This is a talk I gave at St Matthew’s Church, Yiewsley, on Sunday 27th November 2011.
Thank you Richard for that introduction. I must say that I feel truly honoured to be speaking today, invoking the memory of my grandparents Cyril and Iris Spring, 74 years to the day after they were married in this church!
And I am grateful to you all for listening to what some might regard as an intrusion.
But my grandmother died earlier this year at the ripe old age of 94, eight or so years after my grandfather, who himself made it to 88, or ‘two fat ladies’, as he used to say, with a measure of incredulity in his voice!
For us though, today is a celebration of family, and I’m joined by as many of grandma and grandad’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends as could make it to remember them, before we go to share a lunch together at a favourite family pub.
After that, we’ll make a pilgrimage to Burnham Beeches, to carry out one of my grandparents’ last wishes: that we would scatter their ashes amongst the trees there.
It’s a place that conjures happy memories for many of us as a destination we visited frequently with Iris and Cyril and our families as we grew up.
Now, as with most kids, I used to try and ignore my parents’ and grandparents’ advice as much as possible, so the following seems apt as Richard’s recommendation when I asked for a suitable reading about family.
It comes from the Bible’s book of Proverbs, and here’s my Mum, Sheila, who is Iris and Cyril’s daughter, and was a pupil at St Matthew’s School many years ago:
Obey the teaching of your parents – always keep it in mind and never forget it.
Their teaching will guide you when you walk,
protect you when you sleep,
and talk to you when you are awake.
The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teachings shine brightly.
Correction and self-control will lead you through life.
In fact it was only in the last few years of her life, when I came to really know my grandmother properly, following the death of her beloved Cyril, that I started to really appreciate the honesty and wisdom of her counsel.
She was a very smart woman, who did not suffer fools gladly. With grandma, you somehow always knew where you stood.
She had a profound love for her wonderful husband Cyril, and I strongly remember the acute loss she felt all those eight years after he was gone.
Thankfully my grandfather felt a similar love for Iris as well.
But he was also a man of true principle.
On one occasion, he resigned his job after disagreeing with his employer’s decision to sack a colleague.
But whilst grandad was the driver in the family, grandma always seemed to have her hands on the wheel!
She also had a remarkable mind for figures, and would no doubt have been an entrepreneur if she had been born half a century later, and experienced some of the benefits of the modern world.
But the truth is that neither was obsessed with work.
In fact, after each other, their second love was in many ways dancing – and it is a great regret that I never once saw them engaged in their true passion.
But they were proud of their ability, and that they had been able to share their skills with others, teaching countless people the joys of old-time modern sequence dancing.
Now, I experienced a sad coincidence yesterday that I wanted to share with you.
Whilst looking for some video of grandma and grandad that I knew was on one of a dozen or so tapes I shot in the late 1990s, I found some great footage of friends from that era.
For some reason I felt inspired to send a note to someone that I have not seen in years, and who called back almost immediately in response to my message.
We had a wonderful catch-up, but he also had sad news – a mutual friend, Dan Mabelis, who would have been in his late thirties, died a few weeks ago in Malaysia, in a scuba diving accident.
In fact my friend and I both first met Dan under truly tragic circumstances; he was one of two survivors of a car crash that had killed another of our mutual friends, Peter Maddrell, along with two other students in their early 20s, back in the mid 90s.
It reminded me just how fragile life can be, and that my grandma and grandad were lucky indeed to live very long lives.
And whilst those lives were marked by periods of great tragedy, including two world wars and a great depression, there were many great and happy occasions as well – the birth of treasured children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for starters.
Now I mentioned one of my great regrets earlier, and somehow, as I invoke memories of people who lived full lives, as well as those whose lives were cut tragically short, it feels right to mention something I recently read, which described five great regrets of the dying.
It was written by a hospice nurse, who had helped a great many people into the next life, and who found that time and time again, the same regretful themes emerged:
Firstly, people frequently wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.
Second, they wished they hadn’t worked so hard.
Third, they wished they’d had the courage to express their feelings.
Fourth, they wished they had stayed in touch with their friends.
And finally, they wished they had let themselves be happier.
Fortunately, I think it’s true to say that grandma and grandad, and my friends Dan and Peter for that matter, would not have felt more than one or two of these regrets, if at all.
And in my view, if any of them resonate for you – as some have for me – it is never too late to make a start!
On which note, let us with happiness at the memory of good lives, well lived, move on to the next part of this special day.
With grateful thanks to Revd Richard Young for finding space in his busy advent service for our family.