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Eulogy for Sheila Mary Bates May 7, 2009
When I started to try and write a eulogy for mum, I tried writing down the biographical facts of her life in a list, but it struck me that that this really didn’t convey what it was that was so special about her. She didn’t really care very much about achievements. What mattered to her were people; specifically family and friends. As I’ve grown up I’ve often been struck by how conditional love is for many people even within families, it is dependant on what is convenient or how a person is feeling on a given day. The reason this has always surprised me is because it is the absolute opposite of our upbringing. My mum gave love more unconditionally than anyone else I’ve ever known. Ultimately it just did not matter to her what we did or didn’t do, despite the many occasions when we caused her inconvenience, worry and expense we were her children, she loved us unconditionally, and would do absolutely anything for us which it was within her power to do.
During our collective troubled teenage years this meant giving us the kind of support and friendship that in my experience is almost unique. She was willing to loan us her car even if it was an inconvenience to her; a car which it must be said was not always returned to her in the same condition in which she leant it. Often she would agree to a late night collection from a party or a friend’s house, or as happened many times respond politely and to a late night phone call with an answer of “I’ll get dressed and be there as soon as I can”, rather than with the barrage of swearing that you might have expected.
She would drop everything in order to come up to Universities, when one of us was ill, arriving with a food parcel in her hand, a big hug and a Labrador in tow. There were lifts to countless football matches the length and breadth of the county, hot dinners long after the “kitchen had closed for the night”, and a thousand other little things that went unnoticed by ungrateful teenagers, but which as we have grown older we have been able to appreciate more and more.
In conversations with her friends and family whilst trying to write this, one of the recurring themes was what a strong person she was, and how brave she had been both throughout her life and during her illness. Since Dad’s death 25 years ago as a parent Mum was on her own. Recent additions to mine and my brother’s families have allowed us to appreciate how incredibly hard this must have been and just how strong you would need to be to be able to raise 3 young children on your own. What is even more remarkable is that Mum did not allow the trauma of losing Dad to shape the nature of her relationship with us. Apart from the usual parental concerns about our safety Mum did not become over protective or try to wrap us in cotton wool, she always encouraged us to try new things and to travel even if it meant that she would see less of us. This is something that I and I know many of her friends admired about her.
I think this attitude of Mums came partly from her own sense of adventure and love of travelling. When Mum left Northern Ireland she only intended to stop briefly in England on route to a new life in Canada. She first met my Father whilst working as a Physiotherapist in Brighton when he came in to receive treatment for a bad back. Their second meeting was on Brighton Beach, when he asked her “If she would like to come around to cook him dinner, because his Mum was away.” You would need quite a sense of adventure to agree to that proposal.
Mum was equally brave in facing her illness and rarely complained about what was happening instead choosing to focus on the positive; after she received her final diagnosis, instead of becoming angry or depressed she just said that she felt she had “achieved what she had wanted to in her life, raised her three children to adulthood and lived to see her grandchildren.” These grandchildren were a great source of joy to her and they in turn adored her. Orla especially lost any interest in her parents whenever Granny Sheila and Jasper were around9.
Another distinctive part of mum’s make up was her incredible loyalty. The most obvious expression of this was in her love for my dad which survived the 25 years between their deaths completely undiminished. I think I always found it difficult to understand how she wouldn’t have met somebody else and moved on, nobody would have thought badly of her and in fact we might have found it a relief to know that there was somebody that was looking after her, but as far as she was concerned he was the man she loved and his death didn’t change that. That is a sort of loyalty that is very rare indeed.
I know that mum felt that in some way in death she would be with him again and what is certainly true is that she no longer has to live without him. I think for her that was a release from a very old and deep pain.
Goodbye mum, we will miss you always, remember you always and love you always.