Saying goodbye is never easy when you know that you will not be seeing the person for some time, especially when the separation is caused by death. There are no words that can fully express the sense of loss and grief but perhaps it is silence and the tears that makes up for the unspoken words that remain close to our hearts and mind.
Recently I was made aware of this poem by Linda Ellis entitled ‘The Dash’ and I had spent some time reflecting on it and I would like to read this poem to you…
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
Of all the things that we find on the tombstone, the one that we least remember is the “dash”. However, it is that “dash” that we have come to celebrate. Many of us are gathered here because we have been a part of that “dash”. We have known Fr Phillips either from a distance as he stood at the pulpit and broke the word of God and administered the sacraments or on a more personal level of having encountered him in informal settings.
I have known Fr Phillips for more than half my life as alumni of the same school, Sunday School teacher, fellow parishioner, friend, companion on a journey, co-worker, and priest. In whatever context we may have known him and encountered him, we have been a part of his “dash, and he has been a part of our “dash”. There have been so many stories shared and remembered and posts on social media… reminding us of how Fr Phillips has been a part of our lives.
That is why we gather here this evening to celebrate in thanksgiving. If it wasn’t for our faith in Jesus, it would be morbid to say that we are here to celebrate the death of a person.
Just like many of you here, I have had my fair share of shock and disbelief when I heard of his passing and even now continue asking God the question, Why? Why do good people die young? But faith gives us a new perspective… we don’t understand but we believe, we are sad but not hopeless.
Twenty months ago, I lost my father and Phillips was there to console me. After the burial, he gave me a hug and whispered in my ear… “Your Dad is safe in the arms of Jesus.” He said it not just to console me, but said it with great conviction. It was his and our conviction… and the Eucharist that we celebrate that bears testimony to this.
In his book Tuesdays with Morie, Mitch Albom writes, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” It reminds me of Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene when she went to the tomb of Jesus. Jesus tells her… ‘Mary, do not cling on to me’… it is not because Jesus did not want her to remember Him but because now her relationship with Jesus is going to be different.
In some ways I see a similarity… we say goodbye to Fr Phillips… but the goodbye for now is just conditioned by space and time but it is not the end. It is a new relationship that we develop with him. A friend of Fr Phillips sent me this message… ‘He will be sorely missed but never forgotten’ – Phillips’ love and concern, his listening ear and warm smile, his firm handshake and occasionally a comforting embrace, and his daily reflections on FB will be missed but never forgotten because the “dash” continues to linger in this new relationship that we share with him.
Perhaps in a moment like this, we too can reflect on our own “dash” as I conclude with the rest of the poem…
So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?
– by Linda Ellis