A Sudden Death or a Slow One?

On Monday, a close relative died. I had caught the train to Hull once or twice a week for the last couple of months to spend time with him. At first, the visits were to his home, then the hospital, then the hospice. Seeing him so regularly, but with intervals, allowed me to better observe and chart his decline. It struck me that the cancer was merely a catalyst- it sped up a universal process that would have had the same result. The long train journeys afforded the time to ponder: which is kinder? A sudden death, or a slower, anticipated slog in a hospice? I couldn’t find the answer; I was irritated that I was asking myself to choose.

My uncle was not a religious man. He once described himself as a pagan but recently informed me otherwise. I prayed with him, and for him, and he came to the chapel once or twice. He even attended YL meetings as a youth: who knows what God brings to mind in those last hours. The family have asked me to lead the funeral. Indeed, he asked me. It all seemed like a good idea all those years ago when I agreed to it. But now I try to write something down, it’s hard.

I’m immediately attracted to those thought-provoking words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9. At first, they don’t sound particularly ‘spiritual’:

‘…The righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. 2 All things come alike to all:

One event happens to the righteous and the wicked;

To the good, the clean, and the unclean;

To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.

As is the good, so is the sinner;

He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.

3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

5 For the living know that they will die;

But the dead know nothing,

And they have no more reward,

For the memory of them is forgotten.

6 Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished;

Nevermore will they have a share

In anything done under the sun 

7 Go, eat your bread with joy,

And drink your wine with a merry heart;

For God has already accepted your works.

8 Let your garments always be white,

And let your head lack no oil.

9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labour which you perform under the sun.

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going 

11 I returned and saw under the sun that 

The race is not to the swift,

Nor the battle to the strong,

Nor bread to the wise,

Nor riches to men of understanding,

Nor favour to men of skill;

But time and chance happen to them all.

12 For man also does not know his time:

Like fish taken in a cruel net,

Like birds caught in a snare,

So the sons of men are snared in an evil time,

When it falls suddenly upon them.


Solomon is reflecting on death. His message is this: death is coming to all of us, to some suddenly, so enjoy life while you can. This is no secular gospel or hedonistic shrugging, however. The real message of the text comes three chapters later:


Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,

Or the golden bowl is broken,

Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,

Or the wheel broken at the well.

Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,

And the spirit will return to God who gave it.


One advantage of a long, drawn-out demise is that it offers one time to deliberate. One considers life’s spiritual dimension and where one is heading. I pray that those attending the funeral will do so too.