St Mildred’s Church in Canterbury was packed full for a celebration of the life of a great friend of mine, Denise Rigden. And in honour of a woman who almost every day wore party dresses, fancy shoes and a flower in her hair, the invitation had been for us to dress as if coming to a wedding. 

Denise was a local woman, born in Whitstable in 1947, and her beloved family were there at the funeral, together with many past and present members of L’Arche, where Denise had lived since 1999, making her home at ‘Rainbow’, one of the L’Arche houses in Canterbury. It was at Rainbow the evening before that lots of Denise’s family and friends had gathered to see the body and to pray, sing and tell stories, a L’Arche tradition.  

Tuuliki told of how she and Denise had been part of a holiday group to Scotland one year and when Denise’s (very heavy) suitcase was opened at the destination it was found to be completely filled with magazines. They were waiting to be cut up, one of Denise’s favourite past-times! James told of how it had been discovered after several years that Denise had been bringing a cup of tea every morning to Yvonne, one of her housemates. It was only found out when Yvonne finally complained about being woken up each day at 5 a.m.! It showed the very caring side of Denise, which expressed itself even in her dying days when she was constantly asking about the ‘ill’ lady in her hospital ward. 

It was fitting for us to finish at the crematorium later by singing ’I watch the sunrise’. I’d sung it at an event at the Sisters of Mercy Retirement community in Clacton-on-Sea; the very place, it was explained to me afterwards, where the song had been written by John Glynn when convalescing. As we think of Denise and of all our loved ones who have died, the line in the last verse of the song about the sunset fading away is especially poignant. 

Extracted from Eddie Gilmore, Looking Ahead with Hope: Stories of Humanity, Wonder and Gratitude in a Time of Uncertainty, DLT, 2021, chapter 22