I haven’t had the heart to post for a few weeks now. Towards the end of June my oldest and dear friend Tim Page died after a final three year battle with cancer.
There is a fitting tribute in the Irish News that gives a glimpse of a remarkable and lovable man.
Below is what I said at his funeral. It seems appropriate to post it here since Tim was one of the most regular readers of this blog and we had many related conversations over the years. There is a post from Tim on this blog linking to his telling of his one year post stem-cell transplant journey. It’s very hard to read today but the character talked about below shines through.
Rev Fiona McCrea gave a lovely tribute telling the rich story of Tim’s life and Rev Alex Wimberly of the Corrymeela Community, of which Tim and Ruth were members, also participated, praying in thanksgiving for a life well-lived and for Tim’s grieving family and friends.
When in the isolation Burkitt Ward of St James’ hospital Dublin for his donor stem cell transplant in December 2017 Tim asked me to speak at his funeral if he didn’t make it out the other side. And there was a high chance he wouldn’t.
I was humbled to be asked but said it was a task that I never wanted to take up. It turned out to be 2 ½ years later and here we are. None of us want to be, but here we are.
He also said he’d given me advance time to prepare! And you would think I would be, especially after sitting with Ruth around his bed last Saturday and saying goodbye. But I suspect all of us feel utterly unprepared for today. We are still trying to come to terms with the reality that he didn’t make it out of that last battle. His body had finally had enough.
We don’t want to be here because, as St Paul puts it in his first letter to the Corinthians, death is the great enemy. Tim talked about this. He didn’t have much time for platitudes, even if well meaning, that death is a friend to be welcomed, like a hospitable host ushering you in to the next life.
No, he knew well that death is a destroyer of life and Tim fought it with all his might. Not just over the last 2 ½ years of course, but on and off for over the last 30. He was incredibly resilient and I’ll come back to that resilience in a moment.
We grieve today for that loss of life. But not just life in general, the loss of a particular life. A truly wonderful life – to quote the name of one of his favourite films played on his 50th birthday.
I don’t say that lightly. I’ve known Tim for over 50 years. He’s been my closest friend and I can’t think of a better person or a better friend. And I’m sure Ruth would say here that there couldn’t be a better husband, and Downey and Christopher a better dad … and Primrose a better son, and Rosalind a better brother .. and we could go on I am sure ..Maurice, Jane, Page, Iris, Marigold, Janet, Steven ..
We grieve for the loss of a great character. And I don’t mean that in an Irish way, where to call someone a ‘character’ tends not to be a compliment! I mean it quite literally.
Character is formed over the course of a life, through thousands of choices made every day. It doesn’t happen by accident. Good character is reflected in virtues, bad character in vices. And Tim is deeply loved by so many because of his character – who he was as a person – in those choices for the good that he made throughout his life
And so what I’d like to share for a few minutes are some reflections on Tim’s character. There is so much I could say but 6 particular virtues come to mind as I think about Tim.
These are just my way of thinking about Tim – I am sure that all of us could add many many more …
The first and greatest virtue is love. As I’ve mentioned, Tim was a life-long friend. But not just to me – to others and I think of Craig and Brian especially. And many others in BT, in Corrymeela and elsewhere. He shaped his life around commitments to others and projects and organisations that he saw made a difference.
And of course most of all he shaped his life around his love and loyalty to his great friend, partner and love of his life, Ruth. And then later to Christopher and Downey, his beloved sons.
I joked once that Ruth is far too good for him. He landed on his feet when he met her – and of course he instantly agreed. And one of the mostly lovely things about Tim is that he never stopped praising his wife. He knew he was deeply loved and how blessed he was to have someone so unselfishly orientated to another’s good – for that is what love is.
But that joke was not really true. It is better to say that they have been so wonderfully suited together as a couple who have loved one another through good times (and thankfully so much of Tim’s life was not defined by illness) and hard times as they vowed to do in Coleraine just over 26 years ago
“for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”
That’s what love is about – a relentless commitment to the other’s good. Tim and Ruth lived it out together. Right to our very last zoom call, Tim’s concern was not for himself, it was for Ruth, his family and his friends.
And this brings me back to that remarkable resilience. It wasn’t I think primarily about himself – it was primarily for Ruth and for Downey and Christopher.
He was so bursting with pride and love for you both as I’m sure you know. To see you make your own way in life. For Downey with IBM and Christopher being accepted to the PhD programme.
But of course that love was not based on your achievements: he loved you unconditionally – as a parent, as a father, who only wanted the best for his children – to see you flourish.
A second virtue is honesty. Or truthtelling.
A Christian theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says truth is all that Christians have. We need to be able to tell the truth about ourselves and our world. Neither are the way they are supposed to be.
And Tim would be the last person to say he was this perfect virtuous person – he had his weaknesses and failings.
But while most of us try to cover up those failings, and put on a good face, Tim was probably one of the most honest and vulnerable people I’ve ever met.
Honesty takes courage – an extra virtue I’m smuggling in here. All through his illnesses, he was always brutally honest. He shared his joys and his fears. Sometimes he raged at God. And how many times it was just painful hell and he wanted nothing else but switch off reality and go play computer games.
And Tim’s antennae for truth had its downside! He had an unerring knack of detecting bluff. When you were with Tim you never had a safe dull conversation. You knew you would be lovingly interrogated as to what was really going on!
That honesty was a form of love – he wanted authenticity, realness, deep relationship.
The third virtue is joyfulness. I mean by that a joy in life, that is infectious.
I remember when were probably around 12 Tim exclaiming with great conviction “Mitch, computers are the future!”. I didn’t know what a computer was of course. Vaguely aware they were the size of warehouses and did things for governments.
But of course Tim was right. And his love of innovation, early adopting of technology and computing led him to his degree and career in BT.
Another more recent memory is Tim escaping from the Doctors and taking the Enterprise to Dublin for a day out on his own. It was some time after the first stem cell transplant in Belfast … we met for lunch in Trinity College and he went shopping to get something special for Ruth . He really shouldn’t have been there but his mischievous side delighted in doing what he shouldn’t.
He loved life: he was curious, a student of ideas; business and management. Always open to hear what interested you.
Heck he was even willing to listen to a bit of Bob Dylan in the last few months – but I don’t think I sold him on that one …
I learnt a huge amount from him on dealing with change and how think about organisations. He loved thinking about how to improve people’s experience and make work not only more efficient but also more human.
I recall him saying when the cancer came back once again and he to retire from BT, one of his great losses was missing that team of talented people. That was Tim – he loved working with others, seeing the best in others, and as a leader – encouraging others to flourish. And this is why psychology and coaching was such a big part of his life
This links very closely to the next virtue which is humility.
If you know it all you have nothing to learn. Arrogance is the opposite of humility and the last thing that described Tim was arrogance.
He was always ready with a witty self-depreciation when he knew he got too serious or intense. I will so miss his big laugh, his poking fun at himself, even in pain, his lack of self-pity, his dignity in all the indignities of being so ill for so long, his dry wit.
You saw his humility in how he got uncomfortable with people saying he was inspirational. He’d say I’m just someone who’s sick and doesn’t want to be and who’s trying to get through one day at a time …
Marva Dawn is a theologian we talked about at one point, she wrote a powerful book ‘Being Well When Ill’. Her suffering through multiple illnesses shaped her spirituality – and it also did with Tim.
By that I mean he was keenly aware of how fragile and short life was, and the foolishness of thinking he was in control, or could control things. And how empty so much human rhetoric of control and solutions are – especially around medicine.
He knew, however great the medical treatment gets, we don’t get out of life alive. We all face death.
But rather than lead to despair, that led him to prayer and trust in the loving kindness of God. Prayer is a form of humility and Tim was a person of prayer.
It is also linked to the next virtue – kindness
At the core of Tim’s life was his love for God and being a follower of Jesus. His was what I call a generous orthodoxy – he had no time for meanness and drawing tight lines.
Tim was shaped within the Methodist tradition that, going back to John Wesley, places great value on the social implications of the gospel. That disciples of Jesus are called to imitate him in their love and concern for others.
You saw that in Tim’s life in a 100 different wys. Two immediately come to mind
You saw it in his taking up Park Running after the first transplant and completing all the Park Runs in NI and raising many £1000s for cancer research – and inspiring so many others in the process.
You saw it how he treated people. Ruth said the other day in hospital how Tim knew everyone’s names: from Professors to care assistants to drs and nurses to cleaners: And he knew about families and lives, and he kept a list.
That was Tim – its linked to humility. He was always so deeply appreciative of the unearned blessing of an accident of birth resulting in having free access to first world treatment by highly qualified professionals.
There is a humility needed to be kind.
Tim had every excuse to be consumed with his own troubles, but I suspect that if you interviewed all the hundreds of care workers who looked after Tim (and they were fantastic) – you would come away with hundreds of stories of Tim’s kindness and thoughtfulness – of his appreciation and thankfulness for their care.
Kindness is miles away from weakness – it takes strength to love and to be kind.
The last virtue I want to mention is hope. Hope is a virtue in that it affirms life, it blesses others, and it gives tremendous strength to endure difficulty and hardship. It looks forward to a better future
We often talked about hope and the love of God. And if both can make sense in a world so marred by suffering and death.
Now I don’t think we came up with the answer! There isn’t a nice neat one. But Tim knew for himself the love of God, he knew the goodness of God – and he knew his life was in God’s hands.
And he died – as we had often talked about – in the sure hope that God has done something about that world of suffering and death. That he’s confronted it head-on at the cross, and defeated that enemy in the resurrection of the Son
Tim died in that resurrection hope. He looked forward, as Christians do – to a new life, a new creation and a new body, free of sickness and disease. Where death will be no more, and the God of life will be all in all.
You can see it in the songs and readings he’s chosen today
And so as we experience today at the deep loss of his presence among us, I think he would say to us,
“Yes its right to lament, to weep, to grieve – for death is not a friend. But death will not have the last word.”
In the meantime, like everyone else here, I’ll miss you terribly brother.