Last week, a funeral directors in Lytham, near Blackpool, on discovering that one of their (deceased) clients, Harold Percival, was a veteran of the Dambusters raid, but with no close family, posted a notice in the local paper, asking other veterans if they’d be so kind as to attend his funeral.
Someone snapped a pic of the appeal on their phone and tweeted it. It went viral, and today, more than 200 people, all complete strangers to the dead man, bar his great-nephew, attended to pay their respects.
Of course it’s Armistice Day today, 95 years on from the end of World War One, which made this man’s funeral seem even more poignant. The ceremony began, appropriately at 11am.
It is, undeniably, a good and right thing, that those who saw the advert and responded put on their good clothes, or their uniforms, and turned out on a cold and miserable November day, so that a man who played a role in one of our nation’s great stories, wasn’t laid to rest alone.
It did, however, make me wonder, whether the same compassion and sense of doing what is just and right, could ever be utilised towards those who are still living, but lonely?
How would it work, if someone posted an appeal in a newspaper, asking people to give a moment of kindness to an elderly person with no close family who is still alive? Maybe to pop in and sit and drink tea with them, or run to the shops, or run a duster over a picture frame or two one afternoon a week? Would someone take a photograph of that and tweet it? Would hundreds of people feel the tragedy of someone who has had a long life and now lives it alone, and, motivated by compassion, volunteer themselves, their skills, their time, their humanity, to right that wrong?
Would we honour the living, the way we honour the dead? Would we remember them too? What stories do we miss hearing and learning from, by waiting until the lonely old are the lonely dead to spare them a minute or two of our time?