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Funeral for a Gentle Giant

If you want to know whether a British town or city dates back to the Roman times, there’s a simple test: does its name end with the word “-caster” or “-chester” or some variant? If it does, that means the Roman legions built a camp, or castrum, there many centuries ago.

So Manchester is “the camp on the breast-shaped hill” and Lancaster is “the camp on the river Lune”. Chester is even simpler: it’s just “the Camp”. But its Roman past is obvious in more than just its name. It still has Roman walls and other antiquities. They’ve been witnesses to a lot of history and a lot of changes, but some things never change. There have always been unlucky people in Chester who, for one reason or another, can’t manage to lead an ordinary life. Sometimes they become alcoholic or addicted to drugs and end up homeless, living on the streets or in a crowded and often dangerous hostel.

A year ago one of these homeless people was well-known in Chester. He was called Paul Feek and he was hard to miss because he was so tall. But he was called a “gentle giant” by the workers at a local charity for the homeless, because he was always polite when he went there for help. Then something happened that the charity workers were sadly used to. Paul Feek passed away. He wasn’t an old man, being only in his late 40s or early 50s, but no-one was sure of his exact age, because he didn’t know it himself. When you’re homeless, it’s easy to lose track of time: one day seems much like another until you’ve forgotten even the year.

And premature death is common among the homeless too. The charity workers at SHARE – Supporting Homeless And Refugees Everywhere – know of many people who have died decades too soon, their bodies worn out by the struggle to survive or the strains of alcoholism or drug-abuse. As you’d expect, they then have very cheap and simple funerals. The charity workers have become familiar with premature death and paupers’ funerals, but they’ve never learnt to accept them.

After all, it’s not natural for someone to die after living only half a century or for someone to have a hurried funeral, as though they and their life didn’t matter. In Paul Feek’s case, the workers felt this particularly strongly. They didn’t want the Gentle Giant to have a quick send-off, with few mourners and little ceremony, so they called for everyone who knew him to attend his funeral if they could.

In doing this, they proved that something else hasn’t changed in Chester: just as there have always been people there in need of help, so there have always been people there who tried to give that help. The workers at SHARE helped Paul Feek during his life. So did the workers at another charity called CATH, or Chester Action for The Homeless, which ran the homeless shelter where Paul Feek was stayed when he passed away.

When he did so, the charity workers still cared about him and wanted to say goodbye to him in the best possible way. Funerals are one of the most important things about being human. We don’t stop caring about our friends and loved ones when they pass away. If we did, that would be proof that we never really cared for them at all. That’s why funerals are so important to us: they give us a chance to show that someone mattered. Paul Feek wasn’t influential and famous like David Bowie or Prince, but he mattered to his friends and they wanted him to have a dignified and caring funeral.