Path Beyond Death
01 April 1989

We walk down that path each day - my six-year-old daughter and I - on her way to school. We must have passed within feet of the dead body. They cordoned off the path and we came home from school another way.

The police helicopter circled overhead all morning while police with tracker dogs searched. I watched from our garden-and then from inside, wondering if someone was on the run. At lunch, two policemen knocked on our door.

'Can we look through your garden please?'

`Has someone escaped?’

'No, we think there's been a death in suspicious circumstances.'

They didn't stay long and then they were over the fence into the neighbours' gardens.

The lunchtime news told the tale. A 22-year-old girl had phoned to her friend from the station (our station) at midnight to say she was on her way. She never reached her destination. Neighbours had heard shouts and scuffling in the street.

In the morning the police found her coat-belt and shoes on a path near our home. They found the body at 2pm lying in thick undergrowth next to the path. She had been strangled.

We walk down that path each day - my six-year-old daughter and I - on her way to school. We must have passed within feet of the dead body. They cordoned off the path and we came home from school another way.

The girl's father was on television that night. I shall never forget the utter despair on his face. `You read about these things,' he said. `You never believe it can happen to you. She was such a lovely girl.'

A whole community shared his grief. And somehow that young woman, unknown to most of us had become our concern, our friend.

We prayed for her father that evening, my daughter and I. 'And for the poor girl too,' said my daughter.

'Yes, that's right. We pray for her soul – that she will be safe with Jesus now.’

Life after life
It was a season of tragedies -as if evil had been let out of Pandora's box and allowed to stalk the world. An earthquake in Armenia; an airliner blasted out of the skv at Lockerbie; another air crash, on Britain’'s M1 motorway. A train crash at Clapham, south London - on the very route I take to work each day- had left 35 dead. Had it happened two hours later, they might have been pulling my body out of the wreckage, too.

How to make sense of such senseless loss - if sense there is to be made at all? Some who have died have been so young, their brief lives like shooting stars across the skies, candles snuffed out before their time.

There is no meaning if our only belief is in this life: that we come from nowhere and go to nothing, to an endless sleep from which there is no awaking, a black hole from which there is no escaping, our time on this earth all too brief.

But those who have had a glimpse of the ‘other side’ – the near-death victims who have had the the curtain drawn back to reveal a ‘life after life'- have survived to tell another story. 'I came into the presence of an overwhelminh sense of peace'; 'There was a brilliant light and I felt surrounded by love'; 'I saw the outstretched arms of Christ and they were wonderful.`

Once, some years after my father's death I had the unexpected urge to pray for him. That night I dreamed that we were together, laughing - so heartily that my laughter in my sleep woke me up. It was as if my prayer, in some strange alchemy, had helped him forwards on his spiritual journey - had been a release for him. At least that is what I like to think. For me, too, itwas a release--to pray for the soul of the faithful departed -to take time again to mourn his loss - and to know that he was in safe hands. There was no need to be concerned for him now.

And what of us who are left to live another day? How do we respond to the news of death near at hand and in far off lands? How do we allow it to touch us in a way that honours those who in a trice, caught unawares, have been whisked away?

Life must go on. But, as for me, I find myself praying for a deeper sensitivity, a greater compassion - allowing myself to treasure time spent, however fleeting, with family and friends, loved ones and acquaintances alike, all too well aware how close to the eternal world we all walk.

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0