Tag Archives: Helen-Strachan

The Last Offices of Love





“Monument Hill” Wendover, Buckinghamshire

The monument was erected in 1904, by public subscription, in memory of 148 men from Buckinghamshire who died during the Second Boer War. Coombe Hill Monument was almost totally destroyed by lightning in 1938 and was rebuilt in the same year. The original bronze plaque and decorations were stolen in 1972 and replaced with a stone plaque and iron flag. The new stone plaque was also inscribed with the additional names of nine men believed to have been missing on the original.

It was Helen Strachan’s (nee Walker) wish that her ashes be scattered in a place which held so many memories for her.  She spent her formative years near Aylesbury, attending the  High School for Girls there.  “Monument Hill” – especially when the bluebells were out – was a favourite place to visit.

So, my two sons travelled down there one weekend and carried out her request.

It wasn’t easy, but few things are.  We must always honour the dead in whatever shape or form is deemed appropriate, even if we find it hard or are uncomfortable with it.  And although this was a painful occasion, it was, nevertheless, an act of love


By Christina Rossetti.

Remember me when I am gone away, gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand, nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day you tell me of the future that you planned;

Only remember me; you understand it will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet, if you should forget me for a while and afterwards, remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave a vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.

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Yesterday was unusual insofar as I conducted my first funeral for over a year and a half (gone are the days when it was over one hundred a year and, on one occasion, an epic FIVE in one day)

It was also the first time that I’d been back to Roucan Loch Crematorium (pictured) since the funeral service of my beloved wife, Helen, in June 2012.

It went OK

Sometimes, professionalism kicks in

I conducted my mother’s funeral just a few years ago, and before hat, my father-in-law’s.

My father died in 1976 in Glasgow – on a Saturday evening. I left the family home late that night, drove the thirty-odd miles to where I was ministering at the time. Stayed up for several hours preparing a sermon, preached on the Sunday morning at 11.00 a.m, back to the Manse to get changed and grab a quick bite to eat, then back down the road to visit my mother.

Sometimes – just sometimes – you have to put duty first.

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September 14, 2013 · 16:43


imageMy late wife, Helen, was master of the pithy one-liner.

when she was going through her first sessions of chemotherapy, following radical surgery, on our way out of the Infirmary, a lovely and sincere Church of Scotland ministerial colleague bumped into us and said “We’re all praying for you”. (which was a marvellous thing to do).  My dear wife, who hadn’t met this guy and hadn’t a clue who he was, simply replied, “How nice”

asking a friend how her son had done in his “Higher” exams, the lady replied, “He failed them all”. But added “He has passed his driving test though!”

herself:  “How clever.  Much more important”

after attending the first service, after we were married, at the church where I was a probationer assistant, the usual”know-it-all” member – in this case a Mrs Swanston – came up to her with that smug look of those who are beholden of the truth – and said “Well, what do you think of our Church of Scotland services?”

Helen who was VERY English and had a staunch Church of England mother replied, “a bit dull”

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Resurrection and Life

It’s about eight and a half years since my wife, Helen, was diagnosed as having cancer.  After surgery, she had chemotherapy and radiotherapyShe was in and out of the hospital. Then she seemed to be in remission. The cancer was in retreat, the prognosis reasonably good. Then this time last year it recurred, and nothing could be done – she became a palliative care patient, first at home, then in hospital where she died aged only 58.

“She put up a brave fight”some  people said & then added ” but the cancer finally won.”

Did it?  When she died, where was that “victorious” cancer?

It was in the coffin with her and it was dead.  In killing her, it killed itself.

And where was she?”  She was with God – not dead, but alive.

So who won?  She did.  She did because Christ did.

Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

And that question “Do you believe this?” is addressed to all of us.

Christ turns “Dead Man Walking” inside out. We are under the sentence of eternal life.

Even though we die, yet shall we live. And right now, we have the gift of eternal life, or as it is termed in John’s gospel, the abundant life, the life worth living.

Without it, any talk about enjoying the passing of time is pure nonsense and wishful thinking.

But with this gift of eternal life comes joy. Joy sustains us through the things that get in the way, things little and big.

The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time, because our time is in God’s hands and in God’s hands our time will not run out.

 (The expression, “Dead Man Walking.” comes from the story (book then film)  about a man on death row and the nun who was chaplain. He is called “dead man walking” not only when he moves from his cell to the place of execution. Because of the death sentence he is under, he is “dead man walking” anywhere he walks.)

dead man walking

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Helen Mary Strachan a Tribute by Sandy

Helen was born on 28 October 1953 to Stan and Doris Walker, a longed-for second child to complete their family – her brother, Richard, having been born some years before.

She was born in Ashton-under-Lyne and the family settled in Denton in east Manchester, before moving to Stoke Mandeville where Helen attended Aylesbury School for Girls, and was an outstanding pupil.

She loved Buckinghamshire so much – these were idyllic days – that her ashes are to be scattered there at Monument Hill.

There were many happy memories of her and her Mum attending cricket matches where her Dad and brother  played. Breaks for tea were especially wonderful events  (cucumber sandwiches and home-baking)- not so great was her Dad being called out LBW.

She recalls once going to a match in Slough and, if you’ve ever been to Slough, you will agree with John Betjeman’s poem “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”

I seem to remember Helen recalling that the only thing of interest to see there was the crematorium!

For a Home Counties lass, it must have come as a total culture shock when, at the age of thirteen, her Dad got a job transfer to Scotland and they went to live in……..Cumbernauld.  Oh the horror!  Helen and her Mum barely spoke to him for months.

However, they moved quite soon afterwards to Dunblane, and Helen attended McLaren High School in Callander.  There she made lifelong friends in Catriona, Ailsa and Lyn.

Because Helen sat Highers, the realistic choice was to go to University in Scotland – and she enrolled for an MA in History at St.Andrews.

And it was there, at the age of 17, that disaster struck: she met me!

We married on 4th August 1973 in the beautiful church of St.Peter and St Paul in Alpheton, Suffolk.

And so at the age of 19, she became a minister’s wife – not something, I’m sure she had in her life-plans.

Our first charge was in Doune, near Stirling.  It was rather strange that every day on the way to school from Dunblane to Callander, the bus passed what was to be our Manse in Doune.

Helen got involved with the Young Wives Group as well as a spell taking the Beavers (the younger cub-scouts) in the village. One particular memory stands out – driving a mini-bus of them to Stirling to see the movie The Transformers.  The noise, the din, the shouting – and the film was just as bad!

It was, of course, at this time, that our two fine boys were born – Matthew and Richard.  The happiest time of her life.  She said that she had never experienced true love until these two came along and she so proud of their achievements and so fond of their respective girls, Peggy and Polly.

The “icing on the cake” however was her “cheeky monkey” grandaughter, Cora.

After Doune we moved abroad to Trinidad for four years and what a life-enhancing experience that was.  She and I loved it, and the friendliness of the people. The first time that our Church Officer, an elderly gentleman named Henry Cordiner, met her (and she was only about twenty-five at the time) he gazed at her in admiration, and said “Why, it’s a baby Ma’am!”

Back in Scotland, we lived in Caputh near Perth, and she loved nothing better than walking our then dogs along the banks of the River Tay which flowed past the bottom of our garden (beat that – says Sandy)

After a comparatively short time there, we moved to our favourite congregation at St.Michael’s Inveresk in Musselburgh and spent eleven wonderful years there amongst so many lovely and kindly friends.

With the family growing up, Helen returned to work – at Waterstones East End in Edinburgh where she combined work with her great passion of reading. I have never come across such a voracious reader.

At her place, at our dining room table here in Dumfries is a book rest which enabled her to eat and read at the same time. Both of us are avid readers and didn’t go out too much – meals out in restaurants were semi-torture for her, as she couldn’t read while having her meal.

She loved being a book-seller and was sorry to have to leave when we moved – yet again – to the Channel Islands for a short while.

And then here we were 13 years ago on the 12th June in Dumfries. Helen loved it here and particularly the surrounding countryside – Mabie Forest and  Rockcliffe being special favourites. And here she found the job she’d always been looking for – as a museum assistant at Robert Burns’ House in the town.  Ironically, Paul who is the curator, and Helen are both from Lancashire – which, I think caused quite a few laughs between them. Prior to this Helen had worked as a Home Carer for a coupleof stints, and found great fulfillment in helping the elderly and disabled.

She was a talented lady. She loved gardening, craftwork, DIY (Helen was the electrician and plumber and house-decorator in the family).  She also tried to keep Sandy from being so feckless over the almost 39 years that they were married – without much success (you know how an eccentric is reluctant to do even the most ordinary of chores – although she put it down to my being “just plain idle”)

And, of course, she loved dogs and particularly her Jack Russell Terriers – Daisy who is the oldest and who snuggled up to her in bed at home following major surgery seven and a half years ago; Tom and their daughter Flora, all of whom  are with us – and are as loud as ever, though somewhat subdued these last few days.

And, let’s not forget the enjoyable years she spent working as a volunteer in the Canine Rescue Charity Shop, where most of the time was spent, I gather, gossiping with her co-worker, Jim.

Let’s close with these words – written in a sympathy card sent to me from one of the Museum staff: She writes: “She was a lovely, clever, funny lady and so compassionate too”

to which we say “Amen!”

(Helen died of secondary cancer at 12.27 a.m. on Saturday, 16 June 2012, aged 58)

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June 24, 2012 · 16:28

to share with those who can’t be there (typos have been corrected)


click on the above for the Order of Service

The Advent Hymn was her favourite and actually seems appropriate; “Jerusalem” because she was English through and through (the Rev Alan will have to grin and bear it, as he’s of a similar poilitical disposition as myself!)


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