It was with a deep sense of sadness and shock that I received the news last night that Val Cottee had passed away. Val has been a hugely loved part of our community for over 40 years, and it's hard to imagine that we're not going to see her or hear her voice again this side of eternity. On Saturday 29th April Val had a major stroke and was taken into Frimley Park Hospital. Despite the best efforts of the doctors and nurses, and many of us praying for Val's healing, she passed away peacefully last night surrounded by her family.
It's hard to know where to start speaking about Val and the huge impact she had on the lives of so many people. She carried a wonderful combination of a deep love for and trust in God, a heart for people which made everyone who came in to contact with her feel special and valued, and a wisdom around how to practically help people connect with the God she loved. Even when she went through trials such as the extended illness of her husband Graham, you never saw her with anything other than her wonderful smile and a word of encouragement which would always leave you more full of joy and hope.
My own fondest memory of Val is a trip I got to go on with her to Serenje in Zambia. She'd never been to Africa before, but she just threw herself into everything that was going on. To see her kneeling to play with and embrace AIDS orphans, imparting wisdom and encouragement to young mums, sharing jokes with fellow grandmothers, and bringing the love of God to everyone she met was so inspiring to see. I'll always be hugely grateful to Val for the way that she supported me when I took over leading the church from Ben Davies. It was an intimidating time for me, and the support and encouragement of people like Val in that season helped me so much. Val continued to live her life like that right up until the end - she was serving on a growth track course and still running her small group the week before she was taken into hospital. An inspiration to all of us as to how to finish well.
Please be praying for Val's sons Simon and Dave, and their families, at this time. I'd encourage us not to phone them as they'll need space to come to terms with their loss, but to send them a card or a text so that they know we're thinking of them. Please also be praying for Val's many close friends who will also be feeling a deep sense of loss. There's always a tension at these times. We know that Val has gone to a better place by far, and that when the Apostle Paul wrote that "to die is gain" it was if anything an understatement. That doesn't however mean that we don't still feel a deep sense of loss at Val no longer being with us. Let's not be afraid to process that sadness in our own different ways.
Once we have a date for the thanksgiving service for Val's life we'll let people know via my blog. I know that many people will want to be there to celebrate a life well lived, and to thank God for the impact which Val had on so many of us.