Last Sunday (appropriately Valentine’s Day) my family had a Celebration of Life for my mother, Elaine Proctor. She died on 24 January 2016 from kidney cancer. She also had Alzheimer’s at the time which was considerably advanced. Initially diagnosed with four to six months to live, she went downhill very quickly and was dead within a month of diagnosis.
It wasn’t a thing she dreaded. Mum was happy to go. She was 87, had lived a good life and her Alzheimer’s had made her not want to continue. We respected her decision.
At her request, and our agreement, there was no funeral. not even at the crematorium. Mum didn’t want any fuss and certainly didn’t want anyone turning up in dark-coloured clothes all teary-eyed. She had told us well in advance that we were just to have a simple get-together of family and friends and have a few drinks.
So that’s what we did. A morning tea and a champagne toast. I gave the eulogy, and I thought in respect to my Mum and those who perhaps couldn’t make it, I’d put it here. So this is it:
When I sat down to write this eulogy, I wanted to be able to sum up Mum in a sentence, some concise few words that would embrace her essence, her character.
Eventually I came up not with a sentence but just two words: Unconditional Love.
Mum loved her family without question. She married a fantastic man who loved her just the same. In case you don’t speak French, the Edith Piaf song you heard at the start of this celebration , “La Vie en Rose”, is about how the love of a man and woman can make them both see the good things in life, see each other through rose-coloured glasses. That’s how Mum and Dad saw each other, through a filter of unconditional love. And we, her three sons, had the benefit of that love as well.
No matter what happened, Mum’s love was always there. She would stress over us, worry about us, try to solve our problems even when we didn’t want her to, correct our behaviour when she thought it necessary and always sought the best for us. Mum always had an opinion, but she was sometimes shy of expressing it to those outside the family or close friends. She was a woman of remarkable intelligence and ability, guided in all decisions by what she saw as the right thing to do.
I don’t know if many people knew it, but Mum kept a diary. It wasn’t a daily thing. Sometimes whole months or even years would go by without a record, but especially when we three kids were little, Mum recorded incidents and conversations which she felt summed up her family life at the time. She would show these to us, sometimes to our embarrassment, years later because she wanted to share those moments when we were too young to see the funny side.
So today, at the risk of embarrassing both myself and my brothers, and one or two other people present, I’m going to read some extracts from the early years. This then is the dark underbelly of the Proctor family during the 1950’s and 60’s.
Russell has six teeth and is crawling everywhere. I always grubby. We got the gates for the top of the stairs to keep Russell in. He promptly climbed to the top aged 8 1/2 months. He can say Dad Dad and click his tongue and never stops doing it. Such an accomplishment.
Jeremy and Susan [cousin] have had a field day with the car. One day’s haul was 3 rags, 2 pegs 3 ice cream sticks and a screw driver put down the petrol tank. Also on several days handfuls of dirt all over. They’ve also had my handfuls all over their respective bottoms.
Today Mark asked for 2 pounds of butter to hold so he could see how heavy they felt as baby polar bears always weighed 2lbs when they were born. This is the middle of the breakfast rush.
Tonight at dinner the children were playing guessing games. Jeremy said “Something small, beginning with ‘r’ and it lives under the water.” Russell said, “A hippopotamus.” :That’s close,” says Jeremy. “Actually it was a rabbit.”
Larry passed his exams and we are all pleased for him. Now we have had 5 months wonderful relaxation and he’s finding it hard to start study again. More exams in Sept. 2nd part DPM [Diploma of Psychiatric Medicine] as we have a wonderful offer of a year’s locum from Nev Parker.
Mark is a cub scout again and is loving it. He went to the pictures in town today by himself. I took all three on Tuesday to “Alladin” and “Tarzan” and even though Russell did spend half the time among the ice cream cartons on the floor at least this time we stayed the distance.
Larry and I, or just Larry really, has to finance 39 years of school and university. Still, I guess we are spending our money on the best commodity available.
Mark loving Churchie [school]. Is captain of his football team and captain of his school class. This is his third term at Churchie. We are very proud of him.
The purpose of these extracts is simply to show that Mum’s family was the uppermost thing in her mind. That she wanted to be where she was, doing what she wanted. When we had grown up and fled the nest, Mum went to university to study sex therapy in order to help Dad in his career. Now she was able to earn extra income because she no longer had to look after us on a day to day basis. She still found a way to help the family even when she didn’t really have to. She was a woman who saw the importance of a career. She’d had one before she was married, and she still wanted one afterwards.
That’s what Mum was like. She could have taken it easy, but she didn’t. Contributing to the family was always in her mind.
Neither Mum nor I are spiritual or religious. But one day, when I was still going to school, I asked her if there was a meaning to life. Why were we put on this Earth? And she came up with an answer I didn’t expect. She didn’t know about anyone else, she told me, but she was put on Earth to have the family she did. Three boys who would grow up as three very different individuals and do things that no one expected. In other words, her purpose in life was to give life. Both her own to her family, and to help create the family itself.
And the family wasn’t just her three sons. She had grandchildren, Alissa and Emma, and now great-grandchildren, Maya and Arielle, who are also part of Mum’s legacy.
So, Unconditional Love. That was Mum’s gift to us. Love to show us that giving to others, for others, was what made her happy.
It made us happy too.
I will miss the good times and the bad. I will miss Mum’s smile, the way she obsessed over Humphrey the Cat. I will miss how when I was in primary school I would read Winnie the Pooh stories to her while she cooked dinner. Many other things. But we three sons carry with us the memories that will never leave us. If we miss those things such as those incidents I read out from the diary, then it was our pleasure and privilege to have experienced them.
So what do we say as our final words to Mum? Good bye obviously, We Love you, certainly. But there is one other phrase that must be said.
Mum – Thank you.