Tuesday, 2 June 2009

My address at Dad's Funeral on Wednesday 3 June 2009

Another day, another funeral. You don't often get the opportunity to send both parents off in the same year. Or maybe you do: I hear that surviving partners generally do not want to carry on.

I feel deathly tired, and sad beyond measure. Outwardly, though, I seem pretty cheerful. Well, that's how I function, ignoring emotional pressures, some would say ignoring reality. As if I'm not dreadfully aware of my loss. I've had my tears. Now it's time for duty.

I saw Dad in his coffin yesterday. I spent an hour with him. He looked very dapper in the clothes I'd supplied, just like he did on the cruise. But he was beyond rousing, and no matter how long I might wait, his eyes would never again open with a smile. And when I kissed his poor head, the skin felt so cold. I am not religious. I don't believe in heaven or an afterlife, but I so wish he were Somewhere now, and knew what was in my heart. He was once a physically big man, but years ago he lost height when he had a double knee-replacement operation (early-onset arthritis) and in recent years he had shrunk further. Now, laid out, he seemed to fill the coffin, and was tall again. I wrote 'I love you, Dad' on a card and pushed it into his jacket so that it couldn't be seen and might stay there with him to the very end. I didn't really like to think of him consumed by flame. Burials were more harrowing events, but there was a grave to visit at a future date. Not so with cremations. He was born at Hollis Green near Kentisbeare, a village in the Devon countryside between Cullompton and Honiton. If only he could have been laid to rest in Kentisbeare churchyard, in the grounds of that beautiful church with its chequered tower! Well, at least I could mingle his ashes with Mum's, in the rockery at the bottom of his garden. Together again.

I tidied up his house today, in readiness for the funeral reception tomorrow. It's my house now. I decided to move some of the furniture around, to make it easier for the people coming back, but I didn't alter the general look of the place. Let it seem as if Dad were simply out for the day, and might return later. If only that could happen. Tidying up and cleaning took me quite a long time, not because there was much to do, but because I was slow. An old friend phoned me halfway through, proposing a pleasant-sounding 'two-old-mates-together' weekend in Barry, South Wales, where we both lived when young. Serious nostalgia overdose, yes, bring it on. I hadn't the heart to tell him that I'd changed somewhat, and that he might be embarrassed if he saw me now. But I will tell him after the funeral is over and done with. I could simply suggest that he look at this blog, and then contact me if still interested in meeting up. I might be surprised. I'm finding that many people are accepting me. The attitude seems to be 'it's your life, go for it, and we're with you all the way'. Many people are now saying that; but not everyone.

Tomorrow's funeral will be similar to Mum's in February (see the blog posting for it), a Humanist ceremony or celebration. I shall have a six or seven minute slot, and this is what I shall say about Dad:

REFLECTIONS ON DAD’S LIFE

Thank you, everyone, for coming here to celebrate Dad’s life, and share this final moment with him.

All deaths are sad, and this one is especially so because Mum died less than four months ago. Dad has followed her so quickly. But you must look for silver linings. I can see three things that should console us all: that Mum and Dad both lived a long life; that they were together and united almost to the end; and that Dad did not have to live on for years without Mum by his side. Mum was his life. He loved her, and when she was gone there was no special reason for him to continue.

Dad was 88 when he died. He had been retired for 28 years, and we used to joke about this unexpected longevity, and how the Government must be grumbling at the annual drain on the Exchequer. No doubt the Chancellor had a list of elderly Civil Servants on pensions who refused to lie down. Dad was certainly on it.

As many of you may know, Dad gave long service to the Crown. Before the War, he was a junior Post Office official at a time when that body was at the very heart of town and village life, and when the ‘Royal’ in Royal Mail actually meant something. He served his country during the War, not as a frontline soldier firing bullets, but as a key member of the support personnel who made sure that the troops had something to fire with. He was with the Eighth Army in North Africa; he was in the decisive El Alamein offensive; and later on he was in Italy. After the War he joined the Inland Revenue and made his way up, reaching a senior position by the time he retired in 1981. He was in charge of several Tax Offices, one after the other, occupying a position known as ‘District Inspector’. It was very like being a ship’s captain. It was a fully independent command, where you used your own ideas and your own judgment, all on your own responsibility. And like a ship’s captain, you needed more than just seamanship: tact and diplomacy, and an understanding of human nature were also required. Dad had all of that, plus a reputation for being innovative, and willing to take a bold, radical, but thoroughly well-considered approach. This earned him the gratitude and appreciation of the Board of Inland Revenue and a trip to Buckingham Palace in 1977 to collect a Jubilee Medal from the Queen. It was followed by further promotion. By any standard, he had a successful career. But he was good at many things. Drawing, painting, do-it-yourself, crosswords; he played golf for many years, and later on he wasn’t too bad at bowling, which he could share with Mum.

Dad gave the impression of a confident, well-spoken gentleman. He was never rude or angry, had a light and pleasant sense of humour, but he was highly practical and firm when required. Yet he’d had an unhappy childhood in rural Devon, and very little education. Let me tell you something about those early times.

Dad was born in the deep heart of the Devon countryside, but his mother died when he was only two, and his father did not look after him. He was left in the hands of other relatives. As a young child he lived with an aunt and her husband in London. They had a nice house and sophisticated ways on the fringe of the entertainment world, and it was at this time that he lost any Devon accent he may have had, and acquired the BBC voice that he eventually passed on to me. Dad was well and kindly looked after, even if there wasn’t much real affection. Then, without warning, his father whisked him away from this cosmopolitan existence and dumped him with a rough family in Devon, who lived in a primitive farm cottage. His father still didn’t want to look after him. He paid that family money for Dad’s keep, and just turned up now and then for a couple of hours. Poor Dad never knew any parental love. But he was philosophical about that and overcame any feelings of loneliness and neglect. He became very self-reliant. Fortunately he had a good deal of freedom, and adapted to his rural existence very well. He loved the woods and meadows and all the wildlife, and got to know their ways. He became a true countryman. At school, or what passed for school, he was instantly nicknamed The Professor, because of his wide general knowledge, his eagerness to learn things, and his London manners. Dad soon had to face up to the school bully, who was out to get him. Dad was a gentle person with absolutely no fighting experience, but he wouldn’t submit, and, hoping for the best, landed a professional-looking punch on the bully’s nose. This hurt so badly, and brought forth so much blood, that the bully had to retire in tears. That lucky punch gave Dad a spurious but useful reputation as an unbeatable prize-fighter, and he was never challenged again. I don’t think he ever encountered another situation like that in his life, but the episode showed him how right it is to stand up against people who want to push you around, and how luck can come to your aid if you seize the initiative.

There isn’t time to mention anything else about Dad’s young life, but I think you will see that although Dad was starved of affection his character was robust, and that he was brave. This was still true at the end of his life. How I admired his determination not to be defeated by crippling arthritis! Despite the increasing pain and discomfort he led a normal life right up to the end, doing his own cooking and shopping, although (thankfully) the cleaning and gardening were done for him. I showed him how to use a computer, so that when he didn’t feel like going out he could place an order with Tesco online, and have it delivered to his door. He had all his home comforts, and he had an alert mind, even if he often now felt very tired. I liked to play cards with him, and have pub lunches with him, and we had a Mediterranean cruise together which he thoroughly enjoyed. But he must have brooded on the terrible loss of W---, my younger brother, some years before. And he did not have Mum with him anymore. Nothing could replace her. He seemed to face his loneliness with fortitude, even cheerfulness, but I could see that it was eating away at him.

What would Dad say if he were still here? I believe he would say these things: that you must never give in; that nothing in life is better than the love and support of your partner; and that raising children to be proud of is the finest ambition you can have. The rest is dust.

I hope I can deliver all that without faltering. I managed it at Mum's funeral, and perhaps I will at this one. Please wish me well.

2 comments:

  1. Well written tribute. Good luck x

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's lovely, Lucy...

    I'll be thinking of you at this sad time.

    love
    chrissie
    xxxxx

    ReplyDelete

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