Hannah Bladon was killed in Jerusalem on Good Friday. Here is my eulogy delivered at her funeral today,
I met Hannah soon after I came to Burton in 2014. We were waiting for mass to begin in St Paul’s. Although we’d never before set eyes on each other, Hannah, characteristically direct, came over and made some intelligent remark about the liturgy. I was dumbstruck. The thought that a young person in today’s Church of England might be interested in liturgy was intoxicating.
We chatted some more. Within seconds it became clear that this was a most unusual young lady: bright, intellectually supple, intellectually resilient, intellectually fearless and completely open-minded. I had to reach for the sal volatile before I fainted, for this was almost too much for my system. An intellectually supple and open minded Anglican. Can you imagine such a thing? I said so and we dissolved into laughter.
It seems that not only did I instantly take to her, but she also took to me. I think this is the reason I have the heart-rending honour of speaking to you on this desperately sad occasion. I thank everyone who has told me about Hannah, but particularly Stella and Max.
Not only intellectual resilience
Hannah was born with a dislocated hip undiagnosed for 18 months. Treatment involved hip traction, the wearing of heavy boots, and frequent hospital visits. But never a word of complaint. In fact it was those visits, usually accompanied by Granddad Colin that resulted in ‘granddad’ being Hannah’s first spoken word.
Hannah knew what she wanted. Parents wonder is this determination or pig-headedness? She was the first player to sign for Burton Ladies rugby club juniors. Even though she was quiet and slightly built, you learned to underestimate her at your peril, as her opponents discovered. She was a winger—nippy, a different sort of resilience. She was the first girl to come off the pitch with blood on her shirt, but soon bounced back.
In Jerusalem Hannah was up at 5 am to get to the dig site by 6. Her friend said that Hannah would arrive back in the evening filthy and exhausted—often too exhausted to shower—and go straight to bed. One of the people Hannah worked with was Bob Henry, a retired chemist from Alabama. Bob flew home at Easter, but when he heard about Hannah he was devastated, and flew back to Israel to meet Stella and Max when they went to bring her home.
Hannah knew justice, mercy, humility
Prophet Micah advises us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Hannah did not need to be told any of that. Her last act of kindness on the day she died—one that according to friend Christina was common for Hannah—was to give up her tram seat to a young mother. She was not political, but believed all people should be equal. She had a profound sense of justice for the underdog. She did not think she was special. She lacked self-confidence. She never expected to get the HSBC scholarship that enabled her to go to Birmingham University in 2015. She never expected her application to the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to be successful. The assessors could see what she did not: what a wonderful ambassador she could be.
An upward trajectory
Hannah was a member of a local archaeology group, and had a great interest in history. During the dig that was completed on Maundy Thursday, she excavated a vase of a type not previously known to have existed at that time. She was interested in the past but did not live in it: she used the past to inform the present for the future. One of her lecturers in Jerusalem described Hannah’s career as being on a ‘steep upward trajectory’, and said that he would have given anything to work with her when she’d completed her doctorate. Others have said that whatever came out of Hannah’s mouth was worth listening to—certainly my experience. Her impact on others was recognized by Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister ,who mentioned Hannah in his Remembrance Day address on 1 May, and by the Archbishop of Canterbury who was with the Bishop of Lichfield and the Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem a couple of days ago. The Bishop told me that he sensed that Hannah was regarded with awe by her colleagues.
Drains and radiators
It is a truth universally acknowledged that people can be divided into two categories—not sheep and goats, but drains and radiators. In pastoral ministry one comes across a lot of drains. They suck the life force from you as they enjoy ill health, or enjoy finding fault. They try to draw you into their jaundiced world view. They are full of ordure. Hannah was no drain. She radiated energy. She loved a discussion. She had, as I’ve said, a sense of justice that made her dogged and protective. All these characteristics say something profound about the family. Quite clearly they recognized the extraordinary young lady that Hannah was. To their credit never once did they try and mould her into something less challenging, as many parents would have done. They marvelled at her.
In conclusion, some personal remarks
Let me offer you all some advice. You will not know what to say to Stella and Max, to Colin, June and Malcolm. There is nothing you can say that makes any sense. The best thing that people said to my wife and me when our son died was ‘there’s nothing I can say’. Don’t say ‘I know how you’re feeling’ because you don’t. Don’t say ‘time heals everything’ because it doesn’t. Don’t say ‘she’s in a better place’ for I suspect that she’d rather be up to her armpits in sand. Much better to do something than to say anything, so give them a cuddle and weep with them. Often. And when you meet them in the street, don’t go out of your way to avoid them, but take them for a coffee. Or a gin.
And finally to Stella, Max, Colin, June and Malcolm. Grief at the loss of an adult child is in my experience fierce, bitter, and overwhelming. It is malignant and insidious. It blots out heaven. Your psyche has suffered the most violent attack imaginable. You will need all your energy to look after yourself, so do not waste it on other people. Be kind to yourselves and to each other, indulgent even. Have no expectations. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s good for you—they’re just trying to make themselves feel better. Learn from dogs. When a dog is injured it retreats to its basket and there it stays until it feels better. After 18 months my basket remains the place of safety where I find solace. And when you’re in your basket, you will weep for the loss of that glorious creature whose life was taken in a random act of violence by a sick man.