Good morning and welcome to this ceremony which celebrates the life of Lesley Stewart. My name is Ivan Middleton and I am a Humanist Celebrant. I want to welcome everyone who has come here today. I hope that at the end of this farewell you will be glad that you took the opportunity to do some of your grieving in the presence of others who have known and loved Lesley.
We meet here today to pay tribute to Lesley and to express our love and admiration for her and to bring some comfort to her son, Ewan, her family and friends who are here, and who have been hurt by her death.
Given her clear views and her great concern for human values she decided that this should be a non-religious ceremony. She wrote to me and we met a few weeks ago to begin to plan this ceremony. I was incredibly impressed by her courage and determination.
A Humanist ceremony provides an opportunity to join in saying goodbye to someone we have loved, someone for whom we have had the greatest respect. It is also the celebration of Lesley’s life. She lived a rich and very full life, filled with commitment and was an outstanding athlete. Lesley really packed in so much to her life it was incredible to learn of one area after another. I soon realised it was futile to ask “What did she do in her spare time?” Lesley always had a purpose for every moment of her life.
She was a caring and loving, daughter, sister, wife, mother, colleague and friend. Sadly it ended all too soon.
This is a sad day, especially sad because grief for the loss of someone so young is hardest to bear. When an old person dies we grieve but we realise that a life has been lived and has drawn to its inevitable close. But when a young person dies, we mourn not only for the life that was, but also for the life that might have been. It is right and natural that we should grieve, because sorrow is a reflection and measure of the love, the happiness and the friendship we shared with Lesley. In a way we grieve for ourselves as we realise that our own lives will never be the same without her
As Kahil Gibran wrote: “When you are sorrowful, look in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
The value and meaning of life is in living and living well. People, who have been a strength and comfort to others, and have used their time usefully and creatively, these are the people who bring meaning and value to life. Lesley was such a person.
As Helen Keller wrote: “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world—the company of those who have known suffering. When it seems that our sorrows are too great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy hearted into which our grieving has given us entrance, and inevitably we feel about us their arms, their sympathy.”
We are all involved in the life and death of each of us. Human life is built upon caring. The separateness, uniqueness of human life is the basis of our grieving in bereavement. Look through the whole world and there is no one quite like Lesley.
But she lives on in your memories and though no longer a visible part of your lives, she will always remain a member of your family or of your circle, through the influences she has had on you and the special part she played in your life.
The following words seem appropriate at this time:
“I often think that people we have loved
And who love us, not only make us more human
But they become a part of us
And we carry them around all the time-
Whether we see them or not.
And in some ways we are a sum total of those who have loved us
And those we have loved”
I feel sure that there is nobody here today who does not feel themselves enriched and supported through having known Lesley.
We are here not just to mourn, but also to celebrate Lesley’s life. It was of course a life still so energetic and youthful but tragically cut all too short. However, I think we need to challenge our habit of measuring the quality of life by its duration.
As Alexander Solznenitsyn wrote: “Some people are bound to die young. By dying young a person stays young for ever in peoples’ memories. If she burns brightly before she dies, her light shines for all time.”
Michael de Montaigne wrote: “The value of life lies not in its length, but in the use we make of it. This or that person may have lived many years, yet lived little. Pay good heed to your own life. Whether you have lived long enough depends upon yourself, not on the number of your years…”
As human beings, it is our way to question, to seek answers, to demand to know. At a time like this, the inevitable questions are “Why me? Why her? Why us?”
These questions cannot be answered. We might as well ask why a particular leaf on a tree failed to unfurl or was blown away at a particular time. However sophisticated and powerful the human species may be, we are still subject, like all things in the natural world, to its whims and accidents.
Tribute – Ivan Middleton