Just over a week ago I attended a memorial service for Charlie Allen, who died recently of cancer. He was 20, and though I didn’t have much chance to get to know him, we had a lot of common, and had bumped into each other at the Marsden in Sutton. Our families (particularly parents) had been friends of years; unfortunately his father died a few years before my mother did. Then Charlie got cancer, and so did I: my father was lodging with his mother for some time recently, and they obviously had quite a lot to talk about…

I think Charlie and I would have had a lot to talk about, too. He was a keen actor (and was part of the National Youth Theatre, who are now setting up a bursary in his name), and was studing Philosophy at Cambridge. He also had a strong faith. Admittedly, he was also a keen rower (he coxed the British Under-19 team in the European Championships a couple of years ago), but nobody’s perfect. From the wonderful words spoken about him at the service, I really do wish I had had more chance to get to know him. I remember telling his mother, “it would be great to have a beer with Charlie and chat about life”, but sadly we never got the chance.

The music at the service was lovely (Mozart on the organ; hymns were ‘O Lord, my God’, ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ and ‘I vow to thee, my country’), and the Minster in Warminster was full. His elder brother read a poem called ‘The Fighter’ – I’ve been trying to locate it but unfortunately didn’t quite hear the poet’s name. On the back of the service booklet there were some very fitting words by Wordsworth:

I loved the Boy with the utmost love
Of which my soul is capable
And he is taken from me –
Yet in the agony of my spirit
In surrendering such a treasure
I feel a thousand times richer
Than if I had never possessed it.

All in all it was a beautiful service for a great person, who definitely made the most of his too-short time with us. I was very glad I went (with my father), but I must admit it was in some ways tough. Apart from feeling very sad at his death, I also couldn’t help but feel some guilt: “survivor’s guilt” as I believe it’s called. I know it’s not logical, and that life doesn’t work that way, but there were moments when I thought, “why has he died and I haven’t?” There is no answer to that, as it’s a nonsensical question, but it’s how I felt. I suppose that being in that situation kept reminding me how easily such a service could have been for me – and that led on to mixed feelings: being grateful for the life I continue to lead, but also gutted that Charlie was in that position “instead of me” (even though I know he wasn’t). So it was tricky…

Rest in Peace, Charlie.

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