Recent family losses

Two of my relatives died during the last few months. Uncle Max (my mother’s father’s brother) died on Anzac Day (25 April), and my grandmother (my mother’s mother) died on 11th May.

I only saw Uncle Max occasionally when he was alive, and almost invariably in the context of a large family gathering with lots of other people around. He lived in Balhannah and owned a pine plantation, which had a lovely fairy-tale atmosphere when I was a child (I once went looking for wolves there; in reality there are at best foxes). He was also into woodcarving, and had a pool table that he made himself, on which I learned to play. He also had a joke pool cue — made from a twisty branch of wood — which he explained was for a professional pool player to use when playing against him if the opportunity ever arose. He used to sing bass in choirs and musicals, but that was mostly before I knew him. I don’t remember ever talking to him about music.

The other death was that of Nancy Pearce, my grandmother, known to me as Grandnan. By the end of her life she was bedridden in the nursing home, unable to speak and — at the very end — even to swallow due to the cumulative effect of many minor strokes. Yet she was at peace, intellectually alert, and never lost her sense of humour. The last time I saw her alive, I played some Flanders and Swann songs to her from CD, in particular The Chameleon, The Whale, The Sloth, The Rhinoceros, The Armadillo, The Wild Boar, and The Ostrich. I intended in the last few months to compile a CD of my favourite music as a gift for her, but I never got around to doing this. Her husband David is now my last surviving grandparent, and is still living in the nursing home.

Grandnan’s funeral was a first for me in that it was the first time I have ever spoken officially at a funeral. Here is the full text of my address. It ends with some music that I’ve dedicated to her.

When I was trying to think of something that I could contribute to this service, I found that what came to mind was not so much any specific event, or any specific moment, but rather, some more general memories of things that Grandnan loved to do, and of things that Grandnan loved to have other people do for her. And three things in particular come to mind. She always liked a good chat – a good, thoughtful chat; she loved to have people play music for her; and she never refused a good massage.

When I was young, when I was six or seven, Grandnan would take me out of school once a week to go to music lessons. And afterwards we’d go back to her place for lunch, and for dessert there would always be her legendary Tuesday Pudding with custard. Back in those days it was not as much me who gave massages to Grandnan, as Grandnan who gave massages to me. And the kind of music that Grandnan particularly liked was music that could help her to visualise a scene. She was very fond of imagining a scene through the music that she heard. And she took the same approach to her massages. When I was young she would sometimes draw a picture on my back with her finger, and she would describethe picture as she was drawing it. Or sometimes she would draw abstract art, and with her soothing voice she would tell me the colours of the stripes and the circles and the shapes that she drew.

Well, over the years Grandnan has heard me play quite a lot of music, and she’s been on the receiving end of quite a few massages as well. And towards the end of her life, she wasn’t able to speak to us anymore, but she would still show us through her facial expressions how much we were appreciated whenever we visited. And I am sure that one of my lasting memories of Grandnan will be the way that her face would light up whenever somebody told a joke. Her sense of humour was one thing that lasted all the way to the end.

I didn’t have as much opportunity as I would have liked to share things with Grandnan in the last period of her life, and so as a tribute to my grandmother, I would like to play from a CD a piece of my own music that she never had a chance to hear. The thought occured to me that I should offer to give everyone the massage that she never had a chance to feel, but I decided that would be silly. However, it would be a tragedy if we remembered my grandmother without finding at least one opportunity to be silly.

So, anyway, this is my tribute.

(I got lots of positive comments on the music, by the way. I hope you like it too.)

Incidentally, another small contribution I made to the funeral was to print the “Reserved” signs to go on the seats reserved for family. I put some thought into this, because I wanted the signs to look friendly as opposed to imposing, so I used a soft, informal font and friendly colours, as photographed below. (Apologies for the quality; a snapshot straight from the word processor would be better, but only my parents’ computer has the right font installed):

reserved

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