It was just a small funeral. If you want a large funeral, then die young. I remember a patient of mine who died aged 40 of stomach cancer. He had a large general practice and he was deacon at his church. Over 4000 attended his funeral.
My father-in-law was just two weeks short of his 94th birthday. I had known him for 46 years, less than half his life. Almost all his contempories had preceded him. I knew something about his later career: the salesman-of-the-year awards, the blemish-free driving license despite hundreds of thousands of miles driven, the efficency of the paperwork completed and posted on the same day, the way he kept a hat that he would don just before entering a premises for the sole purpose of being able to doff it in greeting, the packet of cigarettes open to offer even though he had himself given up years previously, the natural gentlemanliness that everyone remarked on. Of his early life I knew very little. He came from the East End of London, later moving into Essex. As a young man he had boxed. He had attended a large Baptist Church and then a smaller Free Evangelical one. He served his apprenticeship in the Cigar industry becoming an expert in the field. He had been seriously ill when in his twenties, but made a good recovery. My grandchildren called him Domino Grandad, because whenever they saw him he would challenge them to a game of dominos. Being very low-church he used to mock Catholic ritual. "Who will play me a game of Dominos?" he would chant in a mock-Gregorian manner.
Sometimes he would get his guitar out - acoustic with steel strings and two 'F's like a violin rather than an 'O' to let the sound out. He used to play in a banjo, ukelele and guitar band in London.
My son in America couldn't be with us at the funeral, but he sent a message:
I have rarely met someone as consistently kind, generous, charming and at ease with the world as Grandad. In the fullest sense of the word he was a gentleman. My memories of him are as a quiet but forceful presence in the kitchen at Shandon, considered and thoughtful in what he said – his own man, not repeating the words or thoughts of others.
His consideration for others was always evident; but he was nobody’s fool. He was always courteous but never a push-over. He was gentle but with a wry and sly sense of humour.
I shall remember from childhood Murray Mints and a bristling moustache, a guitarist who drove dark blue Mk2 Escort. I shall remember from adulthood a merry twinkle in the eye, a refusal to complain even when in pain, a jolly greeting to the meals on wheels lady. I shall remember the interest and enthusiasm for the world around him, the laser-sharp, insightful mind that remained right until the end.
Grandad was a model of a life well-lived, a model of what true masculinity is about and an example that authority speaks softly. It was a pleasure to have known such a man; a privilege to have been related to him.
Hail and farewell Grandad, you have made our lives brighter for having been in it. May you rest peacefully.
As I read it out to the family assembled, it brought tears to our eyes.
There were 23 of us there. The next time we all meet will I hope be our 40th wedding anniversary. I pray that there are no funerals before that.