I could hardly let this date pass without marking it appropriately.
Three years ago, on this date, we lost my wonderful mother-in-law, Bettina Gregory. She was known to one and all as ‘Tina’ and so that’s how I’ll refer to her throughout the rest of this piece.
It was a traumatic time for those of us who remained, as although she had been generally unwell for some time and had numerous ailments and potentially life-threatening conditions, she died very suddenly on a Wednesday tea-time, in early May. After being married to Dad for fifty-one years, he was nightmarishly and abruptly alone.
It was unexpected. I think that we had all imagined that she would in fact go on for ever. It was a huge shock to all of us and brought the family together in mourning for the first time in what was probably many years.
The purpose of this piece is not to detail the hows and wherefores of her death, but to celebrate her life. I begged to be allowed to say a few words at her funeral and I feel it is appropriate to honour her today by publishing that eulogy. It was a sad and solemn occasion, of course, but when we looked around at our marvelous family, how we pulled together at that time of terrible crisis, I was uplifted and humbled that these wonderful people accepted me as one of them.
Here’s what I said on that occasion:
“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
When I first met Tina, nearly 32 years ago, she was doing what she loved to do – entertaining family and friends to celebrate Tracie’s 18th birthday. She was completely unfazed when Mark turned up with a couple of friends in tow and went out of her way to make me feel completely welcome and at ease with everyone. I recall being astounded by the glorious banquet that she provided – and by the way she clucked around like a mother hen, making sure everyone was ‘properly fed and watered’. Tina was in her element when there was a party to prepare for – she loved to make people feel happy and content, it was what she craved. In recent years, it has been difficult at times to remember this, but Tina was always ready to celebrate every event in life, from the birth of a cherished grandchild to the passing of the old year into the new. It is important to celebrate her life today.
Family remained the most important thing to her, above all else; this was something I was not aware that I had ever experienced before. True, I had a family of my own, disparate and detached for a variety of reasons, but this open joy at the mere company of other family members was fascinating and awe-inspiring for me. I was so overcome with the wonder of it that I demanded to know from Mark what her favourite flowers were and for the very first time, I sent flowers to express my thanks for her (and Dad’s of course!) fantastic hospitality. They were white roses, yellow freesias and lily-of-the-valley. When I came to stay again a couple of weeks later, she had clearly been touched by my gesture and I like to think she saw me in a different light to others at the time – not just a gauche teenager with a crush on her son! I was enormously grateful for that acceptance, so willingly given.
I will forever be in her debt because she taught me the most important lesson in life – unconditional love for your family. She expressed her love for us all by feeding us. And boy, could she feed us! Who cannot recall staggering away from Boxing Day meals to collapse in a heap on the green sofa, only to then be plied with more treats, nuts, chocolates and the promise of exploring the mysterious depths of the Cupboard-Under-The-Stairs? As the years went by and I watched the extents to which she would go to get ready for the latest event, I began to truly understand how she needed these times to show us her devotion; she barely slept before our wedding in the Spring of 1980, spending the three days prior to the occasion scrubbing & cleaning the house and then roasting four different kinds of meat, baking a half a hundred cakes & puddings, and chopping vegetables as well as personally tying up everyone’s buttonhole flowers and making me a beautiful bouquet of red roses to hold.
Many more times over the subsequent years I was to witness her dedication to her greatest achievement – her family. If a person is judged by the content of their character then Mum will be well considered by all who remember her, for she taught not just me, but all of us; as it says in Corinthians 13:13, But now we still have faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. She gave her love to us all with all of her heart showing that Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. We are all indebted to Mum for her time, patience, acceptance and love that she gave to us. Last week, in the immediate aftermath of her untimely death, we showed each other how much she meant to all of us and yet again, I was deeply in awe of the very strength of this wonderful family who came together to simply be and to help each other to be. I am very privileged to be a part of this family and for that, I want to thank you, Mum.
I return to that bunch of flowers that I gave to her all those years ago to offer my thanks, only this time, I’d like us all to remember that they symbolise not just my thanks or my expression of love for her, but much more importantly, they symbolise her love and devotion to us, calling out to us to honour her memory by continuing her legacy and loving each other. If she were here now, she’d be the one telling us to cheer up; I’d like to put it more poetically and read a short poem:
FROM ‘TURN AGAIN TO LIFE’ BY MARY LEE HALL
If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others, sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake—turn again to life and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.
It is what she would have done. Thank you, Mum in a million.
We’ve created a little corner for Mum in our garden, planting some lovely Lily-of-the-valley which has just begun to flower, as well as a commemorative Peace rose, which she also loved.
R.I.P. Mum. We’ll always love you.