Good evening and welcome to all of you. I am so pleased that so many of you have come together to share a common purpose: that of celebrating my father’s life.
I know some amongst our many friends were a bit disquieted when you heard that we weren’t having a funeral. I can understand that – in a lot of ways a funeral can be a wonderful, cathartic way of saying goodbye. I am hoping that tonight’s concentration, reminiscing and reflection upon a most remarkable man, might serve that purpose just as well. And perhaps with a little more laughter thrown in.
My father wanted it this way. He was a man who took control of his life, all of his life. I believe he even chose the time of his dying. It went very fast at the end and he waited until his eldest granddaughter had kissed him goodbye and then departed. We, his son, his daughter and his so beloved wife, held him, and he left us between one breath and the next. As far as possible, the people who mattered most to him had said goodbye already or were with him.
I won’t whitewash it: my father suffered during the 18 months of his illness and we, his family, found his suffering so hard to bear but he was the most stoical man I have ever known and he almost never complained. If other people would commiserate on his behalf he would shrug them off, telling them that he had had a wonderful life and that he was grateful for it, having already lived his biblical allocation of ‘threescore years and ten’.
As a sulky teenager I used to moan about life not being fair and my father would invariably respond that life wasn’t fair and that I had better get used to it. Sage words, indeed, and he practiced what he preached.
‘Life is not fair’. I carried those words with me throughout the changing ups and downs of my life and I try to apply them now.
Because it doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem fair that a man who did all the right things healthwise should have such a nasty cancer end upon him. It doesn’t seem fair that a man at his intellectual peak, well into his final and most fulfilling career of researcher, historian and author, shouldn’t get a few more years to enjoy it and the company of the friends he met along the way. It doesn’t seem fair that the incredibly happy life he shared with his beloved Jenny only had seventeen years duration.
But ‘life isn’t fair’.
Everybody here tonight has come because they were linked to my father, be it through work or study or social or familial relationships. He was of value in your life. He meant something to you; and you meant something to him.
He meant all the world to me.
Every little girl’s dream is to grow up with an adoring, protective father and I lived that reality as the much loved only daughter of the family. He and I were incredibly close all my life and when I had my own daughters he was a wonderful hands’ on grandfather, doting even, in their infancy and early years.
He fostered a love of words within me that has endured today and we spent many happy hours discussing books, reading poetry and even collaborating in a couple of published articles together. When I was overseas or living elsewhere and even when back in Perth, our preferred medium of communication was written: first by snail mail, then by fax and finally email.
The words went back and forth and I always knew that when I had some communication from my father awaiting that there would be something of value contained within it. It may have been an in depth analysis of the current political situation, a link to something he had written, a vulgar joke or just a few words about some family arrangement. It didn’t matter what we were saying to each other: it just mattered that we were continuing to say it.
In our family of prolific writers he always said it best and he always said it most and I shall miss those emails more than I can say. Each one was as tangible a gesture of affection as an all embracing hug.
My father’s family crest has a motto ‘Ex Vi Rarum’, which he used to tell me roughly translated into ‘from everything something’, meaning no matter how bad the situation something good could come from it. He always tried to find a positive.
With that in mind, I think of his illness and final months. Yes, a bad situation but there were times of great value in it. We learned how kind people could be; friends rallied around and the staff at the hotel above which he lived, already friends, tightened their net and became pseudo family with their encouragement, affection and practical help. There were healings of relationship breaches that had festered for a while. There was appreciation of fellowship and effort. Above all, there was a consolidation of family and friends and we drew in together, becoming so much closer and taking immense pleasure in the time we spent together, knowing that it was limited. My father loved and was loved in return.
With his death some of the light has gone out of my world and I won’t get it back. I know you feel the same way, too, but tonight, in celebrating the man that he was and by wholeheartedly enjoying the party he wanted us to have in his absence, we can restore a little of that light.
On behalf of my father, my stepmother and my brothers, thank you all so much for coming.