This is the short talk I gave at my Grandma's funeral on Friday. Well roughly anyway - this is what I intended to say, and managed most of!
Today, like many of you I am experiencing the perplexing collision of grief and gratitude. There is today a real sense of grief, in her passing, her no longer being here – her absence. Alongside that however there is also a huge sense of gratitude. Gratitude for having known her, her love, care, interest, encouragement and example! I am also aware that many people do not get to enjoy a grandparent for 37 years as I have (35 years for my sister!)
We are also very grateful to all of you who have come here today, for being here and sharing this important and significant occasion with us. If you had told my Grandma a year ago, how many people would come and remember her today – she just would not have believed you! If she had known how far some of you have come to be here she would have said, “you shouldn't have!”. And then she would have spent the rest of the day worrying about you getting home!
My sister and I have spent a lot of time on the phone this week, sharing memories of our Grandma. There are so many happy memories, stretching back so far. As we talked, memory after memory – too many to mention came back to us. The 1st draft of this was about an hour long!
The first thing we remembered was all the places that we explored with Grandma – and with our Grandpa when he was alive too. Penton Hook islands in the Thames, Windsor Great Park, The Copper Horse, Virginia Water, Saville Gardens, Winkworth Arboretum, Bushy Park, Woodland Gardens, St Anne’s Hill, Chertsey Lock, Laleham, Windsor Castle on the train, or on the boat from Staines! And these are just a few of the places she took us, and we explored together.
The next way we thought of Grandma was at home, initially in Parkland Grove with my Grandpa, subsequently in Chaucer Road with George. Grandma’s house in Parkland Grove was where we went for exciting sleepovers as young children, and where we went when we were off sick from school – and were looked after!
Grandma’s House was always a place of welcome. A place where we were always wanted. She was always pleased to see us – it never seemed to be an inconvenient time! And I know that this was not just something reserved for her grandchildren – because I met so many of you there too, and so many people have spoken about her always open welcoming door.
There was only one person I have ever come across who was unwelcome in her house. My sister was there with Grandma one Tuesday, George had gone out to do the shopping – when an aggressive drunken man staggered in through the front door and began shouting in the house. Facing him my sister froze, not knowing what to do. Grandma however – by this stage in her 80s, marched past her, grabbed the bloke and frogmarched him out of the door! Amazed, my sister said, “how did you do that?!” and was met with dismissive “we fought a war you know!” look from Grandma!
Significantly though – and this was Grandma, once outside and not threatening her she spoke to him, established that he was looking for directions and helped him and explained where to go!
As we talked more and more about memories of Grandma, we realised that in so many of our memories Grandma was laughing! Either smiling, chuckling or really laughing, and that fills so many of our memories – and we have seen her laugh until tears rolled down her face!
Now, every family has its different traditions! In our family, one of our most hallowed traditions was teasing Grandma – fairly remorselessly and unmercifully! Something, I hasten to say, she loved, played up to and positively encouraged. And I can still picture her face, laughing until it hurt, her face getting redder, and tears rolling down it!
On one occasion, not that long after my Grandpa had died, Grandma decided to experiment with what was intended to be a subtle, delicate, purple rinse in her hair! In fact it turned out to be rather more….., well OK – it was shocking purple! My sister and I lost sight of her somewhere at Virginia Water and went around asking people if they had seen an old lady with purple hair! When this proved to be a successful way to locate her, we never let her forget her flirtation with punk fashion!
We also loved to wind Grandma up! When my (now) wife started to visit during the University holidays, Grandma (desperate to know all the details!) would come up and say, “is she a special friend?”. I would reply, “Grandma, all my friends are special!” Simply to frustrate her insatiable curiosity!
Over so many years, we had so much fun with our little Grandma! We were so well look after! She cared for us. She worried about us. She prayed for us
She encouraged us.
But I do not want this afternoon just to think about incidents that happened and what she did. I would also like to remember some of her qualities. I would like to mention three things that her life and example have taught me:
The first is this: People matter more than things!
A cynical critic of modern life said: “We used to use things and love people, but today we love things and use people” Not my Grandma! She loved people! Valued people! She loved you – and you knew it when you visited her! Maybe because she knew what it was like to be genuinely poor as we heard in her biography which was read earlier. But what drove her life – what informed the daily choices she made - was not the accumulation of goods, but caring for and serving other people.
The second thing is this: The nature of True Beauty
We live in an age in which are bombarded with messages from the world- most obviously in advertising. The message that is thrust upon us is this, that beauty, attractiveness and value are outward things which come though opulent living, conspicuous consumption, outward adornment, and an obsession with appearance. My Grandma didn’t epitomise any of those outward things – or strive after them. Yet countless people were drawn to her. She had a warmth, a radiance, a genuine beauty that drew people to her!
Her life demonstrates what the Bible indicates – that true beauty isn’t external and communicated through outward things. True beauty comes from communing with God and is communicated through character!
For her, the desire to be more Christlike was not merely an ‘article of faith’ - but a reason for living!! And you will simply never understand my Grandma unless you have grasped that!
The third thing is this: What it means to be truly Great
When the history books are written of the last century I doubt my Grandma’s name will be mentioned! Instead it will be full of the names and deeds of Kings, Prime Ministers, Generals and Millionaires. But I believe that at the end of all things when GOD weighs the world in the balances of His values. True Greatness – will be seen not to have been held by those who wielded great earthly power. But by those, like my Grandma, who were faithful, humble, ordinary servants of Christ! People whose lives were shaped by Him - whose characters were moulded by Him! People like my Grandma – who never sought attention, never pushed herself forward, never issued clever put-downs or diminished others for her own gain. People whose greatest joy was quietly serving Christ – and others. This will be revealed as the meaning of true greatness. I think its what Jesus meant when he said, “The first will be last and the last will be first”!
Finally, she was a wonderful Grandma, and a wonderful example! We could not have asked for a better Grandma! Hence the collision of grief and gratitude we feel today - because of the love we have received, the fun we have had, and the example we have been set!
The hurting were drawn to her and she always offered genuine love and concern. The doubting and the lost came to her and she pointed them to Christ (and several found Him). She offered genuine love without patronising. She shared Christ humbly and openly but never forcefully.
In so doing she exemplified everything to which I aspire.