My lovely Mum died very suddenly and unexpectedly this Christmas Eve, three months after my Dad also passed away.
There aren't really the words for her, she was truly extraordinary. But this was my attempt to pay tribute to her at the service:
Thankyou all so much for coming, it’s lovely to have you here with us. We very much want this to be a thanksgiving for Mum’s life and you are all helping it to be just that, so thankyou.
Many people have kindly sent us cards and messages expressing how much Mum had impacted their lives. Some of these people had known her for years and some of them only months, one person had met her very recently for just a week whilst on holiday. And yet they felt moved to share with us how she had encouraged, offered wisdom, challenged or comforted. She was an avid passer-on of her email address (often incorrectly) and she sent cards to people as if it was Christmas every day. She loved to share her life. But mostly she loved to share Jesus.
I remember one of my teenage school friends saying to me “I wish my Mum was like your Mum!” which surprised me because I assumed everyone’s Mum was like my Mum. Similarly, as the kids grew up and Mum and I spent years attending toddler groups, going to the park and sitting in the crèche at church, other young Mums would comment on how much time Mum and I chose to spend together. Mum always delighted in spending time with my brother and I and I don’t think either of realised until now just how lucky we were to have her as a Mum. Her favourite story involving Peter and I seemed to be of the time (after a considerable amount of baiting) Peter lost his rag and pushed me into the river at Vassal’s Park in Bristol. The river at Vassal’s Park had rats, so it wasn’t a quaint Enid Blyton-style rural escapade. But Mum thought it was hilarious.
Memories of Mum for Peter and I would include endless sewing of name tapes into school uniform, watching cricket and rugby matches with huge enthusiasm, amazing homemade lemon meringue pie and massive yorkshire puddings, constant happy singing, dancing to Good Golly Miss Molly played on the gramophone she bought from a junk shop, never missing a parent’s evening, never putting us under pressure to achieve academically, church twice on a Sunday without fail plus Sunday School in the afternoon, driving us here there and everywhere for all sorts of stuff, making us go for walks in the countryside when it was a little bit too cold and wet but ending up loving it anyway, reading the bible to us every night as children, visiting us at University accompanied by her trusty dog Bonnie, making us believe we were good at everything. Even me and Maths, which was a blatant lie. But there’s probably a get-out clause for lying about that sort of thing. Somewhere. Helping us to know that whatever we did she would always love us and always be there for us.
Memories for Matt would probably mainly be not giving up on praying for him or cajoling him (in her own inimitable way) until he understood who Jesus is and why he’s important. But also of how she admired his organisational skills and his love for his children, how she watched him playing cricket at Leicester whilst I fell asleep, being so thrilled when he left teaching to go to Bible college. Telling him his cooking was perfect, every time without fail. Especially the jacket potatoes.
Memories for the kids would include playing in the garden in the Rough Patch at Cherington Road, having their hair blow-dried even though they hated it. Watching all the films with Mum I wouldn’t let them see. Being told they were beautiful and talented and clever and sporty and artistic and musical and good at everything. Swimming in the freezing cold sea after school in Bournemouth. Triple-layer birthday cakes. Picnics on the carpet in her room. Their special bedroom in her flat, lovingly decorated. The “downstairs bathroom” in her flat which wasn’t downstairs at all. Generally being the apple of her eye and bringing her immense joy and pride.
Mum had a tough life. She was raised by parents who were religious and exceptionally concerned about public appearance. Last week someone who was Mum’s friend growing up called me and she told me that one of her abiding memories is of Mum watching the other children playing in the street, from behind the gates of the driveway. When she was asked to come and play she replied “I can’t”, because that was the mantra she was raised with. You can’t. As Peter and I grew up my Gran was persistently critical of Mum. As a child Grandad beat her and was verbally harsh. Though Grandad did soften towards Mum dramatically in his later years he was not an easy person to visit when we were children and we always approached the house with a sense of fear. Even on her deathbed my poor Gran was unable to express any affection towards Mum and rejected Mum’s gestures of love, which caused Mum huge pain. Mum was raised to feel a deeply-embedded lack of self-esteem which only God and his unconditional love was able to begin to conquer. It was always with her, but it didn’t cripple her and it didn’t get passed on to us. In fact, it made her the endlessly compassionate and sacrificial person that she was.
She served her family in the most extraordinary way, she loved us unconditionally. My Dad struggled with his responsibilities as a husband and Father and Mum picked up the considerable slack, never once complaining or even saying she was tired. In the face of abandonment she continued to visit Dad, pray for him and make sure he wasn’t completely isolated when he moved to Bristol. When Mum and Dad separated Mum wasn’t able to stay in the flat she took out a mortgage to buy, so she let it out and came to live with us. After Dad’s cancer diagnosis Dad also came to live with us and Mum tended to him and weathered his temperament in order to give him the most comfortable final months she could. It was excruciatingly difficult for her, but she was a warrior when it came to looking after other people, even those who showed her little or no affection or gratitude. Because she was doing it not only for them, but for Jesus.
Mum was a servant to other people. This often meant that she was treated like a servant by people who mistook her humility for insignificance. But one of the myriad lessons I have learned from Mum is not to judge. She always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. She spoke kindness frequently. She spoke criticism hardly ever. However, she didn’t suffer the gospel impediment of religious hypocrisy or token Christianity and she could spot that a mile off, in myself included. But she would listen to and help anyone. She invited difficult, time-consuming, lonely, broken, struggling people to her home for meals, bible studies, cups of tea, friendship and love. She befriended the young as they worked their way through relationships, jobs, life. She was a wonderful hybrid of non-conformity and tradition so she found it difficult to “fit” into churches who didn’t get her very personal and bespoke approach to sharing the gospel with non-christians. She didn’t do evangelism by the book, she did whatever the person needed. Usually a genuine listening ear, Starbucks, cake, searing biblical truth and love. And then a card in the post to make sure they knew that she was truly interested in supporting them. She bucked trends, she challenged the status quo. She never compromised biblical truth and she loved genuinely. She wasn’t perfect, of course she wasn’t. But she was an awful lot like Jesus.
Her greatest wish in life was that other people would see the love of Christ in her and be drawn to him. To find the forgiveness, love and freedom in him that she found. The verse from Philippians in the front of the Order of Service is Mum in a nutshell. Life was tough for her and it was all about Jesus. And now it’s still all about Jesus but it’s not tough any more.
We were all fully expecting to have Mum with us for at least another ten years. For weddings, births, coffees, shopping and slowly recovering together as a family from the many things that have shaken us over the last few years. It has been an indescribably devastating blow to lose her so suddenly. We all love her so dearly and there just aren’t words to even begin to describe the full extent of how bereft, fearful, hurt and shocked we all feel. Mum was the cement that has held the whole family together for since forever. It feels like the heart of the family has been ripped out because the heart of the family has been ripped out.
And yet, even as inwardly we rage against the fact that we even have to write a Eulogy for Mum - we have Christ. He knows the struggles we face as we move forward. Just as he knew Mum’s struggles and never left her, so we’re trusting that he will keep us. And given the choice Mum would absolutely not want to come back, we are all very clear on that!
So Mum, thankyou for everything you did to shape us as individuals and as a family. Thank you for showing us Jesus. Thank you for loving us unfailingly, praying for us relentlessly, teaching us faithfully and keeping our eyes fixed on God. You fought the good fight. You finished the race. You were a faithful servant and a shining light for the God you loved and served. We miss you but we also look forward to seeing you again. In Christ, where there’s death there’s also glorious hope. No doubt we’ll all be able to laugh about the fact that we’ve probably underestimated the number of sandwiches needed afterwards for the refreshments.
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far..."