Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eulogy for Gordon

Given by his son Michael at Coychurch Crematorium Chapel, Thursday, June 10th, 2010.

Eulogy for Gordon

We are gathered here to bear Christian witness to the memory of my father Gordon Womersley. Gordon wasn’t from this area, and so there aren’t very many of us and indeed most of the folks who would want to be here have passed away themselves, or like Gordon’s wife Jean or sister Barbara are too ill themselves to make the journey.

But I tend to think funerals are perhaps as much to cherish the living as the dead, and if this funeral is for Gordon, it is also for my sister Carol and Gordon’s brother Stan and his wife Rita, and even my mother who is in her own hospital bed, although she can’t be here and is perhaps too far gone to even properly know that her beloved husband is dead.

Which as Thelma said yesterday and I knew she was right, is in fact a blessing of sorts.

So what can a son say about his father at a funeral that will do justice to a man’s life and make any living sense whatsoever? Especially in the face of the tragedy of his long illness and mental confusion, all the fuss and bother, tears and worry, and then the eventual but inevitable passing?

Certainly not much, and definitely never enough.

But we all have to do our best.

Even though mother can’t be here, and that is truly tragic, I don’t have good enough words to describe how grateful Carol and I are, though, to have our family here, especially Rita and Stan and David and Beverly. And how brilliant and fitting it is that our own cousin can serve as the minister and that Beverly will sing for us and that I can say these few words on my father’s behalf. Carol and I are deeply grateful.
The entire affair, this part of it at least, will be in the control of the family, which is exactly what Dad, who we all know was a bloody-minded "my home is my castle" Englishman to the core, would have appreciated.

Other than bloody mindedness and Englishness, what else must we who are left always remember of Gordon? I don’t have time to cover it all, so I have to pick some features and leave others.

I want to remind you of his creativity.

My father was an exceptionally creative man, somewhat to the concern of his much more stable but devoted wife Jean.

You see, he would have these ideas.

Nothing too dangerous, is it, just an idea? But then he would make the ideas actually happen. That was the dodgy part. And life would get terribly exciting and interesting, and perhaps for mother just a little disconcerting.

I’ll always remember the time he decided to make butter. That was an idea. He collected all the cream off the milk for a week, put it in a jar, and on Sunday morning put the racy jazz tune “Peanut Vendor” on the radiogram and danced up and down our living room, us kids dancing too, until he had it, and there it was, real butter.
Tasted right, too.

Or the time he had the idea to take the family to Switzerland. Our first foreign holiday. I’ve had quite a few since. But not to fly, or go on the train like normal people. To drive, all the way, with our own van and caravan to live in. We all piled in our Toyota van with a caravan attached. Mother filled the spaces under the seats with good British tinned food, because, well you never know with foreigners. And she checked twice to make sure she’d turned off the gas.

And we drove all the way through England and France to Switzerland and even somehow arrived and, then, miracle of miracles, even came safely back. There was the small problem of blowing a valve somewhere in France that tested my schoolboy French and mother’s supplies of canned food. But we made it. This was a lot more exciting holiday than most of the other kids at Tapton School could talk about, and thanks to Dad’s photography, we had the pictures to prove it.

One idea that he had that also worked was that he and indeed my mother and eventually Stan and Rita too could make a living selling hand-made chocolates.

Now that was an idea that caused us all no end of trouble. But, I think we would all have to admit, it also provided a decent living for quite a long time. And how many people can say that, that they came up with their own personal, independent way of making a living and made it work, not just for themselves, but for two entire families.

There are other unique aspects of his character I’d like to celebrate, his love for music, his love for the British landscape, his creativity with film and video and photography. His love of railways, real and modeled. How many of us remember the Sheffield Model Railway exhibitions he used to help organize? How big and grand they were, in the Cutlers Hall, thousands upon thousands of attendees. And we must remember how much he loved jazz and the musicals.

We don’t have very long, so we must move on, but with the exhibitions and the chocolate and the jazz festivals and the like, and with just being an interesting, lively and creative fellow, we must always remember that Gordon Womersley brightened the lives of many, many people.

Although I’m sad, I'm somewhat settled with the thought of Dad's passing. He had been very ill for what seemed like a very long time, with very little quality of life left to him, and my sister's life was turned upside down by having to first care for him and mother and then having to visit both of them in hospital, different hospitals thirty-five minutes away from each other on busy roads. My sister has been brilliant throughout all of this, and indeed that’s the only way my wife and I have been able to keep our good jobs and our precious beautiful farm in America, because Carol has simply done it all. Without her I’d have lost it all to come home and do what she’s done these years. Thank you, Carol from all of us.

Mother is now bedridden and can speak little and breathes only slowly. Her hands are often cold. She can still brighten and share a laugh or a memory for an instant or two. But she fades fast. And she must too pass, one day soon. We have to face that and do our best for her while she lives.

Then my sister will be free to get on with her life.

So at least one person I care about is better off as a result. And through the tears, I’m honestly grateful for that.

And I can't honestly say that Dad isn't also better off at this point than he was these last few weeks. Or that mother won't be. At least Dad’s terrible struggles with memory loss and confusion are over, while Mother is being visited almost daily by walking, talking images, seemingly crystal clear memories of her parents, which are to her perhaps more real and present than the visitors at the bedside are.

As a scientist I’m not supposed to believe in ghosts or spirits but it is terribly comforting to think of mother being with her own mother and father and husband again.

Knowing my grandfather Arthur and grandmother Lettie, as long as I don’t think about it, as long as I don’t engage the scientist part of me, it seems natural that in the time of crisis mother talks with her parents again, whom she and I and my sister loved very deeply, and it seems natural that at times like she is almost with them already. I’m sure that Dad has or will soon join them.

And the circle of life goes on.

Gordon will be cremated here today. Eventually, in a few days or months but probably not years, my sister will scatter his and mother's ashes in Whiteley Woods, Sheffield, close to the cottage the Watson family occupied from the mid 1800s until the late 1990s. This is the old "fulwood" or folk-wood, centuries past a public woodlot for firewood and lumber, but now a park. It's been a community-owned and -operated landscape feature for perhaps over 800 years. Dad will be part of that landscape, part of the bluebells in spring and the holly in winter. We can go see him there. As a farmer and a forester I appreciate that deeply.

And the circle of life goes on.

We the living have to get back to our lives, and live them as well as we can in honor of the dead.

So that’s all I have to say here, and I think it’s enough, except to say thank you all for coming to help us bear witness to the life of Gordon Womersley, my father.


  1. Mick - I've been reading this blog for a long time and have never commented, but just need to tell you that this is a beautiful post. Sympathies and best wishes from down the road in Vassalboro...

  2. Very touching post/speech indeed. I only know too well the mixed feeling when a loved one suffering from memory issues and confusion as you describe passes away.

    I can only repeat what the first commenter said, my sincere sympathies and best wishes!


  3. I'm sorry to hear about your dad, Mick.


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