It was my Uncle Bill‘s funeral yesterday and I know this steps outside the bounds of my usual postings but I felt I wanted to share something, and hopefully why will become clearer to me as I write.
Uncle Bill was a wonderfully warm part of my childhood. He was always looking for the humour in situations and seemed, I don’t know.. ‘light’ about things, nothing mattered too much; so different to most other adults I knew. Like my Grandfather he was an encouraging influence on me, and, although a small man, he always filled a room with the joy he took from life. If you’re British and I say the person he most reminds me of is Del Trotter from Only Fools and Horses, you’ll know what I mean.
At the service yesterday a highlight was his brother David telling us some stories about him, one of which particularly illustrates his way. Bill often helped David with house clearances and removals. One day they were moving a big sofa out of a posh house and, as they went through the door, the sofa caught a shelf and an antique vase fell to the floor and smashed. Quick as a flash Bill said to the shocked woman, “Was that new?” “No,” she managed to reply, “it’s really, really old.” “Thanks goodness for that!” exclaimed Bill and kept on going. They didn’t get any repeat business…
I was surprised how his stories brought the Bill of my childhood so strongly to mind, and being British I fought tremendously hard to limit my tears (how ridiculous are we in that regard?). Luckily his favourite hymn All things bright and beautiful gave me an opportunity to recover – as I listened to the words I caught myself wondering if the author had ever heard of Darwinism. “The Lord God made them all”, really? “He made their glowing colours, he made their tiny wings”. What about natural selection? That internal rant helped, as did the sermon. I find priests, nice as they are, tend to take the opportunity to preach to a captive audience, which gave me more time to let my mind wander and recover its poise, but I wish there’d been less of the preaching and more of the remembering. The church was standing room only, and I’m sure many there had similar stories that would have continued the laughter from David’s stories and which seemed the most appropriate way of commemorating Bill.
Outside afterwards, I went with my brothers and sister to look at the small plaque to my Nan and Granddad that decorates a rose border in the grounds of the crematorium. I learned that these little plaques are rented and when the rent lapses they’re removed. What a weird job that must be, holding the chisel that consigns someone to oblivion. Which is one reason for posting this today; somehow cyberspace seems a better place to commemorate a life than a communal rose bed.
It struck me that Bill was like a vast number of people; people who live a quiet life, leave the world not much worse than they found it and along the way do a lot of quiet good. His son Kevin told me how his dog walks often took three hours because of the number of people who’d stop him to talk, and to have 150 people at your wake, in a small village, is a telling verdict on the value of your life. People like Bill are lost to history, but the ripples they spread are no less valuable than someone who gets a Times obituary.
So, by reading this, you’ve kept a quiet life remembered, and I thank you for taking the time, as I thank him for taking his time with me. Adulthood often separates us physically from our childhood heroes – I probably only saw him three times in the last 15 years – but their influence continues.
While I have you here, this is a poem I wrote at my Grandfather’s passing, which I realised yesterday, reading his plague, was 25 years ago. Another quiet life. It contradicts everything I believe about the afterlife, but sits perfectly with my choosing to believe whatever helps me most in the moment. All you need to know to understand it is that a Panther is an old make of motorcycle., and the ‘fleet were our local football team.
Young boy sat on gate, getting late,
Listening for the Panther, ears-a-strain
Hoping for its echo in the lane.
At last it brings you home, hungry for the hearth
But still you sit me on the tank
And roar me up the garden path.
Change-jangling, flat capped, scarf wrapped,
Cheering on the ‘fleet amongst the crowd
Young boy growing up, old boy growing old,
Our hands your greatcoat pockets share,
Cosy caves against the terrace cold.
Tune-whistling, sweat soaked, dust choked,
With fork and cut down spade we turn the allotment soil
Then plant the seedlings ordered row on row.
Joined by blood, joined by toil,
Our bond beside the carrots grow.
An evening, both sit, firelit,
Resting chin on palm, elbow on a knee,
Pondering over Knight to Bishop Three.
Another seedling coaxed to grow.
Granddad, how I loved our moments,
But did I ever think to let you know?
Time moves a boy to man,
An older man to dust.
Life and time just move apart
As eventually we must.
A lesson for me in pain to come,
A chance to learn to grieve,
But though I know that you have gone,
I’ve never felt you leave.
So here, maybe in addition to catharsis, is the reason I felt I wanted to write something. It’s just a suggestion, but take some time to sit and think of people from your past you’re grateful to.
In Positive Psychology they suggest you write them a letter and, if you want it to help boost your self-esteem, ask yourself what it was about you that caused them to do what you’re grateful for?
What did they see in you?
If you don’t feel that need, just remember them and be grateful. It keeps the ripple rippling.