[Also at my mother’s funeral in September I sang Danny Boy for her. Here’s my introduction to the song.] [If you’d like to read part 1, the eulogy, it’s here.]
Mum loved music.
When we moved to Yarra Glen Dad told her she could have the money from any twin calves. I guess he assumed this would be a rare occurrence. But for some reason there was a whole spate of twin calves after this, and one of the things she bought with it was a record player. Back then it was out in the back boys bedroom, but when we moved to Croydon it went in the dining room and on Sundays there would always be a record playing while the dinner was getting ready. The Seekers, The Sound of Music, Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves.
When she moved into Wantirna Village I bought her a CD player. After that her house was always filled with music, and when she moved to Elly Kay for a long time too until she lost the ability to work out how to use it, and eventually to even recognise it.
Some of you may have read the post I wrote on FB about the last few days of her life. I live on the central coast of NSW, and I don’t travel too well, and when we were told she was failing I was in a state about whether to pack and fly down straight away or if it was better to wait a bit, so I could prepare for what might be a long haul.
[btw.. just want to say how grateful I am to Noel and Jan, for all their love and care of Mum both at Wantirna and at Elly Kay. They were always there for her. Thank you Noel, and thank you Jan. ]
So, feeling a very long long way away…
I made a little shrine with a candle, and that lovely photo of her as a child sitting in a wicker chair some of you may have seen, and this necklace.
I kept the candle lit the day they started palliative care and I when I passed by it I would talk out loud to her and sing songs. And tried to work out what to do.
The following morning I woke up at 4.30am, and for quite a while I was singing to her (Danny Boy, The Lord is My Shepherd, Amazing Grace), talking to her, imagining all of us in the room with her and holding her, telling her that her brothers were all here, and her mother and even her father she hasn’t seen since she was six, and my father – that they were all here for her. I lay in bed talking aloud, thanking her, crying and talking over memories, and telling her she had our permission to go, that we were all grown up now and will be ok.
And it was beautiful and peaceful, and I felt very connected to her.
Eventually, some time after five, I went back to sleep and was woken a few hours later by a phone call saying that she had died at around 5am.
The power of music.
I wish Iris and Jess were well enough to sing to you today because they have amazing voices.
I’m very new to singing. I joined a choir about 18months ago and I have become a singing convert.
So for Mum’s 95th birthday last year the family were gathering, and I suggested we sing a few songs to her. By that stage she had no conversation anymore, she hardly had any words. On the vast majority of days she said nothing at all.
I printed out some song lyrics and even those brothers who said they would just mouth the words or sing very softly got right into as soon as began singing Vera Lyn’s wonderful World War 2 classic, ‘We’ll Meet Again.’
Who can resist singing? Especially a song that is practically in our DNA.
I’d also asked Brian to choose a hymn, and he chose ‘What a Friend we Have in Jesus’, which was a great choice because it turns out that was one of the hymns she had written down that she wanted us to sing today.
So I sat next to her and held her hand and while the others sang around us I sang the words of ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ right close to her ear, and when we finished she looked at me – really looked at me with a kind of wonder – and I said, ‘You remember that song, don’t you’ and she said ‘Yes I do.’
Later while the others were talking, I moved in close and sang ‘Danny Boy’ to her, and again she leaned her ear right towards me and really listened, and at the end of it she turned to me said, ‘That was lovely.’
And I reckon if the last words your mother ever says to you are, ‘that was lovely’, well, I don’t think that’s too bad.
So this is for you Mum.
(Sorry it’s not such a great version, but just wanted to add it her for her.)
For the first part of my eulogy at her funeral and a slideshow about her life, go here.
And here’s the link for a reading of my poem ‘Forgetting’ on ABC Radio.