There's only Dad and myself now. My younger brother died in 1995 in a car crash, just before Christmas, and there are no other siblings. Dad is 88, and magnificent as he is being in the face of death, I want to protect him from as much upset and trouble as I can. So the funeral address falls on me. I always thought it would, but I really don't want to be centre stage, no I don't.
My appearance is going to cause comment. My face used to look chubby and Neanderthal, now it has girly elements such as plucked eyebrows. My hair is too long to look right, but not long enough to tie back out of the way. Perhaps I can pin it. I've shrunk. My manly funeral outfit - grey overcoat, dark business suit, white shirt, black tie, black scarf, black shoes - will look way oversize and odd. I suppose it will hide how thin I've become. Anyway, do I really care? I have a duty to perform, and must do it well and properly. And besides, surely nobody there will do other than listen to what I have to say. They won't be looking at my nails or my ladies watch or the rings.
I suppose I could trim the hair, cut the nails, and take off the watch and rings, but that would seem grossly dishonest. Nevertheless I haven't the courage to be completely honest and go dressed. The Humanist Celebrant who will preside, a man I have the greatest confidence in, asked me about this (I felt I could tell him about myself). I said that almost nobody there would be prepared for the shock. I didn't want to be contraversial. I wanted everyone to think only of Mum. It was surely excuse enough. Please accept that if you can.
I didn't get the chance to tell Mum that her elder son, of whom she was so proud, had all along had a lifetime of hangups, and now had a Serious Biggie to explain. All she knew was that there was some preposterous gender thing in my mind. For a short while it must have caused her huge worry. But the morphine was kind, and towards the end I felt that the gender issue - the lurid, awful, embarrassing sex-change issue - had slipped from her mind. And that she was concentrating, so far as she could, on much more essential matters.
I may have an opportunity of a dialogue with my Dad in the weeks ahead. I don't expect his approval. I just want him to understand.
And to round this posting off, here is the text of what I intend to say, with of course names concealed. I hope I can deliver it without faltering. Wish me luck.
REFLECTIONS ON MUM’S LIFE
Thank you, everyone, for coming here to celebrate Mum’s life and witness the final stage of her journey.
She lived a long time, 87 years, and it’s not at all surprising that only a small number of people are here today: many who might have come are now too ill to attend, or have died. It doesn’t matter. If only one of us keeps her in mind, then she will live on.
I’m not going to speak at great length, and I’m certainly not going to give you any kind of biography. Mum had no career, no public role or position, so there’s nothing like that to mention. But I do want to say that she was a good wife and mother, and a good friend to many people.
A good wife, mother and friend: not easy things to be.
The first role, as a wife, needs an abundance of good humour, patience, loyalty and love. Mum gave these things unstintingly to Dad. Each was the making of the other. It was a perfect marriage.
The second role, being a mother, needs kindness, firmness, stamina, selflessness, and – again – love. As much love as needed; and then some more. Mum gave all these things to my brother W--- and myself. We grew up in a safety zone. We grew up never knowing unfairness, or injustice, or any harsh words. Mum and Dad worked together in complete harmony to ensure our welfare, and to teach us what it meant to be truthful, reasonable, honourable and strong. Dad was the rock on which everything stood secure. Mum provided the rest, and was generous with that provision.
As for the third role, being a good friend, Mum was warm-hearted and caring, a lively and gregarious person, reaching out to people. She was always laughing. She was very easy to get on with. She said it about herself that if stuck in a queue for longer than two minutes, she would strike up a conversation with the person next to her, and draw out their entire life history in five minutes more. It was true. I saw it many times, in many situations. People liked her and wanted to share their lives with her. She made many friends, and she kept them. With us today, for instance, is P---, who was at school with Mum, and, nearly 75 years later, still her loyal friend.
Mum had a no-nonsense outlook, and a certain toughness of mind. She was a difficult target for anyone bent on foolishness or dishonesty. Although gentle and courteous, she was firm, fearless for truth, and not afraid to speak her mind. She was not easily fobbed off. I remember (when I was young) how she obtained a very good table at a busy Mediterranean night club, just for the two of us. And she got refunds at shops that I would not dared to have asked for. She just had a way with all kinds of people.
She loved her children. She often said that W--- and myself were boys to be proud of. I think she regretted not having a daughter, but fate decreed that she should have two excellent substitute daughters, G--- and M---. My brother W--- was diabetic and I know that Mum was always supremely grateful to G--- for looking after him so well, organising his medication and making sure that he ate properly. G--- kept him alive. And in later life, M--- was a day to day comfort and support for Mum, eventually becoming the essential recipient of final thoughts that Mum could share only with another woman.
She loved her grandchildren. She was so proud of M--- and J---, and lived to see them establish themselves with a secure future. Grandparents worry about their grandchildren - it’s the eternal way of things - and the knowledge that they had both done well, and were now all right, meant much. It helped her to let go of this life peacefully, and not fight on, tormented by concerns.
I would have liked to have said something about other members of the family, such as Mum’s brother D---, and my step-daughter A---, and all of the many friends who knew Mum. The list would be a long one, and there isn’t enough time to do justice to anybody. I will however recite a short, comforting, and rather eloquent poem which describes Mum’s approach to life rather well. The poem is called ONE AT REST. I tried to find out who wrote it, but no-one seems to know. Here it is anyway:
Think of me as one at rest,
For me you should not weep.
I have no pain, no troubled thoughts,
For I am just asleep.
The living thinking me that was
Is now forever still.
And life goes on without me,
As time forever will.
If your heart is heavy now
Because I’ve gone away,
Dwell not long upon it, friend,
For none of us can stay.
Those of you who liked me
I sincerely thank you all,
And those of you who loved me
I thank you most of all.
In my fleeting lifespan,
As time went rushing by,
I found some time to hesitate,
To laugh, to love, to cry.
Matters it now if time began,
If time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all,
And now I am at peace.
It takes me six minutes to speak it, but the last two lines of the poem are giving me a problem. I do falter on 'I was here, I used it all'. I don't understand why.