This post is based on the speech I delivered at a funeral last Friday. Some attendants have requested a written version; this is for them. I'm sorry for redacting the name of the deceased, but it's always been my policy to keep this blog anonymous.
Mumsie would sometimes talk about funerals.
Nothing significant in that. She talked about everything, all the time, with complete disregard for her audience. But sometimes the endless carousel of topics in her head would throw up "funerals", and those of us trapped at the dinner table with her would smile and nod politely and wait for the subject to change. All I remember from those moments, now, is that she liked the idea of a funeral as a celebration of the deceased's life, rather than an orgy of grief.
Well, I'm sorry Mumsie, but I'm grieving.
I remember when she first told me about death. I have no idea, now, whose death she was talking about, beyond that it must have been someone I knew. She explained it as a form of going away that meant we could never see them again - they couldn't visit us, we couldn't visit them or phone or write or anything.
I didn't understand. Why would they do that? She said that sometimes you have no choice, and everyone has to die.
I still didn't understand. Who could force a grownup to do such a thing? And when she said "everyone", obviously she couldn't mean everyone, because that would include her. The idea of a world in which I couldn't see her - was far beyond my comprehension.
As I grew more and more distressed, I begged her - pleaded as only a child can plead - to promise that she, at least, wouldn't die. But she was adamant that she would. When that line of attack failed, I begged her to promise that at least she wouldn't die for a very, very long time. She said she'd try.
She kept the second part of that promise for 40 years, and now she's followed through on the first part.
And that was typical of her. What she said she would do, she did.
We remember the endless home-improvement projects, each of which began with her saying something like "I've been thinking I'd like a jacuzzi". From most people I know, that sort of remark is just casual conversation; but when Mumsie said it, it was a serious threat, a solemn declaration of war on the state of Things As They Were. And the self-improvement projects - the degree that she took ten years to earn, the entry into the workforce at an age when most people are thinking of retirement, the repeated attempts to quit smoking.
But most of all, what I will try to take from her memory is the courage. The courage of a woman who, in her 20s, left behind everything she knew to settle in a new country. In her 70s, and in frail health, she undertook the 30-hour journey to the far side of the world to help us look after her newborn grandson. The unfailing love that never stopped giving, until it had nothing more to give.
I hope your Viking ancestors were watching all that from Valhalla, Mumsie. They would have been proud of you.