. We’ll hardly recognise her in her God-given beauty!

Eight days before her funeral was Easter – the Christian celebration that Jesus is alive, back permanently from death. When he finally returns for his own people – the Bible tells us:

‘We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’

What hope and assurance his people can enjoy even now.

[] The committal

With that understanding we committed the earthly remains of Nicola to the elements of the earth –

‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust, even seed to soil’.

Scripture tells us:

‘The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.

It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.

It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.’

St Paul adds:

‘Listen, I tell you a mystery.

            We will not all sleep [in death], but we will all be changed,

            in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

            For the trumpet will sound,

            the dead will be raised with immortality.

            Then the saying will come true, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.

            Thanks be to God!

            He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.

[Quotations from Today’s NIV: Rev. 3:20; 1John 3:2; 1 Cor.15:42-44, 50-57]

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