Unconditional Love – A Eulogy for Elaine Proctor

GetAttachment

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 toAlladin” 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.

 

 

Life and Death

My mother is dying.

This isn’t an easy concept to come to terms with. The woman who gave me life is coming to the end of hers. She has Alzheimer’s, which for those who have never experienced such a thing is utterly incomprehensible. You can learn about Alzheimer’s, you can read about it. But the only way to know it is to go through it.

It’s probably one of the worst diseases of all. Here in Australia there used to be a TV series called “Mother and Son”, in which Ruth Cracknell played Maggie Bear, a woman with senile dementia. Her son, played by Gary McDonald, spent many “hilarious” episodes dealing with his mother’s affliction in such ways as caused much laughter.

Fuck off.

Alzheimer’s is a shit disease. There’s nothing funny about it. Nothing at all. While we’re at it, let’s laugh about cancer. Let’s laugh about 89 people killed in a Paris nightclub by terrorists. That’s the amount of fun Alzheimer’s disease is.

My mother is dying, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And it tears me apart, because the disease causes disruption between myself and my mother. I’m not angry at her, I’m angry at the disease which is killing her mind. But she does things which make me angry, things neither of us can do anything about.

The worst thing is, my father had Alzheimer’s too. And my mother had to look after him for the last four years of his life. Now she has it, and while I would willingly give my life for hers, that is a totally useless gesture in the face of this killer disease.

My mother is dying.

I will be the one to discover her corpse. That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? One morning I will walk in to discover my mother dead in her bed. That’s not something I’m looking forward to, but it’s going to happen. Each morning I wake up and check on my mother sleeping in her bed and make sure she is still breathing.

Life and death. And love. Because that’s all I have left.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Why Nothing Works

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to say something totally radical and see who tells me I’m a complete moron. I’m also going to see who agrees with me and who says ‘Yes, you have a point, but…’

Because all of those points of view are valid.

So this is what I’m going to say: No one is right.

That’s right. No one is right. Right?

As we grow up, various people tell us what is right and what is wrong. Most of the time, at least during our early years, these people are relations. Parents, uncles and aunts, well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) brothers and sisters and cousins unto the fourth and fifth generations. Later on, these people are teachers, and friends, and then celebrities and even later on, they are our own children and then grand-children and basically the rest of society telling us do it this way or get out of town.

But in the end, the only person you should listen to is yourself.

And here’s the rider on that last statement that completely throws caution to the wind: not even you are right.

You’re wrong, ok? And so am I. And so is my mother, and your mother, and Kanye West and your favourite teacher in primary school and that man up on the pulpit telling you what you have to believe, and your favourite song and that inspirational meme you found on Facebook this morning.

Inspiration1

None of them (us). Because none of them (us) has the slightest idea what they’re (we’re) talking about. And they (we) never have.

You see, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every single one of the 108 billion people who have ever lived has had to wing it. That isn’t to say we haven’t looked for guidance, or embraced life lessons with a fervour that has often led to misunderstanding. Religion has brought comfort to billions of those billions, and yet has also caused divisiveness on a global and catastrophic scale. Worldly wisdom is both comforting and self-contradictory. Science strives to give us answers and yet produces more questions. Even your mother (sorry to bring her up, but she is important) has changed her mind about how best to raise you. But none of them, I venture to say, has the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

And this is perfectly natural. Because every one of those 108 billion people has been an individual. Unique. As a teacher, I try to instil the art of critical thinking in my students. ‘Question everything!’ I demand. ‘Even what I’m saying to you now!’ The ability to ask questions is the single greatest ability of the human mind, which is the single greatest and most complex organ in the known universe. ‘The worst reason for believing something,’ I continue, foam often frothing in the corners of my mouth, ‘is that someone told you it was so!’

I have no idea if any of my students have ever done what I have implored. It may well be a good thing if they haven’t. Because knowing that life is basically a make-it-up-as-you-go scenario and nothing anyone has ever said actually means squat is not the most comforting way to live one’s life.

Let me give you an example. Maybe more than one.

I’m a writer. I’ve had books and short stories published. This makes me feel good. I enjoy knowing that people are reading what I’ve written. I have so far made a bit of money from my writing. Not much, but making money isn’t why I write.  If I was slaving over a hot computer in order to make money I’d be in the IT industry or something to do with computers that actually made money. That’s my conscious decision and I’m fine with that. But I’ve read a lot about how to write books, and how to promote what I’ve written and how to make sales and I’ve also read a lot about how what I read about promotion actually doesn’t work and even the Big Five publishers have no idea what they’re doing and if I listened to both sides of the argument my head would explode. So nobody knows what they’re doing.

Take elections. Any elections. Nothing divides people more completely than politics. Except maybe religion. Both politics and religion have been responsible for an immense amount of human suffering, possibly to the same degree. But let’s take politics, because if you started me on religion my head would explode, and it’s already done that once so far since you started reading this. It doesn’t actually matter what politics a particular candidate wants to follow. Because all politicians are united in one way: a politician is utterly useless unless he or she is in power. So a politician’s whole agenda is geared towards getting into power, by whatever means possible. Once in power, he or she has the sole agenda of staying in power as long as possible, because otherwise they have no meaning. So politics is pointless, because ultimately nothing they do makes any point, because their whole agenda is self-centred.

Take science. I love science. Science has put people on the Moon and created this computer I’m typing on now and even saved my life when I was nine years old and was very, very sick. I have nothing against science personally. But it really does make life difficult. It’s got hard mathematics and big words and forces people to think and let’s face it, most people don’t want to think. They want answers, and all science does is provide ones they don’t want to know about. Global warming? Way inconvenient! Vaccines are safe? But that means the ‘research’ I did on the internet about how it causes autism is wrong! Evolution? But that means God may not actually exist! Excuse me, but I’m not sure I want to know that! And then you get scientists who don’t agree with each other. Where is that going?

Take human relations. I’m divorced. I got married and it lasted less than a year before my wife and I separated. I’m not casting blame here; it was the fault of both of us. We applied for a joint dissolution of marriage and were quite amicable about it. I even remember that after the divorce we both went to lunch together to celebrate. Human relations (love, romance, sex) are so unbelievably difficult that people like me just have no idea what is going on. There are a million how-to books and websites on obtaining a mate, and dating services and copious amounts of advice from friends and relations. And in the end we end up (or don’t) with someone. They may be the person of our dreams, Most often they aren’t. But most of us end up pretty much more or less happy. Usually. Or not. Because in the end, no one has the slightest idea about how to go about finding the right person to wake up next to forever.

Take diets. No, actually, don’t. Literally.

Look, I could go on. But basically, the point I’m making is that in every field of human endeavour there is a large number of people who spout all sorts of wisdom and how-to suggestions and tell us what it’s all about and what works and what doesn’t and what we must do in order to succeed or at least not fail or avoid fiery pits of eternity and in the end none of them actually have something that necessarily applies to us. We are all individuals.

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for you. Or me. Or anyone else. In the end, we’re all just making it up as we go.

I’m sorry if that’s depressing. But there’s nothing I – or you – can do about it.

Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Cats

I had to apologise to the cat last night.

It was my fault. I arrived home late from work. I’d been out tutoring and spent some extra time with a student and then had to go to the shop on my way home, and I got in about half an hour after I was supposed to. He was at the door, waiting for me. He had a few words to say, which I took on board and then apologised and promised to let him know in future if I’m going to be late.

His name is Humphrey. He’s a nine-year-old Rag Doll, which is the largest breed of domestic cat.

005

He isn’t the most active cat I’ve ever seen. In fact most of his time is spent horizontal. If he were to have an appointment diary, it would probably look something like this on a typical day:
4.00 am Wake up human. Demand food.
4.05 am Refuse to eat food given. Go back to sleep.
6.00am Wake up human. Lie on his chest. Purr.
6.10 am Eat breakfast set out at 4.05 am.
6.15 am Wash.
7.00 am Morning nap, outside under steps.
9.00am Enter house. Check food bowl. Complain.
9.10 am Look for sleeping spot for the day, preferably one most inconvenient to human.
9.20 am Sleep
5.00pm Wake up. Demand dinner.
5.30pm Join human watching TV. Wash.
7.00pm Check outside to make sure grounds are secure. Avoid neighbour’s dogs.
7.30 pm Enter house. Check human for possibility of being patted. Purr.
8.00pm Sleep.

As you can see, he spends a lot of time contemplating the mysteries of the universe while giving the appearance of being sleep. At least, that’s what he’d like us to believe.

297598_2048213045734_1348261557_na

He’s what you might call “high maintenance”. He needs a lot of grooming – Rag Dolls grow a lot of long hair. And despite his rigorous schedule, he does find time to get dirty, too: his work in the garden seems to involve a lot of digging and looking under things and exploring the bushes. He has a patch of lavender that he spends hours in, and we have to prune the lavender carefully to maintain his “special spot” in the middle where he can see out but passing people and dogs can’t see in. He is inordinately fond of tummy rubs. He is fussy about his food: won’t touch chicken, prefers room-temperature kangaroo meat, likes the more expensive brands of canned fish (shredded tuna with crab is a big favourite). And he only drinks water out of the tap. I have to turn the tap on and let it run into the kitchen sink so he can lap at it. If I put a bowl of water on the floor he won’t go near it.

2050_1231Cat0005

Of course, he doesn’t get it all his own way. He’s not allowed on the table when there is food there. He’s not allowed to sit on my crossword puzzle so I can’t read the clues. And he has to climb down the ship’s ladder to my office – I’m in the basement – all by himself. (He’s good at climbing ladders, and going down them is a complicated procedure of twisting and turning a complete circle on each step.)

But what is it about a cat that makes people go silly? Why do I climb out of bed at 4am to feed Humphrey, rather than tell him to go away or close the door so he can’t come in in the first place? Why do I tolerate his luxurious lifestyle?

Well, I love him, of course. Silly question, really. Don’t know why I even bothered to ask.

I have had other cats, or my family has. In fact, I can’t remember a time when our family didn’t have at least one. One of mine I remember fondly was named Groucho. He was white with brown eyebrows and a brown moustache (hence “Groucho”). He is immortalised in my novel Plato’s Cave  http://www.russellproctor.com/pages.php?tabid=12&pageid=2052&title=Plato%27s+Cave as Bruno, the cat of remarkably similar looks, owned by the main character. Phoebe was a Burmese owned by my parents. She survived a fall of four stories one night when she went for a stroll on the window ledge. Went on to live to ripe old age. Then there was Pinky, a stray that Dad found in a hospital one night and brought home. Never quite tame, she nevertheless found an eternal place in our hearts. And, of course, Rosie and Lucy and Wedl and Linus and Tup Tim and all the others.

Let’s face it, we love cats. And whilst Humphrey may be demanding and lazy and tends to walk across my laptop keyboard when I’m trying to write, I wouldn’t want him any other way.

There are many quotes about cats, but one of my favourites is from Jules Verne: “A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.”

Any cat lover would understand.

Go Date Yourself

So, Valentine’s Day approaches once again. Can’t say I care much.
Now you’re thinking I’m single and bitter about it. “Valentine’s Day? Bah! Humbug.” No Valentine; no partner; all alone in a hostile universe. Yes, I am single. But I am certainly not bitter.

wallpaper

I love being single. I’ve had romantic attachments. I was even married once. But right now I just don’t happen to like having someone else in my life. That’s just me. If you love someone, go for it. I don’t.

 
But having a partner isn’t everything. What I object to is the ideal that a large section of our society seems to uphold, that you need someone in your life – indeed, in the words of that abysmal actor Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire: “You complete me”. What a crock. We see this kind of pressure in movies, we hear it from our families and friends: you aren’t complete without someone else in your life.

Yes, you are.

Not everyone likes bananas. I hate bananas. I live in Queensland, Australia, where they grow a lot of bananas. And I hate them. I don’t have anything against them and or try to stop anyone else eating them. It’s the same with a relationship. I just don’t want one.

But why do so many people try to force others into a relationship? I’ve had friends with children who declare, “You must have a baby! It will change your life! You don’t know what you’re missing!” But I’m not going to bring a child into the world on the off chance I might like it. Making me happy is not a reason to create someone. That’s just selfish.

I am single but by no means desperate. Relationships and I just don’t work. And arguably they don’t work for a lot of other people too. That they do work for some is great. But it is merely generalisation to assume that what makes one person happy will do the same for another.

I used to be lonely, way back in my teens and twenties, very lonely indeed. But then I decided to ignore the loneliness and in doing so, I killed it. I don’t get lonely anymore. Solitude is very important to me.

So if you find yourself alone this Valentine’s Day, feel good about it. Rejoice in the fact that you are independent and empowered. Date yourself: take yourself to the movies, buy a box of chocolates (and eat all of them!), get a good bottle of wine for dinner, or have a romantic night in with yourself. There will be no one to ask what they want to do, no one to please but you, no guilt trip. You are your perfect date.

You deserve it.