Speech for Charlie Gerrard
Given in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Terryglass
23rd March 2003 on the occasion of Charlie Gerrard's Funeral:

Peter Gerrard


1 As Charlie's Father I hope to speak of his too short life, the impact of his death, on us, his family, and on you his friends, and more generally to tell you some of my thoughts on life, on death and on our relations with each other.

2. Between finding Charlie on Wednesday the 19th of March, realising the manner of his death, and now at his funeral in Terryglass, we have had four days of tears, words, prayers, and insomnia. This is the most horrendous and fearsome tiding a family can receive. His death is a huge burden of sorrow for us all. And so we are united, but in sorrow, in this Church in Charlie's home parish of Terryglass and Kilbarron on the banks of the Shannon River on this beautiful spring day.

3. Charlie was a little over 23 years old, so young compared to the biblical span of three score and ten, his light shone in life for only one third the norm, and ended so sadly early on that terrible Tuesday morning. When we are faced with the darkness of such as this, it is good to go into the wisdom of the past to seek help and consolation.
I want to tell you about what happened in King Cnut's Hall more than a thousand years ago. He was the Viking King of Northumbria, the same king who told the incoming tide to go back and proved to his fawning courtiers that he was not omnipotent. On this occasion he was dining with his nobles in his long house, the building was lit by braziers and candles, in contrast to the external darkness. The nobles at table were arguing , jostling for position, and vying for his favour. He was sick at heart listening to them when he noticed a sparrow flying into the light at one end of the hall. He jumped to his feet and pointed, as it made its erratic flight through the brightness and warmth before disappearing into the night at the opposite end of the hall. He reminded to his courtiers that their life was as transient as the flight of the sparrow when measured against the great roll of eternity, like the frail bird they came from darkness and after a brief span of illumination and warmth, they, like it, would disappear into the outer darkness. He reproached them, he upbraided them, and asked rhetorically could they not fill their brief span of life with anything better then their bitter rivalries and their drunken quarrels.
Charlie has gone into that darkness, like the swallow; we can ask how he filled his days, his seconds, and as Christians we can dare to hope that an eternal light of Love and Mercy now lighten his darkness.

I do not think that we can begin to understand how Charlie's life ended so tragically, and it is best not to dwell on it. All I shall say is that in loneliness and sorrow it stands in heartbreaking opposition and contrast to all we knew of him in life.
For an insight into what we can not hope to understand, may I recount another story:
The great theologian and Church Father St. Augustine was walking one day by the seashore. He was thinking upon the mysteries of religion, particularly that of the Trinity. He came upon a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was slopping water with his hands into the hole. He asked the little boy what he was at. The child told him that he was putting the ocean into the hole. The great man smiled patronisingly and said "Little boy, you have no hope of doing that because the sea is so huge and that hole is so small." Upon this the child turned into an angel and said to the saint that such as he had appeared as - a small child - was better occupied in his impossible task than was the great man in trying to understand the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the three persons in the one Godhead. The angel disappeared and Augustine went on his way humbled and wiser.

4. Who or what was Charlie? Charlie was nearly everything;
he was a son, student, brother, lover, cook, horseman, rower, runner, bungey jumper, parachutist, traveller and friend.

May I tell you a story from Charlie's childhood that tells much about his openness, his universality.
When he was about three or four I went to work for the first time in the Middle East, in Kuwait. I kept him supplied with photos of beaches and dunes, the sea, me swimming and Arabs. When I came home, his mother and I brought him to Wexford from whence her family came. We went to the beach at Curracloe where the small Charlie surveyed the scene with approval- sea sun sand and the good Burgers of Wexford. "They must be Arabs, Daddy" he said brightly, his little face shining with innocence, curiosity, acceptance and naivety. I like to think he never lost these qualities.

5 Charlie made friends, in pursuit of this universality, everywhere his life brought him - school, college, work, travel, in New York where he was last summer, in Africa, at home, in Europe, as this attendance in Terryglass now shows. He planned to make more friends in Thailand this summer, but this was not to be. He had a wonderful gift for friendship and made friends irrespective of what the world regards as divisions enmities and antagonisms.
We appreciate the efforts of his friends who have come so far, e from Taiwan, Seattle, New York, the Mediterranean.
We understand and feel for those who cannot be here.

6 Speaking of friendship brings me to a not so friendly Rugby story. Charlie played rugby for St. Columba's College and on one never to be forgotten occasion was engaged in a titanic struggle against a better and much bigger Kilkenny team.
The video showed clearly Charlie as wing forward being several times fouled by a huge ugly Kilkenny player who persisted in pummelling his kidneys in the scrum. Charlie, finally driven beyond endurance, remonstrated strongly with the Kilkenny man who had the temerity to push him,
whereupon Charlie floored the brute, large and all as he was, with a right hook to the jaw. Kilkenny won that day, but the moral victory was to St. Columba's.

7 Perhaps we shall remember him best for his generosity and his kindness. In messages received and things spoken there is much which might be thought maudlin, sentimental or hyperbolic, but which I, though hardly dispassionate, think to be true. Here is a letter that made me weep - the impression he made on a stranger who sent it to Charlie's brother John:

Dear Johnny,
I am writing to express my profound sadness and sympathy to you and your family on hearing of Charlie's death. It is the most awful and heart-wrenching of news, rendered almost unbearable by his youth and his radiant beauty.

I met Charlie only once, along with several of your wonderful sisters. It was that night in Donnybrook. It was a happy, creative evening that had a unique buzz and excitement. Many people, old friends and new, ringing with conservation, fun and fine food.
Charlie made a strong impact on me. He was full of youth and at awe with the world that night. He was amid many people older than himself, and yet that did not faze him. His conservation was fun warm and engaging.

And there was beauty in Charlie's eyes. Not just the most immediate beauty ( and he certainly had that) but also one that portrayed to me a gentle and kind person. I recall as I was leaving, late that night, he stood up and vigorously shook hands to say goodbye. Charlie to my eyes was simply a wonderful person of youth, warmth and life.

His death is stunning in its sadness. I am so, so sorry for you and your whole family at this time. I am sorry for Ireland that Charlie will no longer count amongst those who bring this country sensitivity, gentleness and honour.

It is a dark time indeed.

And yet, during those hours that I met Charlie, his was the brightest of lights, the warmest of lives. You had a beautiful brother, Johnny. And even though we " walk through the valley of death " this truth can never change.

I pray that his soul will rest, and that it will find perfect peace.
In sympathy and Love.

8 Charlie has died, this is his funeral; he has gone like the swallow into the darkness and we are without him. As Christians. we dare to have hope and faith. Hope of the Mercy and Compassion of God even in the darkness of death. I spoke of the Arabs earlier - Charlie met and liked many Muslims in East Africa. Omar from school was one of his good friends. And here I want to mention in Arabic the Koranic attributes of Allah/God, which are - Karim , Ratim. These mean - generosity, mercy and compassion. Such are some of the wide-ranging links between men, ideas and beliefs.
Had Charlie lived to mature man's estate, I wonder, at risk of soundind facetious, whether Charlie might have thought the four permissible wives in Islam a good idea. Which brings me to another difference between Islam and Christianity: that is the total prohibation on mind-altering substances, which includes alcohol.

10. We Christians see wine as a gift of God; as the preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us " wine maketh glad the heart of man".
It is part of Judeo/Christian ceremonial.
Fr.O'Melia, Fr. Carroll, and Fr. Athanasius who is Charlie's granduncle will use it in the concelebrated Requiem Mass for Charlie.
We used wine to extend hospitality for the last four days to our friends, as we will use it again today after we have buried Charlie. Let us use wine to enhance and strengthen our friendship with each other, to break bread and drink wine, potent symbols of sacrifice and love, at the while being careful of ourselves, being careful of those we love. Use it with care. In a little while we shall exercise our last care for Charlie -- that is the last care for poor dear Charlie in this our mortality which is to bury him, our youngest son. If Charlie had a fault it was this -- he neglected his care for himself and leaves us all more poor. So poorer without him.

11. I have little else to say except my thanks to all of you near and far, present and absent who have given so much support to me and the family and we only hope that we can also comfort and console you, his friends. I would particularly like to thank the concelebrating priests, the servers, Fionnula Murphy who sang so beautifully, the excellent organist Paul Collins, and Pat Keller, and all those friends here and in Dublin who helped with flowers ,catering and so many other ways.

12. We shall all mourn and miss Charlie as long as we are alive and endowed with emotions and memory. And our sorrow is proportionate to the joy and gladness that he brought with his life. So when in a little while we go out from this place away from Charlie's grave with these mingled feelings, let us go with care in our hearts, for ourselves and for each other and hold this care in our hands.
Having left all that is mortal of Charlie resting in this peaceful place I pray with my family and you our friends that Charlie's spirit may find "peace at the last".

Peter Gerrard
23rd March 2003