Last night I was honoured to be invited back to St Marylebone Parish Church for their annual Remembrance service for those who have died under the care of the Leaders in Oncology Care hospitals. It was not my first time addressing this congregation, and once again the service was incredibly moving and appropriate. The Revd Canon Stephen Evans has repeatedly managed to weave together a service appropriate for people of a huge variety of faiths, and there was barely a prayer or piece of music I didn't feel able to join in with.
On January 1st it was the tenth secular anniversary since a brain tumor defeated my dad, and took him at the age of 61. Last night I didn't speak about him, but felt so grateful to have the service space to once again remember and process. Healing and carrying on are not tasks that are completed and put on a shelf. They are continual and different and need returning to from time to time, and I feel so lucky to have been given a little space to do so once again.
This was what I said:

2016 felt like the year of celebrity deaths. We became so aware of it that the year itself became somehow personified as a cruel, living being. It was even suggested that the 82 stars who died last year knew something we didn’t and were getting out first!
It is a time consuming exercise to attempt to discern how many of those 82 were killed by cancers. In January alone, of a total 6 celebrity deaths, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Rocker Jimmy Bain and Terry Wogan, 4 in all, were taken by a variety of cancers. Celebrities often personalise larger issues for us, but for each of us here tonight, we don’t need to have the loss and pain of suffering Cancer made any more real for us.
When things seemingly happen more often than they used to, it can begin to feel normal. Yet no matter how many celebrities met a timely or untimely end in 2016, the deaths of those close to our hearts is something that continues to seem abnormal, the memory of it continues to shock and upset, yet we all do carry on. We try to carry on with love in our hearts, and a desire to make that loss more meaningful through living our lives better, or by embodying the values of those who left us more fully day to day. They stay with us because we keep them with us, and honour them in all the good we do in the world.
The loss we share together tonight brings us closer to one another, but it also remains very personal, held close to our aching hearts. Each person lost was an entire world, with whom our own hopes and dreams were tied up.
We come together this evening remembering many different deaths. But we also come bringing memories of lives lived, and names used that were special and unique to our relationships. I want to share a poem by an Israeli poetess – Zelda, that Reform Jews now have in their prayer book for the High Holidays. It is called EACH OF US HAS A NAME:
Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents

Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear

Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

Each of us remembers, and each of us will be remembered. The many different names we carry through our lives are the imprints we leave on others, and in coming together we honour the memories of those who we have loved, cared for, supported and named out loud. They may not be remembered by clamouring fans as the famous deaths of 2016 were. But they are remembered with deep rivers of love, and with names that were special between you.
The various names we will each leave behind will be said differently by different mouths. But I hope and pray we might all be blessed to have names that inspire as much gratitude and warmth as those of the hospital staff present with us here tonight. The unfailing care and dedication you offer is an inspiration to us all. Please keep helping your patients to fight their fight, while we as a society must keep fighting using science, strength and courage to find new ways to battle this killer. Many days it will be hard to do what you do, but the name you will leave in this world as a result, whether spoken by 5 people or 5 million people, will be one spoken with respect, love, and gratitude.

May we all be blessed to be named by those who hold us close to their hearts.


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