Tuesday, 8 October 2013

On Eulogies

This is something of a significant departure from rational sensibilities but was inspired by Robin Ince's blog post which touches on the sense of responsibility he felt when delivering a eulogy at his brother in law's funeral. Having had only one such experience to compare with, I can certainly relate to his anxiety, but also the confusing sense of satisfaction felt afterwards when reflecting on a difficult job well done. The task of the eulogist is undoubtedly onerous, and inevitably at a time where one's emotions are in some turmoil, but the realisation of it being a final public way to honour a loved one surpasses those challenges.

That said, my own experience was for my father's funeral, and my first attempt at composing a eulogy was disastrous. It was full of bitterness and anger at the illness that had gradually but relentlessly taken him from us and robbed him of a well-earned retirement. While I had tried to include some positive memories, the overall balance was uncharacteristically depressing.

The very act of writing that, however had itself been a catharsis. The expression of the hurt I was feeling disempowering those negative emotions that inspired it. With Elaine's invaluable support, the second version attempted to vanquish all the melancholy, and the result was so much better.

Five and half years after my father's death, I've only just looked back to reflect on what I finally said, and while I'm not entirely sure if a blog is an appropriate place to belatedly post a eulogy, it's something I would now like to do. So there...

Don Pickering - A Tribute (Feb 2008)

Family and Friends,

Thank you all so much for being here today to remember and say our final farewells to my father, Don. We really appreciate the trouble that many of you have gone to to be here.

Dad would have been delighted to see you all as he always enjoyed a good get-together. He would thrive at social occasions, being a master of conversation - and would  talk confidently with anyone on seemingly any subject, though sport was always his particular favourite. He also had a brilliant memory for names and faces - skills that made him well suited to his job in insurance. He made many business friends, and on our shopping trips into Coventry city centre when I was a child, he nearly always bumped into at least one person he knew (quite astounding for a city of that size) always taking the time to chat affably with them (much to the irritation of us impatient kids!).

He very much enjoyed the simple things in life: music, sunshine, walks in the countryside, gardening and good food - especially desserts: his sweet tooth was legendary, and he always regarded the savoury courses of a meal as an inconvenient formality before the main event - the dessert menu. As his niece Hazel recalls "I will always remember the dances we had at family parties and the way he made a dash for the gateau". And yet despite his weakness for sweet things he always liked to keep fit and maintain a healthy weight.

He took great pride in his garden, and rightly so considering the incredible patience he invested in it, growing all his plants from seeds in his greenhouse before transplanting them out in geometrically perfect rows resulting in a blaze of colour which was the envy of the neighbourhood. And naturally he often got into conservation with passers-by who felt moved to compliment him on his splendid display.

He was a real sun worshipper and loved our family holidays, which we often shared with my mum's older sister Betty and her family. (I'm delighted to see the lads - Nigel, Martin and David - are here today.) Even when we cousins reached the age when it was no longer cool to go on holiday with our parents, my Mum and Dad continued to enjoy sunny breaks with Bet and Ray to Jersey, The Canaries and Portugal in particular where they had many happy times together.

My Dad also made the most of the sunshine back home, and in our secluded back garden he was often to be found on sunny days nonchalantly sprawled out au naturel on a chair outside the back door. So in the Summer it was always best to remember to use the front door when returning home with any guests...

And then of course there was his love of music. His radio was a constant companion when he was gardening, and he often sang along without inhibition. Indeed he loved singing in public - something he'd felt since childhood when he switched churches just so he could join their choir. In the 1980's he joined the Coventry Operatic Society and was a member of the chorus for more than a decade appearing in productions of many of his favourite musicals. He took great delight that his youngest grand-daughter Rosanna has followed in his footsteps, and she will soon be making her own tribute on behalf of all of the grandchildren with her rendition of Black Hills of Dakota from Calamity Jane. (Dad admired both Howard Keel and Doris Day greatly, though possibly for different reasons...)

With Dad's cheery disposition, it's difficult to believe he was once mistaken for a terrorist! The story goes as follows:-

According to my Dad he had a brief but urgent "business" call in the city centre. (On the basis of the proximity to a favoured betting shop, that detail may not have been entirely accurate, but to be kind we'll accept his version.) Unfortunately there were no parking spaces available in the area, so in desperation he decided to risk the double-yellow lines directly outside the Coventry City Council House and just across the road from the main Police Station. At the time we were in the middle of the IRA's mainland bombing campaign. Since he was trying to be quick, he'd dashed away from his car which was understandably misconstrued as highly suspicious by some vigilant member of the public. Just to make matters worse he had left his copy of The Sun in plain view on the dashboard with its sensational "IRA Terror Alert" headline showing. Consequently, when he returned several minutes later he found a police constable ushering people away from the area until the bomb squad could arrive to set up a proper cordon. Amazingly (and I still don't know how he got away with it) Dad managed to blag his way out, charming the officer into letting him go without so much as a parking ticket!

The one redeeming aspect of Dad's illness was that over time it suppressed his desires for the active life he could no longer achieve, and he became content to simply savour the care and love bestowed on him by his family, friends, and the caring staff of the Warwickshire Nursing Home where he spent his last two years. He continued to enjoy listening to music in particular and simply the warmth of the company around him.

I must at this point pay tribute to my wonderful mother Dorothy, who did her utmost to care for my Dad at the family home, until his degree of debility simply made it physically impossible for her to do so. The love and dedication she showed through that difficult period was nothing short of heroic. She has been a tower of strength and an inspiration to us all. Dad couldn't always express it but I know he appreciated all that you did, Mum, as did we.

I'd like to summarise with a quote from his long-time friend, Ian Brown, whom I phoned to let him know of Dad's passing, and to thank him for all his friendship and support over the years. He replied "Well, Andrew, he was just such a nice chap" and I thought, Yes - that's it in a nutshell... Don Pickering the man I was proud to call my father.

And now over to Rosie...

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