Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Remembrance

Gone but not forgotten. Loved always.

Cyril Edward Parker (4th January 1923 – 31st August 2016)

Grief is an odd emotion. Most of the time you carry on, you do the day-to-day, and you think, ‘It’s Ok, I’m getting along fine’ and then someone will say something, you’ll see something or even smell something, and all of a sudden you are gasping for air as the weight of grief crushes you. Happiness is weightless, but grief has the stature of giants. We are here today to celebrate the fact that the enormity of that grief is a measure of the privilege we feel for having had Cyril Edward Parker in our lives. 

‘Sometimes it’s the smallest things that take up the most room in your heart’ because it’s the small things that we remember. The knots at the four corners of the handkerchief that grandad wore on his head on the beach; the fact that I have never seen him paddle in a pair of shorts, when simply rolling up his trousers would do; tuc biscuits and shandy at the caravan; and of course the most expensive pair of wellies in the world – at 50 pence a week to my nan’s catalogue for about 30 years.

I didn’t want to speak to you today about death. I am not going to tell you that my grandad is in the wind that brushes past my face, or in the raindrops that fall. He is no more there, than he is in the coffin beside me. He is somewhere else now; he is young and free of pain and happy. What is left here are our memories of him, what he left here for us. I can see him every time I look at my daughter’s hands – I can see my grandad’s long tapering fingers and I am reminded of him. I am reminded of his dry humour, of the legacy he left all of us as a brave soldier who fought for our freedom. I am reminded of his selective hearing when my nan calls ‘Eddie, Eddie!’

So today I am going to speak to you about love. As the nation’s favourite bear once said ‘If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever’. It’s only love that matters, it’s only love that lasts, and Grandad was loved. To have the love of a beautiful woman for almost 70 years is a testament to the man that my grandad was, and my nan’s love lives on. As does ours for him. So, I want to celebrate that love today by reading a poem not about death or loss but about the enigma that is love. This is one of the most mystifying and beautiful poems, and perhaps it goes some way to describing almost 70 years of love.  

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Irene Maud Parker (26th December 1926 - 17th May 2017)

How do you tell a life? Like a Rashamon effect, each of us has a different story to tell of Irene Parker, a different viewpoint from which to tell it: mother, aunt, friend, sister, neighbour. I can only tell you mine: grandmother. A woman married for 70 years to the same man, a woman who shares her birth year with the Queen, who made the best cakes I’ve ever eaten, the thickest gravy I’ve ever seen – who could knit you just about anything. Kindness, cuddles, love – oh and tuc biscuits and shandy at the caravan. So, let’s not mourn her passing, but celebrate her life, and allow her to live through our, very different, memories of her.

In a letter to her friend, Lady Ottoline Morrell, in October 1918 Katherine Mansfield wrote:
Oh, my dearest woman friend – how vivid you are to me – how I love the thought of you; you cannot know. And it is such a “comfort” to feel that we are in the same world – not in this one. What has one to do with this one?

There is always the reassurance that this world is merely a stopover, a transitory series of moments lived and remembered; ‘I am the resurrection and the Life’ sayeth Jesus Christ. And so, we still occupy the same world as Nanny, just with a slightly different viewpoint.

In his Parable on Immortality, Henry Van Dyke describes this viewpoint:

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty and strength.  I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There she goes.”
Gone where?  Gone from my sight…that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her.  And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes”, there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
So, as we see Irene drift away from us and say ‘there she goes’, grandad sees her drifting towards him and says ‘here she comes’. We just see her from a slightly different viewpoint. Gone from our sight, but living on in us: loved and remembered.

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