“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s NEVER any convenient time for any of them.” Those words of Margret Mitchell (1936 Gone with the wind) sums up a paradox for us all. Inevitability and un-readiness. On the 6th of January, the day of the three kings or if you will Christmas Day in the Gregorian Calendar may father died suddenly in Malta, his adopted home. In NO WAY was I prepared for that!! NO WAY at all NOT LEAST being spent out after Xmas.
In honouring the fallen we remember those they leave behind and their need of solace. Tonight Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests I want to give you an insight into how my family and I have sought Solace.
I believe in Solace we seek KINSHIP because we fear aloneness, ENGAGEMENT because we feel powerless, MEANING because it seems pointless. These needs emerge throughout the three major events which have brought deepening senses of closure. I will tell you about The funeral in Gozo Island, Malta, The Memorial reception in London, and shortly The memorial fundraiser back in Gozo and show how solace was found.
The funeral and grave (11th January)
In the first 24 hours my sister Antonia, my brother Benedict, and myself rushed to be with mum. In that moment we became my parent’s family again for the first time since 1988, all be it with a missing man. We found our first laugh as a family when we realised my father had slid from this world to the next without paying for his last dinner. We had lots to do to arrange an expatriate funeral and wake – it kept us productively busy and prevented us brooding and mopping.
At the funeral I read from Isaiah a message of hope for those who are afflicted and fear death and my brother read from Corinthians a message the death is swallowed in victory. Reading over your father’s coffin is tough, but as the eldest brother I retained composure giving my younger brother and other speakers the chance to keep theirs. It meant alot as I stepped off the podium to be told “Good Speaking” by The Anglican Chaplain who was a robust military man like the gruff actor James Robertson Justice.
A large cross section of the expatriate community came to the wake at my parents home and it means alot that my father touched the lives of so many. On the grave my mother placed a large fountain bowl and told the three children, ten grandchildren and visiting family friend to find and place a cute beach pebble that catches their eye when on holiday. The grave lies in a valley in sight of the two homes that my parents owned in retirement on Gozo.
The Memorial reception (27th January)
My father’s family have a strong sense of togetherness, being all descended from the Georgian household of George Sandars MP and most of them from four of five brothers at their prime in WW2. It is normal for us to have a periodic London gatherings hosted by the most senior cousin working there. One was due at the end of January to catch my parents on a UK visit. It was rapidly reconstitute as a memorial reception and the guest list extended to my father’s UK family and friends.
My father’s elder brother and head of the extended family Colonel Hugh would deliver a eulogy. In a eulogy it is important to embody the broadest set relationships to the deceased and not only your own. Concerned that Hugh would over play my father’s military childhood my mother asked for a three way split between Hugh remembering as brother, Me remembering as child and Liese an honorary sister remembering for the grand children. I presented my eulogy to the Cranfield Speakers on the 22nd February.
During that weekend in London all fourteen of my father’s survivors were together as family including eighteen month Annabelle. That feat was a family first, but without my father. Let it not be the last.
The Memorial fundraising garden party (3rd August)
Next Friday my Mother has again invited me to deliver a eulogy. This time the occasion is a garden party to raise funds for heart equipment for the hospital on Gozo. My father’s fellow Rotarians are organising this event. They will retain ownership of the equipment to ensure it stays in place. A memorial plaque to my father will be placed in the hospital and on the equipment. It adds meaning to his life.
The event coincides with the holidays of the families Antonia and her friend Liese. My brother will also be there.
My brother and I have scanned every family photo containing my father from childhood. We have made a set of collage posters for display. We will compile everything into a memorial “This is your life book” for the immediate family.
Death teaches you what matters in life. For us peace was found and hope was reborn in Kinship, Engagement and Meaning.
On returning with my family in June the overwhelming feeling is one of peace and that he will always be with us on holiday there in his adopted home. Home is important! Consider these words of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)
UNDER the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
The ability to speak up in public and lead in remembrance is important. Toastmasters gave me an unplanned edge.
For Competent Communication Project 6 Vocal Variety