Remembering a Dear Friend: A Now Common Feature of the Second Half of Life Landscape

I have just re-read the story of Henry Francis Lyte. Born in Scotland on June 1st, 1793, Lyte was left an orphan when he was only a child. Life was hard for him and constantly he struggled with poverty. His dream of becoming a physician eluded him, but he eventually felt a call to the ministry.

He wrote that a turning-point occurred in his life when he was summoned to the bedside of a dear friend who was dying. Both he and his friend were devastated by the prospect of the man’s death, but together they read the scriptures and prayed. Through that experience each found the peace he needed: the dying one found love and acceptance in the sure hope that he was returning to the God who loved him, and Lyte discovered his pathway into the Christian ministry.

For nearly 25 years Lyte served as minister to the fisherfolk and sailors of Lower Brixham. But his health was frail and over the years it continued to dissipate. In the fall of 1847, Lyte had a premonition that the end was near. He told a friend that the swallows were flying southward and that “they were inviting me to accompany them; and yet alas; while I am talking of flying, I am just able to crawl.”

Soon he celebrated his farewell worship service with the good people of Brixham. Afterwards he walked out to the shoreline and watched the splendour of the setting sun over the shimmering waters. After spending about an hour in nature, he returned to his study to compose one of the Church’s most favourite hymns: “Abide With Me”. The words are included below.

Those of us who find ourselves in the second half of life are starting to grow accustomed to endings. It is the part of the older adult journey that I like the least, but I know I have to get used to it. I remember when I was starting out in ministry, a lovely man who was the local funeral director told me in private that he did not think he could do his job much longer. He was in sixties at the time and found that he was burying too many of his friends.

A couple of weeks ago I lost a dear friend. Bruce was the Clerk of Session on my ordinand’s pastoral charge. He was not the most successful farmer I have ever known, but he loved life on the land and he loved people.. He was also a thoughtful, caring and deeply faithful servant of Christ. He loved to sing in the choir and I am sure Lyte’s hymn was a favourite because Bruce loved all the “oldies but goodies.” Although I did not get to see him a lot in recent years, he would phone me from time to time, always eager to learn about what I was up to and how my family was doing. Over the years Richard and the children and I have received many beautiful cards from him. He never forgot a birthday or an anniversary. I know he trusted that God abided with him throughout all the ups and downs of life. Now “heaven’s morning has broken for him” and, as in life, so in death Bruce abides in the eternal love of the Lord he served for 85 years.

Rest in peace, Bruce.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

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