Beautiful funeral experience made me realise we need to heed lessons from 2020

Lady Dannatt said a recent funeral in Norfolk made her appreciate the difficulties many of us have gone through in 2020

Lady Dannatt said a recent funeral in Norfolk made her appreciate the difficulties many of us have gone through in 2020 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Lady Dannatt

A few weeks ago, we were at a funeral in a small north Norfolk church, just inland from the sea. All funerals are sad, but this particularly so. A brilliant and accomplished mother with everything to live for, including three immensely talented, likeable school-age children. Another life claimed far too young.
And so it was, that Saturday morning, we set off for the service. Instead of a glowing, burnished autumn day, Norfolk seemingly chose to join with us in railing against the injustices of life. Fierce winds, angry rain and a sullen subdued greyness clouded the spirits and coated the landscape alike. Some might assume being married to a military man, punctuality and time assessment would be a given. They are wrong of course. Every conceivable obstacle from the overturned van on the NDR to a solitary tractor winding its way along a lane for the last four miles, served to ensure a tense and hostile standoff as we arrived, just a minute to spare. Mud, masks and misery, unquestionably the order of the day.
But then something rather wonderful happened. With fewer than 30 people present, the church was without that cocktail party clamour that can precede even a funeral. Instead it was hushed, respectful, reflective, waiting. The masks did not disguise the smiling eyes of welcome, nor the whispered assurance of ‘no rush, take your time.’ So, we did. And far from it being an agonising hour to be endured, every note played, every word spoken (and in solo quite beautifully sung), that ancient place of worship took on a remarkable quality of hope; and with it, a quiet and healing purpose of its own.
The children performed faultlessly for their mother: the intimacy of each offering adding only to the extraordinary love and poignancy of the whole. And when we followed out to the graveyard the rain, for a few minutes stopped, allowing a watery sunshine to play hide and seek with the clouds. We smiled. Norfolk may be mercurial in her habits; yet she pulls it out of the bag oft when it is needed most.
So why am I recalling this today? Here is why. As we stand in this no man’s land between the horrors of the pandemic and assurances of vaccines on the horizon, I am worried. I am worried lest we forget all too quickly the unsought lessons the last 10 or 11 months have taught us.
For one thing is clear. We cannot, indeed must not, return to our previous way of doing things. After all, it is the old method of thinking that has created so many of the wider problems facing us today. So, what next? How do we best honour the 580 deaths from Covid here in Norfolk alone, ensuring those deaths were not in vain?
Because honour them we must. And learn. Already individuals and communities across the county have come together on an unprecedented scale. The Norfolk Community Foundation has not only raised and distributed vast sums where desperately needed but is working increasingly closely with the local authorities. This collaboration alone is a lasting legacy of the pandemic.
There are others too. Never overlook the work of our parish councils in protecting, nurturing and sustaining precious communities at grassroot level. Ordinary people quietly doing the most extraordinary things for communities within our city, towns, villages and rural areas alike. The legacy of Norfolk’s Association of Councils is profound and ongoing; I suspect we do not thank them enough.
There is still a way to go. The words ‘sometimes in life your situation will keep repeating itself until you learn your lesson’ are timely. Humankind needs to heed those lessons today.
Come to think of it, it could apply to a certain person’s timekeeping too.

The Lady Dannatt MBE is HM Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk

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