The eulogy

For the record, for posterity, here’s the text of what I said about mum on Wednesday:

About 6-7 weeks ago mum and I got together one Saturday afternoon to plan out this day. We sat at her dining table and discussed different readings and poems, sorted through menus, and picked through old photos. It might sound morbid, but it was nice. Mum always was very particular about these sorts of things – she liked her parties – and somewhere in the midst of it all we managed a few laughs over forgotten photos and the moments they depicted. I remember how we looked at the different catering menus without getting too excited until simultaneously we happened across the menu we both spontaneously thought, yep, that’s the one! Between us we had agreed on the most expensive and extravagant option, and hang the expense. The important thing was to do it right, it always was. She smiled ruefully, though not sadly, sounds great she said, pity I’ll miss it.

Somehow I doubt mum is missing out on much. For all I know she’s got a full dance card of things she must do up in heaven, and she’s probably got new drapes already on order, but I’m pretty sure before she gets into any of that she’ll be a keen observer of today. Mum loved an occasion; she loved an audience and the opportunity to entertain and share time with her friends and family. She’d be delighted with the turn-out today – though perhaps a bit fearful that we haven’t catered for enough. Though she isn’t amongst us, she remains the star of the show.

Everyone has different attributes: we remember people for different things. I think for most people mum is remembered as both the stylish life of the party, and for her kindness and warmth of heart. Mum had style and pizzazz. She was social and glamorous, which she delighted in: she liked nice things, and believed in living well. Along the way she had umpteen adventures around the world, in Africa and Europe and Alaska and so on, and a multitude of stories to tell which I think everyone here would have heard at least once, or possibly several times, and, for some of us, hundreds. Timeless tales though, and a part of who she was.

Of course the essence of story-telling is to share. Mum needed people around her, she was the very epitome of a people person, didn’t matter who you were. She lived for her family and friends, but was equally adept at striking up conversations with shop assistants and passing strangers, all with the same smile. My mother was a sensitive, engaging women who had a genuine interest in others. I know most of you will have your own memories of her like that. Of the countless memories I have what I remember now is the time she spent with her grandchildren to make them feel special.

Clearly mum was much loved by many, and more than most I think. She was blessed to have so many friends who cared for her, and so many great relationships to enrich her life. She left the world a better place by her presence, and the proof is in the room here today.

Sad as this last 18 months has been it gave me the chance to become closer to my mum. Besides the medical appointments and so on we attended together, there were also shared meals at nice restaurants or at home where we would speak freely of what was happening with the characteristic honesty mum showed in her last months. If there is some positive from impending death it is that it concentrates the mind: you remember what is important.

Naturally this is a melancholy occasion for a son to stand-up at, but I know mum would want this to be a celebration of all she was, and the occasion for everyone to remember her in their own way. For me amid all the mad rush of the last few days trying to get this organised I had long forgotten memories return to me as if randomly. I remembered growing up as a kid that most nights we would have an exotic, or at least an interesting meal in an era of meat and three veg, and had a dessert every night of the week – something I took for granted back then but which my friends would marvel at. I remember how mum would sing as she was cooking or attending to some other household chore. If I can hold a rough a tune in the shower these days, and recall the words it’s because of her.

I remembered how at Easter for years on end we would have an Easter egg hunt for both kids and adults. It was great for all of us, but none more so than mum who took delight in witnessing our pleasure. She was a whole-hearted woman who took an almost child-like pleasure in the simplest of things: she got the most out of stuff, and that was magnified when it came to us. Every triumph of my life was greeted with jubilation by her, and perhaps a bottle of bubbles; and every setback was felt more earnestly by her than I would ever admit to myself. She wrapped our life, our dreams and hopes and fears, in hers.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. A void has opened up. Gone is the one person I know who would always willingly listen to every bit of my life, from my grizzles about work or romance, to what I might be cooking for dinner that night. She was always there, at the end of a phone line if not in person, someone who loved me without qualification, she was like gravity. She’s gone, and I don’t know what will become of those words now that before I would share with her.

I know mum is listening, and drinking in every moment of the day, with Fred by her side and most likely with a glass of good champagne or a G&T. Well, this is to attest that we love you mum, we’ll miss you with all our hearts, for every day that remains to us without you.

Another day

Unusual for me, sleep has been difficult recently. Of course there are good reasons for that.

I switched off the light last night at about 12.30. I was meant to sleep, but I felt wide awake. As on previous nights my head was full of thoughts. I returned to familiar ground once the lights were off.

It’s a strange set of circumstances that means that I’ll be moving into mum’s home just she permanently vacates. That was not the idea or expectation. Still, it will be fact. I’d rather not be there, but being in place as I will changes what I do there. Before I might have supported mum in her last months while I looked to resettle myself. With her gone there’ll be other things to do. The house will need to be sold, the contents disposed of, everything tied up in a neat little ribbon. While that’s not directly my responsibility – it’s the estate’s – the reality is that being in place, on top of being her sun means that much will likely and logically fall to me.

A few years back my aunt died. She lived in Kuluin, in Queensland. As the executor of her estate I had varied responsibilities. One weekend I flew up to the Sunshine coast with my sister and over the course of a weekend went through my aunts erstwhile home and sorted things out – things to keep, things to throw out, things to donate. It was a busy weekend working from early in the morning till the early evening. By necessity we had to be ruthless – we were far from home, logistics and cost prevented much. The result was that while we squirreled away a few things to take home with us, largely sentimental, the rest was disposed of. Given more time and easier access we might have been more scientific. Instead we got a large mini-skip in which we threw all the random things we couldn’t sell or donate, some of which was still good and of some worth. Despite the neighbourhood vultures picking through it as we worked the skip was full by the the time we left. As for the rest, quite a substantial amount was donated to a very grateful local charity. That seemed right.

Laying in bed last night it dawned on me that something similar will have to be done for mum’s place. It is easier here obviously, though mum’s home is much larger. She has already indicated where much of the big stuff should go – I think I get an outdoor setting. Still, there will be a lot of stuff to be either sold/donated, and much to be thrown out. Logically a large part of that responsibility would fall to me, but I don’t want it.

It was different doing it for my aunt. We’d grown up closer than most nephew and aunt, but she’d lived far from me and though I was familiar with much she possessed there was not that sentimental remembrance I’m sure I’ll have with mum. I don’t want to go through mum’s stuff, I certainly don’t want to put it into piles to be thrown up. It;s just too close to the bone. So sad that a life can be reduced to separate piles of stuff to be scattered here or there, or thrown on the tip. I can’t do that for my mum.

Still wide awake my mind drifted to my mum’s eulogy. See how much I now anticipate her ending? It’s an accepted fact now. I had been asked months ago to put down some rough notes for her eulogy then, but had declined. In actual fact I don’t know how I’ll cope getting up in front of everybody to laud my dead mother before them. I half expect to be in a bad way. I feel as if I have kept many things at arms length throughout this period, busy doing and organising things, being the strong man for her and others. There’s an allure to disappearing into the crowd come her funeral, sitting in the corner with my own sorrow looking upon things from a distance. That cannot be of course. I am my mum’s son, it was my role now, it is what people expect. It’s the role I’ve filled till now, the role I’ve played with some aplomb. I will the person more than any other people will come to express their grief and offer their sympathy. I know, it’s a role I’ll do well, as I always do.

And so I began to compose in my head her eulogy. I had wondered for ages what I would say, but now it came simple and clear to me. I would not say much, everyone has their own memories of her. I’ll touch on that and then reflect on my own memories.

It felt very close then. It was a little after 1am. I thought of mum then in hospital, the lino floors, the nurses in their smocks, the quiet post midnight corridors lit by fluorescent hospital light, and mum in her room, sleeping perhaps, hopefully, the nurses looking in on her occasionally, surrounded in the other rooms by other people dying of cancer.

I switched on the light. Sleep was far away. After a moment I got up. I went to my Mac and checked my email. I surfed the net. I killed 20 minutes before going back to bed. In 20 minutes I slept.

I dreamt again last night. The dreams last night were happy and positive. Then the phone rang at 7.30. I felt immediate alarm, then saw the number. It was from mum’s bedside, it was she calling. She sounded much better, and more lucid for days. It was a pleasant surprise, but I don’t expect it will continue. She was awful last night, and gets worse as the day goes on.

Now I must go. This morning I meet the minister with my step-sister. Then I have to make some phone calls for her, and pay some of her bills, and visit her.