Firstly, Happy Christmas!
I can't quite believe how long it's been since I've written anything but one of my resolutions for 2018 as I promised Dad, is - I will write!
This however will not be a chatty post! I will definitely write more in the coming year but this one is just fuctional!
Whilst shopping for Christmas cards recently, I began to cry in the card shop! Sometimes, I think its little things that get us overcome, emotionally. This was a nice, typically sentimental Christmas card for a special Dad that began with the words "From the first time you lifted me to put the star on top of the Christmas tree, you always made me feel like I could do anything..." All of a sudden, all I could see were Mum & Dad Christmas cards and I suddenly felt terribly sad. The sentiment was true though, one of the things I think Mum & Dad did exceptionally well for all their offspring was to give the four of us both roots and wings. The card made me remember that!
Words are powerful in that way and the right ones can make us feel more deeply. It started me thinking of the reasons I'd wanted to write and deliver the eulogies at Dad's then Mum's funerals and the many promises I'd made to forward copies to relatives and friends. So this is basically a simple easy way to keep the promise. Both eulogies follow this post.
I'd like to wish all family and friends all the very best for the coming New Year.
2017 will always be the year I lost two mums! My own unique and irrepressible mum, Mary. She was intelligent and witty with a fiesty, lively personality that masked a huge heart.
I also lost my 'borrowed' one, Paul's lovely mum, June. She was unassuming, quietly enigmatic and completely irreplacable. In some ways they were polar opposites. But I loved both dearly and the loss of both so quickly leaves a huge hole.
I know I'm not alone however. I have family and friends that have shared experiences of loss this year. Paul and I are in strangely unique positions to support each other, understanding fully the impact of losing your mother. I also have a special friend, Belinda who lost her own lovely mum, Brenda this year. We have been able to listen to and comfort one another knowing each understands the other's feelings inwardly. I have also family who have experienced their own devastating losses.
Mary and Tony share the unenviable position of 2017 leaving them 'orphans', and Anne and John, like me lost a surragate parent whom they loved dearly in the death of my lovely Uncle Maurice.
I know we're all focusing on how wonderful it was and how lucky we were to have had our loved ones rather than how sorry and sad we are to have lost them. They really were something to celebrate.
Here as promised are the eulogies:
Over the course of his life, Dad enjoyed many varied hobbies. He threw himself into them with such commitment and enthusiasm that it became infectious and he loved nothing more than when his family shared his passions. Over the years, Mum, Carmel, Claire, John and I supported these interests because it was always such a joy to see Dad so happy. Some of them if we're entirely honest, we feigned our interest in. For me, fell-running is the most obvious example, it didn't come naturally, so pretending to enjoy it was a challenge. Other hobbies we followed him into because we were simply swept up in his pursuit and it meant spending hours doing something unusual whilst sharing long, relaxed days or evenings in his company. Perhaps hound-trailing is the best example of that. Some however became our own passions and joys and for me the one that stands out is reading. Dad loved to read. English Literature became my favourite subject at school undoubtedly because of his influence and from the first time I showed a genuine interest, Dad encouraged me to read Julius Caesar or King Lear which he believed were the greatest works in the entire Canon. Although I enjoyed Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Twelfth Night and so on, he never quite talked me into reading those two. Maybe I owe it to him to try them soon.
At Christmas this past year, I watched a film on telly called 'Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium' I'm positive Dad would never have heard of it nor been remotely interested, but it really reminded me of him because of the ability of Mr Magorium, the central character to sweep up those closest to him in his passions. Among these passions were the very same great works of literature as Dad. So today, I've stolen some of Mr Magorium's words and adapted them slightly for Dad to both start and finish this small tribute.
When King Lear dies in Act 5, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He has written “He dies” That's all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is “He dies.” It takes Shakespeare, a genius to come up with “He dies.”
And yet everytime I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know its only natural to be sad but not because of the words “He dies” But because of the life we saw prior to the words.
Prior to today, we may all have seen slightly different versions of the life Dad lived. To some of you, he would have been friend, to others, colleague. Maybe simply a fellow parishoner. He was certainly a loving husband, a wonderful father, a devoted grandfather. Prior to that a beloved son, brother, cousin, uncle. Dad has had many roles in life and as far as I know he excelled at most. Whatever he was to you though, I think most of us would agree he was the quintessential 'quiet man'
He thought more than he spoke. He listened more than he judged and took in more than he ever let on. Dad was unassuming, measured thoughtful and kind. The fact that he didn't always offer an opinion didn't mean he didn't have one. He once told me that the loudest person in the room is usually the most ill-informed. So he was always quite content to be the quiet one. Dad never fussed unnecessarily. In fact he hated fuss. This was almost certainly inbred in him from a no-nonsense childhood.
He was born in Chorley on 16th May 1937. His mum and dad were Alice and John. They were loving, traditional, hard-working, no fuss parents. He was the eldest of three children, having twin siblings Michael and Kathleen. Such was has 'no-frills' childhood that dad actually helped deliver his brother and sister, outdoors, in a snow-storm when the taxi taking Grandma to hospital became stuck in a blizzard. Despite being terrified, he had to get stuck in and get on with it until the ambulance arrived. But Dad was terribly squeamish in his adult life and I suspect that that might have been where it started.
Dad talked very fondly of his childhood and his school days at St Wulstan's and then St Joe's. But his happiest times were when he met mum, his beloved Mary, fell in love, married and started his own family. Mum and Dad met when he was Skip and she was Brown Owl which has to be one of the cutest starts to a love story I've ever heard. Their respective troops guessed they had become engaged when they witnessed how happy they were on a camping trip with the scouts at Silverdale. And the rest as they say is history. They married at St Edmund's on 11th September 1965. Carmel came along in August 1966. Then me in September 1969. Claire in November 1973 and finally John in 1975, another September Baby. The four of us were also brought up in the 'no-fuss' tradition. But no fuss, certainly didn't mean no love.
Although mum and dad didn't have lots of cash to splash around, they supplied endless amounts of something missing in a lot of childhoods today, their time. They were great entertainers, one of my earliest memories is making pretend radio-broadcasts with them and with Carmel using an old fashioned cassette recorder. Mum, Carmel and I did lots of singing and giggling and Dad provided the cheesy DJ links. Many years later we found one of the cassettes. Dad's commentary and Carmel's rendition of Old Macdonald Had a Farm, were lovely to listen to years on from recording them. Mum and Dad also threw us tremendous birthday parties with spectacular cakes designed and made by mum and outrageous games and activities planned by Dad.
There were also New Years Parties, with traditions such as going out the back of the house and coming in the front with a lump of coal to let the New Year in. I got to do that a lot because for some reason it had to be the youngest child with dark hair! And we say the younger generation are weird!! I also remember a fancy dress version of one of these parties and being mystified by the vision of a devil chasing an angel down the street in front of our house. Whilst Mum asked for forgiveness and blessed the neighbours, dressed head to toe as a nun!
None of the four of us really remember having a baby-sitter. We tended to go out as a family and we really went out a lot. We had many many days and holidays in the Lake District. Dad was really at home there so we spent a lot of happy hours in Cartmel, Kendal, Keswick and the surrounding areas. Sometimes following some of Dad's famous hobbies, fell-walking, horse-racing, houndtrailing, bird-watching, marathon running and cycling which became his greatest sporting passion enabling him to spend many contented hours with his friends from Cleveleys Road Club. Our regular trips out became even more fun, when Dad bought a ten seater converted orange volkswagon camper van and we were all encouraged to bring a friend. The singing we did in that van!! It wasn't pretty but never lacked enthusiasm.
As children one of our favourite traditions was hiding someone somewhere in the rubble of coats, bags and packed lunches as we went through the entrance gate of Cartmel Races to avoid paying an extra entrance fee. I'm not sure now, as an adult why we were always so desperate for it to be our turn. You'd have to crouch on the floor of the van, with all sort of nonsense piled on top of you, your heart pounding in case you were discovered whilst being admitted through the gates and then a huge cheer would go up as we successfully pulled away. But enough of dad and mum's criminal past!! Suffice to say it was all very disappointing when we later realised that Dad usually bought a family ticket or it was a set price for a car to enter and all of our mission impossible antics had been purely for entertainment!
You get the idea though, Dad was happiest, when he was making us happy. He and Mum knew each other inside-out. They had a great knack of understanding and adapting to each others moods, needs and feelings. Mum was always very supportive of his hobbies and patiently indulged them, but because they were so rare, I was always more impressed by mum's ability to spot Dad's bad moods a mile off, and I genuinely mean from a long way away! I remember she used to watch for him coming home, stood at the curtains and very occasionally she would say, while he was still some distance away “Oh God - your Dad's in a mood!” She was never wrong! Sure enough, those days he would come in sullen and monosyllabic. We were intrigued by this psychic ability so we once asked her about it and she explained she could work out his mood from the way he walked. As there was no obvious stomping or fist waving we asked her to explain further. “Look at him.” she said pointing out of the window, “Here's my chin, my backside is following!” You can imagine how that phrase caught on. But mum wasn't only good at spotting them, she was good at changing them so no bad mood of Dad's ever lasted long.
Eventually the son-in-laws and grandchildren came along (and to dad's eternal relief, we all managed to get those steps in the right order!) To Dad, the family was simply bigger and better and he absolutely doted on his Grandchildren, each of them has also spent many happy hours in the lakes on day trips and holidays making lovely memories with Grandad!
Dad always worked hard and eventually became an industrial shift chemist for ICI, with Vitrex, he won the queens award for industry but typically made no fuss of it and left us to be proud for him because to him, his biggest achievement was his family and his greatest source of pride were his grandchildren. Chris, Caitlin, Claudia, Kiera, Thomas and Charlie. This remained true right to the end of his life. When any one of them was still able to elicit the most amazing smile. They are his legacy.
Dad overcame Cancer nine years ago. As you know Dad was a very fit man. He was always very in tune with his own health and fitness and he seemed to know he was ill again a long time before the doctors caught up with him. Unfortunately for Dad and for us, his cancer was too aggressive when it returned and we quickly established that his care would be palliative. Worse still dementia was starting to show itself and the two conditions combined caused real difficulties not just for Dad, but for mum tirelessly trying to manage his care and for the rest of the family as we started to watch him disappear.
When did we lose him really? I'm not sure what part of my lovely, quiet, thoughtful Dad's mind made him Dad. I don't know precisely when that part died. He left us by degrees so there was never a right time to say goodbye or thank-you. Mum lost her husband, we lost our dad, the children lost their grandfather inch by inch. To the end however, the familiar faces of his family and his faith provided him the greatest comfort. He prayed a lot, particularly once he was ill. He suddenly remembered the old prayers and returned to them. Often praying in Latin. It grounded him and was immensely important in providing much needed reassurance and familiarity.
He had brief flashes of complete lucidity, even in his final week. During one of the last visits, John and I made, as John held his hand, Dad suddenly fixed him with a really intent stare and whispered “I love you son.”
For the last months, he also loved to count and study each familiar face that visited, after a fall when he woke in hospital he spent ages gazing at each of our faces and smiling. Eventually he spoke, pointing first at Claire he said “That's a lovely face!” His gaze moved down the bed and he looked at Carmel and I, “Those are lovely faces too!” he said. John received the same compliment next and then looking towards mum he smiled again “And there's a really lovely face.” he said. Paul was stood next to mum and Dad's gaze finally rested on him. He grinned at him warmly. “Now you're lovely...” He whispered “So it doesn't matter that you're not very good-looking!”
He kept his ability to keep us amused to the end. And in the end as in life, Dad died, a quiet man. He passed away peacefully, almost silently, with both dignity and serenity.
And so to return to where I started with the words I've borrowed from Mr Magorium:
It takes Shakespeare, a genius to come up with “He dies” and it's natural to be sad, but not because of the words “He dies” but because of the life we saw prior to the words.
Dad lived all five of his acts and he would not ask us to be happy that he must go. He would only ask that we turn the page, continue reading and let the next story begin. And if anyone asks what became of Frank, we relate his life in all it's wonder and end it with a simple and modest
Unassuming, gentle, mild, shy, reserved, patient....
Just a few of the words you won't be hearing in today's tribute.
A retiring wall-flower Mum definitely wasn't. If Mum had an opinion, you were going to hear it, sometimes before she even knew she had it
and usually before she'd checked her facts. Mum was well aware that invariably, on any given situation, there were at least two opinions.
But it was her firmly held belief that in each said situation, there was her opinion, and then a variety of incorrect ones. I'm aware that my tone may appear a little more flippant than the one with which I began Dad's tribute but I can assure you I'm not going to take my responsibility any more lightly today. We're always told that opposites attract and Mum and Dad were incontravertible evidence of that. Many of you here knew both of them and therefore know that I simply couldn't use the same words or the same sentiments and hope to do them both justice. More to the point, anyone who knew Mum would know that, although if she was here I would undoubtedly already be in trouble, she did have a wicked sense of humour, and wouldn't mind me poking a little fun just as long as compliments followed!
Mum was born on the 25th of June 1942. Her mum was Sally her Dad was John. She was the eldest of three children, first becoming a big sister to Anne and then being delighted to get a little brother, Shaun. They were a happy family, and mixed widely with extended family from Ireland, whilst happily settled in Wensley Ave, Fleetwood. This remained the family home for years and the one that Carmel, Claire, John and I remember visiting as Grandma's house. We still have many photos of mum at that house: in the garden at birthday parties, outside the front-door with hands joined for her First Holy Communion, in the hallway posing with Grandma and Grandad at her 21st, and with Grandma on the path in her wedding dress. Smiling, beautiful but slightly sad. That one is a poignant image. More so because I remember Mum telling me the story of her wedding invitations. When Mum and Dad became engaged the family were thrilled. Mum and chose the wedding invitations with Grandma and Grandad, the best that Grandad could afford. Not long afterwards they arrived and Mum was thrilled and then Grandad died. She and Grandma sat with Tippex which was something of a miracle invention in those days. But their task was far from miraculous. They sat for an entire evening removing all traces of "Mr &" from the invitations. I can't imagine a more heartbreaking start to your wedding preparations, but it's out of these tragedies that a strong woman is created and that's certainly what she became.
So sadly enough none of us ever met Grandad, but Mum made sure we spent plenty of time with Grandma and instilled in us from an early age the importance of family and spending quality time with family and good friends. We used to have great parties at Grandma's and mum certainly took up that mantle when Grandma became too old to manage them. She loved being the hostess - eating, drinking and singing going on late into the night or more often continuing to the early hours of the morning. Carmel has taken to the role like a pro in recent years, but I doubt any of us will ever forget some of the raucous parties hosted in Welbeck Ave with some equally raucous guests, some of whom are here today and some, like mum and dad, late greats who are sadly missed, each one leaving a little less laughter in the world.
Mum wasn't just good at the raucous parties though. The birthday parties for her children were legendary. A standout for me was a pirate party. There were no party dresses. Cut offs or scruffy jeans and T-shirts was the official dress code. No traditional party food – fish fingers and chips! No pass the parcel! Instead there was a crazy Nelson's Museum game, where the party guests were blindfolded and led round to feel the exhibits. Quite frankly, I think Mum and Dad would probably have been arrested nowadays. One of the exhibits involved Dad narrating the story of Nelson's leg being blown off during battle and all that was left was a bloody stump – "Would you like to feel the bloody stump?" he asked the terrified guests. The Bloody stump was provided by my warped mother, who guided some poor blindfolded child's hand, to her boney elbow which she repeatedly smeared with strawberry jam and water. If you think that's bad, the next exhibit was a boiled egg in lemon curd, gruesomely explained away as his missing eye! To console everyone after there was, of course a home made birthday cake, that had taken mum hours to expertly fashion into a pirate ship! Despite it all being unconventional, the kids that came talked it for weeks afterwards One of them has even posted an old picture of it on facebook in the last few weeks!
But here's the insignificant and yet most important detail. At the time of that party, I had a close friend. I know she's not here. So I can tell you this detail without being too indiscreet. My friend was poor. None of us were well off but my friend was poor enough to be teased a little bit. Many of us wore clothes that were hand-me-downs but hers were a little shabbier, a little less stylish, a little less clean. I liked her though and I wanted her to come to the party. But I also liked the girls that teased her. No one likes being between a rock and a hard place. The pirate party was all mums idea but it was all to make sure that my friend looked exactly like everyone else! It was her way of showing me you can always do something even if its only something small.
You see, to many who didn't know Mum, she could easily have come across as quite hard-faced. In fact, she was very compassionate and hated to see anyone suffering, particularly those she thought were underdogs.
One of my tutors at college once began a lecture with a quotation I saved because it reminded me of mum and her approach to conflict or injustice:
Children will remember moments spent with you. However it isn't togetherness that creates humane parents and righteous kids. It is the example of integrity that a parent sets and the ongoing lessons they teach about compassion towards others throughout their lives. A good mother teaches their children that cruelty is not something you cause or ignore, rather it is the moment you suit up for war.
Mum taught us that lesson consistently and well. Not always in the best way. Not always even intentionally. But I think if mum had rewritten the ten commandments number one would definitely have been Thou shalt not be cruel to those less fortunate than thyself. There's a possibility she may have added: Thou can be as cruel as thy like to those more fortunate. And though she felt she was entitled to utter whatever words she saw fit to each and every member of her family or her close friends whenever she felt like it - which was often, If anyone else should so much as cast so much as a disparaging look in any of our directions...well she'd be suiting up for war again!
Her softer side though, is what made her so perfectly suited to the many of the roles she undertook over her lifetime. With Dad, providing many opportunities for the youth of Fleetwood both as Brown Owl and as that Trail Blazing female football manager! Then, later in life, she worked for several local funeral directors. She found this work immensely fullfilling. She certainly seemed to have an affect on a lot of the families she supported, many of whom kept in touch with her for years after the funerals of their loved ones.
Mum and Dad married on 11th September 1965. They were lifelong partners sharing trials and tribulations. Dad helped Mum through more difficult times, the loss eventually of her beloved mum, followed later by her sister and brother, both lost far too young. But there were also many good times. They shared the joys af four children and six grandchildren. Mum found unimaginable joy in her grandchildren. With Chris, it was almost as if she was the first woman on earth ever to have had a grandson! Thomas was all she talked about for a time and how he was Dad's 'mini-me'. Mine gave her the fire in her belly again to champion the underdog and God help anyone who forgot to smile at Charlie when she took him out for a walk. But Kiera, Kiera has to be Grandma's greatest source of pride. We witnessed many fine examples of care and nursing during the final weeks with both Dad and then Mum. But none quite so touching as the unrelenting hours put in by their own grandaughter at so tender an age: Feeding, cleaning, mopping brows, wetting lips, nursing, talking, laughing, loving, being. Mum witnessed her do it for Dad and then she felt it, acknowledged it and smiled as Kiera did it all over again for her. She is a genuine credit to her family, her parents and her grandparents and we're all incredibly proud of her.
Mum and Dad celebrated their Golden Wedding in September 2015. It would be their last anniversary together. But for fifty years they were devoted. Despite their chalk and cheese personalities, they balanced each other perfectly. Dad was quiet, Mum talked for him. Dad liked his hobbies Mum was the homemaker, Dad was quite private, Mum very social, yet Dad seemed to really enjoy all the social activities Mum planned. On our famous day trips, Mum would sort the packed lunches as if we were taking the entire military with us in terms of the amount of sandwiches. Dad would do route planning. Then off we'd go and roles would be divided again. Dad would drive. Mum would sing. They were both actually really good at those bits! So if you're wondering if they were good at the bits I mentioned before – Absolutely not! If Dad knew where he was going he was a great driver. If he didn't, he couldn't plan a route to save his life! And mum's sandwich making is genuinely difficult to describe to someone who hasn't witnessed it. Scattergun is probably the best word! If you can imagine someone pinning bread to a dartboard and then using an array of darts to add the filling, sometimes missing completely, then you'd come close to how a finished sandwich might end up! Despite this, our trips were always a joy and we looked forward to our lunches with mouths watering everytime! Even if we got the bread that all the darts had missed, then who cared? In the words of Oasis:
'True perfection has to be imperfect'.
They were a perfectly imperfect team. Carmel, Claire John and I were never in any doubt that they loved each other and their marraige was unshakable. But it was Mum's little gestures that often took us by surprise. When Dad was away on a cycling trip one time, she remodelled the bedroom, so it would look romantic when he returned. She asked for help with the finishing touches. As she laughed at Paul struggling with the duvet cover she smirked over at me " God Sally!" she said "If he's no good with it, I bet he's no good in it!" I told you she had a wicked sense of humour!
But although we were always aware of the bond, the romance and the love, I don't think any of the four of us were aware of it's true depth until Dad died.
Initially because Mum showed such immense dignity in coping with Dad's death, his funeral and the immediate aftermath, it shielded us from the magnitude of her feelings but the truth is, she simply failed to recover. She was incredibly lonely without him, even in company. Certain topics of conversation would initially delight and then immobilise her. Her life-long stoicism was shattered and she could become tearful at the mention of his name.
Then came the final cruelty, six months after Dad died Mum was diagnosed with cancer. She took the news as one would expect Mary Waring to take news of this type - with a mixture of disbelief, shock and a genuine sense that both the doctors and the cancer would have to fit around her ideas and timetable! Once she took it all in though she 'suited up for war' for one final time. Mary was not going quietly, and she was going on her own terms. Mum was absolutely determined to stay in her own home and although the four of us weren't convinced that this was an entirely sensible decision as she was far from independent, once Mum made her mind up about anything in life she proved unshakable. Valiant efforts had to be made, by all of us. Carmel quickly became nick-named 'Aggie' as on top of her already considerable responsilities she was now found regularly cleaning round Mum's house, sorting her washing and attending to every domestic need. Claire was forever running errands and doing lots of shopping and prescription collections, I kept all the hospital appointments and runs to the doctors or oncology and John did most of the evening shifts just keeping mum company, sitting with her, consoling her, keeping his promise to Dad to look after her.
Chemotherapy initially seemed hopeful. Mum seemed to have no adverse reaction to the first treatments and although it was tiring for her to keep heading hospital, she didn't feel ill or have any of the unpleasant side effects. For a little while at least, we believed that in contrary Mary, cancer had finally met its match!
Then she suddenly started to react very badly, she lost mobility, then some memory function. It affected her speech and made her very sick and dizzy. She went from having none of the side effects to all of them practically overnight. So it was withdrawn, complications developed, the tumor grew, Mum became more confused. It all started feeling very familiar and Mum started to physically disintegrate the same way Dad had.
I was sitting with her in her last days, while she was still a little alert and because she was very pale, her eyes looked the bluest, blue. They were flicking round the room and it made her look terribly vulnerable. She was incredibly thin, a shock of white hair and a little hollow underneath her eyes - so physically unlike the mum I've known all my life and yet something still there so familiar. And then I realised that despite all the bluster, despite all the opinions, the contradictions, despite everything! If you've looked hard enough, that vulnerability has always been there. The smoke and mirrors have been trying to hide it - but it's been there all the time. My Dad could always see it -and it was part of what he loved so much about her! That and the naughty twinkle in her eye that never really disappeared either! So much so that one of the hospice nurses who only met mum when she could no longer speak said "Well I've never met your Mum before but I can just tell she was a real character!"
And that she certainly was! Claire and I have often giggled that although Thomas obviously listened intently when I was talking about Dad at his funeral all he can actually remember me saying was "He Died!" They were definitely the words I finished with. I'd like to finish Mum's tribute just slightly differently: