Sunday, February 05, 2012

DIARY 151 - Eulogy

 12th June 1929 ~ 20th January 2012

I once worked in a crematorium in Cambridge and over the period of two years I worked there, I heard hundreds of eulogies. As an unrelated observer I was frequently presented with a vivid picture of the deceased persons character, and often deeply moved. These eulogies rarely put much emphasis on their ambitions, successes, careers or material achievements, but spoke mostly of the effect the person had upon them, and what they loved or valued about them. So, as I sit here writing this eulogy for my own Mother, I naturally find myself recollecting her personality, qualities, and general approach to life, and how these traits of character were often a response to the crucible of life.

My Mum with my Dad in the Summer of 2011

Most people if they met my Mother would find themselves instantly put at ease by her warm lively and appreciative conversation. Though often overly self conscious, introverted and a little retiring by nature in larger gatherings, she rarely found connecting or talking one to one with people difficult. My Mother was intrigued by, and possessed an endless curiosity about people and their lives. She’d often said ‘I’m not being nosey, I’m just interested’ and though this was a tricky balance to maintain ,this was indeed mostly how it was. She was always respectful, polite and never prurient in her interest. She was also very loyal too, with a good many friendships that lasted her whole life. This ability to connect quickly and easily with people, was founded upon that very real caring interest, she was able to be a friend to many people, by being an empathic, humorous and supportive listener. She might not be able to resolve a problem or dilemma, but she could hear it fully, and with a receptive kind heart.

My Mother spent large parts of her last decade of life housebound. Though there were occasional trips out in her wheelchair to supermarkets, cafes and to visit close family. These became less and less frequent as the complicated, and often compounding, mixture of ailments she suffered from, began taking their toll. On the whole she bore the discomfort and suffering of these as philosophically as she could, without resentment and with good humour. My Mother was always ready to have a laugh at life, at herself or her predicament. It was only in the last few months of her life, when things were getting demonstrably more difficult, did her patient, positive and usually cheerful demeanour begin to flag. She bore this with honesty, and talked of it as lightly as she could, which often masked what she was actually feeling.

As a child, I remember my Mother as being kind and appreciative, but she also knew when and where to enforce discipline. The boundaries were laid out firmly, but fairly, and Janet and I crossed them at our peril. Any punishment that may have resulted from something stupid I had done, rarely felt disproportionate or unjustified. I think this was because it was founded on a very real love and concern for us, and because both my Mother and Father had themselves a clear idea of what social or ethical behaviour was or was not acceptable, and sought to instil that in us.

Over the years my Mother became an fluent talker and teller of stories. Though by no means an extrovert, nevertheless she had a strong presence in our family. Her mind, almost to the very end, had a sharpness and strength of recollection for that telling detail. So whenever I came home on a visit, the first evening would often consist of my Mother speaking, often in inexhaustible detail, of all the things that had happened to her, stories about members of my family, of her friends, places or events. Sometimes I have to say, I had no idea at all who, where or what she was talking about, and I just took to nodding in all the appropriate places. She was the reliable repository of our families oral history, its tall stories and its myths. Those small incidents from ones early childhood, or teenage, which most Mothers still delight in embarrassing their grown up sons and daughters with. That faculty of memory and recollection was to keep her mentally alert, aware and active, which made her physical deterioration all the harder for her.

There were times when I chose to do things which didn’t necessarily match my parents expectations or aspirations for me. But, my parents have rarely been proscriptive, allowing both Janet and myself, to develop and go our own way in life. The only proviso being that whatever we did would potentially make us happier. On this journey through life, I have been sustained by knowing that I have been loved and appreciated. I have said goodbye to what physically remains of my Mother, but her love will always be with me. For this I am profoundly grateful.

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