Farewell to Dennis O’Keeffe
Yesterday, which was Monday the 29th December 2014, about sixty of those who knew him came together in Ealing Abbey to say farewell to Dennis O’Keeffe.
Life and death are mysteries that no scientific hypothesis can explain in other than functional terms. We were not. We are. We shall not be. While we are, the atoms that comprise our bodies maintain an apparently stable form. At last, through mechanical damage or the passing of time, the form is degraded, until its atoms go their separate ways. We can speak, with increasing sophistication, of this process in terms of cells and their division. We can, with increasing success, intervene in the process, to repair damage and hold off the effects of time. When confronted with the inevitable end of things, though, we are left by all our science with no greater understanding of where the person has gone than our earliest rational ancestors had.
Whether the Christian Faith is true is not a question I can answer. All I can say is that its truth is neither certain nor impossible. But, if we turn away from considerations of truth, I do not think there is any other religion so able to give meaning and hope to its believers. Yesterday, we were told to respect the mortal remains, because they had been made in the image of God and had once contained the soul of Dennis. We were told that Dennis had crossed the thin boundary dividing this world from the next, and that the pains of his long illness had been a gift sent to refine him for the new and glorious life into which he had now entered. It was a message reinforced by words and music and architecture, and supported by arguments of much subtlety, and by the long continuance of the Church. Unless to believe in some other, whoever doubts the truth of this message is more to be pitied than admired. Unless to attack some great evil that has been associated with it, whoever sets out to undermine the belief of others may be no friend of humanity.
I directed the funerals of Chris Tame and his mother. Both died in the belief that they were passing into eternal darkness. Despite my best efforts, the words I spoke over their bodies were devoid of comfort. Yesterday’s service was filled with comfort. It opened with Be Thou My Vision. It closed with He Who Would Valiant Be. Between these fine hymns, we had readings from Matthew and 1 Corinthians, and tributes and an inspiring homily, and the Lord’s Prayer. After this, while the family attended a private cremation, we sat down to a lunch of cheerful fellowship, which continued some while after the family returned.
It would have been better had Dennis not died before the work he set himself was done, and better had he not suffered his terrible accident. But what happened did happen. Such is the nature of things. So far as he may have planned his funeral service, and so far as he would have approved it, we had our last testimony to the greatness and goodness of Dennis O’Keeffe, and to his fitness never to be forgotten. Once more, my sympathies to Mary and Matthew and his other loved ones. And now also my thanks to them for being allowed to share in the farewell.