On Saturday my wife and I travelled to a family commemoration near Bolton. It was to celebrate the life of her uncle, Tommy, a former GP, who had died the previous week aged 94. Such occasions are, inevitably, tinged with sadness and this one was no exception. However, like a similar event at the death of my own uncle, Bill, it truly was a celebration of a life.
At Bill’s funeral, I remember the family gathering in the house waiting for the hearse. This duly arrived and the undertaker walked towards the front door only to turn around and walk away. When he was called back, he commented that he thought he was at the wrong house because of all the laughter emanating from it. Bill would have loved that. Both the laughter and the surreal nature of the situation. Bill and his wife, Doreen, looked after me for five years and I remember him as a quietly dependable rock with a wonderfully dry sense of humour and an inexhaustible amount of patience. I was the lucky recipient of that and his and Doreen’s values have shaped my life; something that pleases me greatly.
Tommy’s commemoration was not as noisy although, in keeping with the man, it was just as humorous. Many stories were told of his quest for knowledge and enthusiasm for life. Traits I very much relate to as, to me, they are central to our existence. Tears and laughter were combined; indeed they became one as the stories unfolded. What was wonderful to see was his children reaching out to touch one another in comfort and support as they each spoke of their memories of their father. It was as if I was seeing them together as the children they had once been. It was also sad, in that a cornerstone of their lives was no longer in place. They may have been adults for many years but still adults who were children to a father. They now have to get on with their lives without that presence but, always, with the influence he left behind. Once the sadness has passed, however, the influence will remain and will be passed onto successive generations to help shape their lives as well.
When Gaynor and I left, we took with us a little booklet as a memory of Tommy’s life. In addition to family photos and an excerpt, “Sing Ho for the life of a bear” from “The House at Pooh Corner”, it contained a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What is Success?” In it, he writes of laughing often and loving much before moving on to the part I really like and which Tommy’s family obviously felt related very much to him.
“To find the best in others
To give one’s self
To leave the world a better place, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation”
And, lastly and most importantly,
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
This is to have succeeded”
Isn’t that why we’re here?