My father’s funeral was three months ago last week, and as several friends have told me strictly, it’s about time I posted HIS eulogy to go with my mother’s. His funeral was on December 9, and he died on November 26, three months and a day after my mother. I miss them both so much.
My brother and I accompanied both our parents to the furnace: it needed planning, but after I had conducted a funeral service myself, I had seen how the coffin was left in a corridor waiting for the furnace to be lit and I decided I didn’t want my parents to go the last few yards on their own. For our mother’s cremation, it went smoothly. My brother and I left the church together after the funeral for the crematorium, accompanied by the funeral director and the vicar; he said a few prayers including a most wonderful psalm, I rested my cheek against the coffin, the funeral director said “they are ready” and we went behind the scenes, through the kitchen, and waited while the coffin was pushed pneumatically into an oven so hot that when it went in there was a shot of fire as if by God. It was raw and it was holy.
For our father we had asked for the same. But the furnace was slow heating up. “I’m so sorry said the funeral director; it’s going to take half an hour. Do you want to wait?” We did, of course, and it was too cold to walk outside. We had said the prayers and the beautiful psalm. Twice. What we would all really like is a cup of tea, we agreed. So the funeral director brought some mugs, and we chatted and told stories and stood around the coffin and honestly I thought at that moment that our father was there too, loving his last party, loving that on that sad sad day there was happiness too. It was a proper send off I thought, resting my mug on his coffin as he, mild iconoclast that he was, would have loved me to do.
Eulogy for Patrick Finlay, Born July 3, 1926, Died November 25, 2016, aged 89
When I was about eight, and my brother Nick was six, our father had cancer. It must have been very frightening for both our parents, but we were little and they didn’t worry us with the details. But there’s one scene I have never forgotten. We used to spend our holidays in the South of France in a caravan in an amazing place where there were wild boars in the hills and crickets in the grass and an Olympic-sized swimming pool to which we were allowed to cycle alone. They were blissful summers and springs.
And one night I remember my mother and Nick went on ahead and my father and I fell behind on the dark road, and he talked about death. He wasn’t at all afraid of it, if it happened, when it happened, he said, holding my hand. And I shouldn’t be afraid of it either. And we walked through the darkness together, and ever since then I haven’t been afraid of death. And now I feel that whatever it is, and wherever it is, my parents will be waiting, arms outstretched. And I’m not afraid.
And that attitude of his not to be afraid of death, carried through his life. Our mother’s death three months ago was a shock, something to be railed against. And I railed. But this funeral…. our father was ill for so long, his vascular dementia was making it harder and harder for him… we have been talking about this funeral for a long time. With him there, of course, it was kind of a family conversation. When Martin, my husband, was ill last year, Daddy looked at him with a piercing stare and said “Martin, you can’t die before us. You have promised to do both our funerals.” And he has. But talking about it like that was to prepare ourselves, to make it OK. To make it a celebration. And we are here now, and it is OK. And it is also a celebration.
When he was nine or ten his parents divorced. It was a huge scandal and after that he used to spend his holidays with his grandparents who lived in a house with 13 servants. He loved his grandmother in particular, but it was quite a lonely time so far from his school friends. So the chauffeur became his friend. And when that cancer did not mean death, but a change of job, to a company which later collapsed, he and my mother found themselves caretaking for rich people to fill the gap before the pension. They both made the most of it, really became a team. And by all accounts my father made a splendid chauffeur.
He volunteered when he was 17 during the war and joined the Queens Royal Regiment driving tracked vehicles. He had always had problems with his ears, and one day his mastoids were so bad that he couldn’t fly when all his comrades went up. The plane crashed and they all died. It was terrible for him at the time, to have escaped when the others did not. But later when he suffered from bad hearing in the past 15 years or more I imagine him thinking positively “Well, I might not be able to hear, but it saved my life.”
His life was saved several times. That day with his ears and another day, probably, when he was about to be sent to fight against the Japanese, and the atom bomb was dropped and the war in Asia ended too. Also, during the tsunami of 2004 when they were on a small boat off Sri Lanka and managed to get into shore between the two great waves. And his life was saved 10 and a half years ago, when he had a terrible cerebral haemorrhage. I remember asking the consultant what chance we had of having him back, and the consultant just shook his head, and all the student doctors shook their heads too. Not even one percent. But he was home by Christmas, and he still knew who he was, and who we were, and how to enjoy company. He was a lucky man and the grace is that he knew it.
Our parents met in 1958. They were both invited to the same party in the Fulham Road, and were meeting their (different sets of) friends in a nearby pub. But my mother’s purse was stolen from her handbag. And as she looked around for it in a panic, a rather nice-looking young man, recently returned from India, offered to help. The following week he invited her to dinner and the rest is our family’s history. But the extraordinary thing is that three days later two men came round to her flat – one of them, encouraged by his friend, stammered an apology as he handed over the purse. He was an off-duty policeman, he had never done anything like that before, and he didn’t know what came over him.
I usually think about the story from my mother’s point of view, or from destiny’s and I say how grateful I am to whatever impulse – or angel or demon – made that policeman steal the purse. But today I’m thinking about it from my father’s perspective. My father would always be one of the first to help, to make sure everyone was OK. He was such a kind man, people have said in recent days to us in letters and emails and cards. So generous.
He was a fantastic cook. He could cook almost anything. We were the first non Indian family we knew to have Indian food at home, because while he had been working for a shipping company in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta in the mid 50s, he’d become friends with the cooks, and had learned their recipes. Like our mother, he loved to entertain. Even after his stroke had left him not very mobile, he would always love the parties my mother would hold at their home, and sometimes he would call me over from his chair. “Yes,” I would say, ready to get him a snack or another drink or anything he needed. “Toria, [fill in the name] has an empty glass… or [fill the name again} needs someone to talk to,” he would say. And I would go over to them and my father would nod happily.
Once, a couple of years ago, I asked him why he was so happy when he couldn’t walk any more, or plant anything in the garden, or go out… Ah he said, in a moment of absolute lucidity. When I had my stroke I thought, I have a choice here. I can be angry about it or I can be happy. But angry people aren’t so nice to be around, so I decided to be happy.
His story mirrors that of my mother, who at 16 decided that although as an orphan nobody loved her, that was not going to be her story, it was not going to be her tragedy. Having both decided that the world is good, they found each other. And in doing so made it just a bit better for the rest of us too.
My father was also very patient. When Nick was 13 and I was 15 we went on a journey by car to Italy. Our mother stayed at home to get a break from teenagers, and Daddy drove the whole way there and back. We had three cassettes. One was Queen, one was The Doors, and one was Mozart. We insisted that there should be two Queens and two Doors for every one Mozart. And he put up with it without complaint. So the final music when we leave at the end of the funeral is The Doors… only joking. It’s Mozart. It seems only fair.
After my mother, Jeannie, died three and a half months ago, Nick made the generous – and thoughtful – decision to look after our father at home. He closed the door on his house near London and set up home in Devon, hugely helped by Claire who was Daddy’s lovely carer. It was hard work, as our father gently declined towards the end. It required dedication, love and selflessness. And it meant that Daddy was able to die at home, looking out at the view of the garden he so loved, talking — even on the last weekend — about the trees he had planted, and how beautiful the colour of the sky was.
On the Monday before he died, he looked up at the windows as it began to get dark, and smiled, and said “lovely”. And that was the last word I heard him say.