The last in a line of brothers starting from 1921 ended today 21st May. My father’s brother, Uncle Fred, died on 30th April and had his funeral at the Methodist Church, Morden, followed by Cremation at North Surrey Crematorium.
One of the last pictures of Fred
Fred was 79 and had suffered with prostate cancer since 1994. A ex Royal Navy man and latterly local council mechanic, he and his wife, my Aunt Eileen were married for nearly sixty years, and were together for most of that time. They didn’t have children, but doted on relations’ grandchildren and now Eileen is on her own. But this is not an eulogy to an uncle who I admit wasn’t totally part of my life for the last few years; this is more to do with families. At his funeral, there was less than ten of his closest relatives, but many more friends, neighbours and members of his RAOB lodge. The funeral was one of the most unforgettable I have ever been to, and lasted much longer than the normal, with a superb address about Fred by the Vicar who knew him well, and another lovely eulogy from my cousin Ellen, whose 16 year old daughter was virtually a surrogate grandchild to Fred and Eileen. A funeral is a cathartic experience, and means lots of things to many different people. Sadness yes, that someone close has departed, but also a realisation that of course the same will happen to us all one day. This is quite sobering and actually frightening; that, however fit and well we feel now, there will come a time when it is inevitable what is going to happen next. At one time on my life, as I have mentioned before, I have had feelings of impending doom, and worried about what happens after life. I’m not terribly religious, or wasn’t but today’s experience has had a profound effect on me. It was a beautiful service with a lot of reference to the Navy, sea-based hymns, and many mentions by all the speakers about Fred’s involvement with the old comrades who came to see him off, the Royal British Legion, the Royal Navy Association and the Buffaloes who held quite the most moving ceremony I have seen at a funeral. They gathered around the coffin, which was draped in a Union flag and an England flag, and bid farewell to their brother and friend with prayers, and an absent brethren soliloquy. They then plucked an ivy leaf out of their top pockets and placed it on the draped coffin. It was very moving and life-affirming, He would have loved it.
As usual, relatives who haven’t seen each other for years say ‘must get together sooner’, but in reality you probably only stay in touch via Christmas cards. This is also sad, when you think that when younger we’re got together a lot, enjoying each others company, retaining memories, keeping in touch. Then parents pass on, people move away, contact is lost. The three things that bring them together: hatches, matches and despatches. Promises of ‘we’ll drop in next time we’re round your area’, possibly, but more than likely, never. There’s nothing malicious about it, just a realistic appreciation that you can’t keep in touch all the time. In Fred’s case, I regret not seeing him or contacting him for over a year. We occasionally sent each other e-mails and kept in touch, but over the last year I forgot to follow it through. The vicar said in his address: don’t have regrets when you think of the departed, what will be, is what it was, you can’t change that and having regrets makes you feel you failed somehow, you didn’t. I hope that when I’m no longer here, people don’t have regrets about me. Not that I can do anything about it afterwards, and it’s probably a lost cause before.
Good bye Fred, you were a good man, a kind man, a man who the vicar said was a Samaritan, who helped others all the time, who couldn’t pass by someone in trouble, he had to help, it was in his genes. He fought prostate cancer for nearly 20 years and he didn’t think it would get him in the end, but finally it only took three days. Sleep well Uncle Fred, you deserve a rest, but didn’t deserve to go.