Happiness, Sadness, and Pride: writing the eulogy

With the death of my grandmother, I was asked to write her eulogy. The happiest, saddest, and proudest piece of writing i’ve ever done.

My grandmother passed away on New Year’s Eve, after several months of hospital care from the ever-brilliant NHS. She was 83, and the last of my grandparents.

My grandmother with her very first Great Grandchild, c.2005. Photo: Andrew Martin.
My grandmother with her third Great Grandchild, c.2008. Photo: Andrew Martin.

As we wait, for what here in the UK feels like a huge drawn-out time for churchyard burial to take place, I found myself being asked to write her eulogy by my mother and her siblings.

I won’t be reading it out. Nor will I post it here. But taking the phone call from my mother where she asked me to write it, I soon found myself feeling a huge wave of happiness, sadness, and pride all rushing at me all at once.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother during school holidays – playing games, helping her and my grandfather in their allotment, helping what felt like an ever-lasting task of weeding the rockery and not trying to fall in their pond, singing and dancing to records, walking to her local village shops and on to her parents and in-laws to whom she provided daily care, and many bus trips in to Ely.

I remember my mother catching me packing my suitcase for my first solo stay – i was putting loose eggs in my suitcase. I didn’t know how these things worked, and I wanted to be sure I’d get fed. Of course I was.

grandparents marriage 1953
My grandparents’ marriage in 1953. Photo: Andrew Martin

In later life, after the death of my grandfather and her reliance on a wheelchair, as both of us lived alone, we were also kindred spirits. She’d revel in telling me funny risqué stories of her teenage years of dating, or the trouble she caused her parents, and of adventures of dances and trips away with her local friends – and her ‘how i met your grandfather’ stories that she’d certainly never tell my mother, aunt, or uncle!

She was my rebel grandmother. Game for a laugh, a joke, and a singsong. A gadget girl – she was the first person i knew to get a thing called a ‘microwave’ – a huge white thing which she kept in the cupboard, and it weighed a ton. She also had DVDs and CDs long before I or my parents did.

She also had a lazy susan in a kitchen cupboard that spun merrily around to reveal ‘the tin’ – which was where the chocolates lived (albeit briefly) and were magically replenished by kind unseen hands.

She had a green and yellow budgie named Joey (probably more than one to be honest) – who eventually learnt to say his name back to her after years of her saying ‘Joe-Joe Dewey’ at it. My cousins would secretly do impressions of her saying that – which I’ve got here on cassette somewhere.

My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic.
My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic, and 70’s wallpaper upstages us all. Photo: Andrew Martin.

She was also an absolute raffle fiend, and would win at least 2 prizes for every raffle she took part in – even if it was to win a wholly unsuitable prize – that prize was hers, and like some strange economy, she’d often put those prizes back in to the next raffle. I swear that tin of Heinz Ravioli did the local raffle/bingo circuit for a good few years.

She also delighted my 7yr old ears one school holiday breakfast time, when she went to pick up a bottle of milk she’d had delivered by the milkman. She dropped it. It broke. Then, in a flash of a second which instantly boosted my adoration of her, she ran a 5 word string of mild expletives without pause or breath. I think she realised that I had heard her from the kitchen as it was only herself and I in the house, but my little ears were utterly impressed, and I can hear her say it right now as I type – these 30 years later.

I’ve never written a eulogy before. I heard my cousin (on my other side of the family) read one for  his mother a few years back. I don’t quite remember what was in it, more the way he delivered it, but in a way, I just knew how to write my grandmother’s one. I knew I had to make it funny (to match her sheer sense of mischief), respectful (to match the occasion), and touching, with lots of memories for those cousins, neighbours, friends etc listening.

Pamela Maud Barber c1938
My grandmother in an almost timeless photo, circa 1938. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Keeping roughly to chronology, I found it easy to write, and not as daunting as I first thought, but I had to partly put my family historian aside, and let it just come from the heart too.

I emailed it to my mother. Her only words were ‘perfect. thank you‘, and thankfully my aunt, and my uncle agreed. I don’t know why they thought I should write it, but I’m very grateful they did.

It is a bit rollercoaster, but in a verse I found in my grandmother’s Ely Senior Girls school exercise book from June 1945, I found some inspiration that got me writing, and wondered whether this inspired her in life too as she wrote it down (it seems to be a copy of something, but I don’t know what):

When oft-times plans don’t work out right,
And you are feeling blue.
There is one way to make you bright,
I recommend to you…
– keep smiling.

And that kind of sums her up really. Laughter, happiness, joy, mischief, and a never-ending stream of positivity, and without a doubt, huge waves of love for us all.

My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i'm the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin
My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i’m the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin

Wordless Wednesday – The duckling and the Grandmother

Wordless Wednesday – this week, it’s a photo of my Grandmother in her childhood, cradling a duckling, circa 1938.

Pamela Maud Barber cradling a duckling c.1938

Mother’s Day 2013

It’s Mother’s Day today in the UK – here’s a photographic gallery of my female ancestors.

Today is Mothering Sunday here in the UK, so what better way to mark it than to share a gallery of photos of my female ancestors.

The photographs show both my paternal and maternal direct-line of mothers, reaching from my mother to my Great Great Great Grandmother (Ann Bowers) on my maternal line, and from my father’s mother to my Great Great Great Great Grandmother (Avis Tall) on my paternal line.

Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version, and to view them as a slideshow.

Happy Mother’s Day!

My Maternal branch of Mothers

My Paternal branch of Mothers