My mum, Mary, passed away on 29th July 2020, aged 87.
With help from my sister, Sue, this is the eulogy I wrote and then delivered at her funeral on 21st August. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’m posting it up here in memory of mum.
Mary was born on 15th September 1932 at home in Hatters Lane, Berwick upon Tweed.
For reasons best known to her own mum, my grandma Sally, she was named after the midwife who delivered her, Ena Boal, making her official full name Ena Mary Boal Clarke.
You can tell how much mum appreciated that, by the fact she chose to be known only as Mary for the rest of her life. And that when me and my sister came along many years later, we were both given only one name each.
Mary’s schooldays in Berwick were not the happiest. She often recalled the times she would fear going into class because of a terrible teacher who seemed to take great joy in dishing out corporal punishment for the crime of not being able to spell very well.
But when Sally moved to Birmingham to find work in a munitions factory during the war, Mary was evacuated to Stoke on Trent, and she would happily tell us many more joyful tales of the new friends she made there and how many practical domestic skills she learned, as well as looking after the rabbits.
Heading back up north after the war, to Sunderland, Mary first found work in the Pyrex glassware factory and it was while she was there, she made the life-changing decision to move to Bradford, having seen a better paid job advertised at Black Dyke Mill.
When Mary first arrived, she lived in shared accommodation in Clayton Heights with a group of other girls who had made a similar move, and this would later give rise to one of her favourite stories.
After Mary met my dad, Jeff, the love of her life, and news of this first reached his mum, she was rumoured to have remarked somewhat dismissively ‘who’s this hostel girl our Jeff’s seeing’ as if he could have done better somehow.
But as the years went by, it was clear to everyone – even his mum – that Jeff had made the perfect choice, and they were married on 27th March 1954 in Queensbury Parish Church.
In 1962 Mary and Jeff moved to Low Moor, to the family home in Woodrow Drive where they would spend the rest of their lives together. They had almost given up on the hope of having children, but then in September 1963, Susan was born, and three years later, in June 1966 just in time for England winning the World Cup, I arrived to complete the family.
But not quite, because our family was never complete without pets. Our first dog, Kim, was joined by a white cat called Fluffy, followed by another dog called Tuppence, and over the years, a menagerie including a tortoise, a pair of mice, numerous fish, another dog called Foxy and finally, a lovable little Jack Russell, imaginatively named Jack. Mum loved and cared for them all, and in her later years, when she couldn’t look after a pet herself, she chose to donate money to animal charities instead.
I can honestly say Sue and I enjoyed an idyllic childhood and that is entirely thanks to mum and dad. As well as many fantastic annual holidays to Flamborough, and the kind of warm, joyous, memorable Christmases I’ve been trying to recreate ever since I took on the family hosting duties in 1999 – learning to fully appreciate how hard mum worked to make those things appear effortless – we were also taught to be kind, caring, respectful and thoughtful towards others.
Those were the values that Mary lived her whole life, always putting her family and others first.
When Jeff started to suffer with severe disabilities in his early forties, which prevented him from working and running his flooring business, Mary went back out to work as a shop assistant at Sunwin House to support the family financially, as well as continuing to look after us all at home.
Sue also doesn’t mind me standing here and telling you how much support she got from mum after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her teens, to the extent that she believes she wouldn’t have survived it without her.
No matter what life threw at Mary, and it often wasn’t easy or kind, somehow she always managed to rise above it all, the loving, caring, constant rock of our little family.
The little family got bigger when Sue met Steve in 1990 and they were married two years later. Then when their daughter Laura arrived in 1999, mum and dad were both thrilled to finally get the chance to become doting grandparents and regular babysitters.
Sadly, Jeff’s health never improved, but Mary’s love and support for him never wavered, and she was heartbroken when he passed away aged 75 in 2007.
In her later years, mum became an avid reader, finding the time to devour several books a week, even the prolific James Patterson couldn’t write fast enough to supply the demand, and the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency ran out of cases, so she also looked forward to getting a bundle of short story magazines every week to keep her going.
When she wasn’t reading, she was catching up on her favourite TV shows, and could tell you the difference between all the various CSI franchises, as she’d seen them all, as well as being particularly partial to Bargain Hunt and Pointless.
She also enjoyed her first ever trip overseas, and the few days I got to spend showing mum the glorious sights of Paris, which she loved, will stay with me forever. On another trip, this time to Edinburgh, we even called in on Hatters Lane in Berwick on the way, although the house where she was born was no longer there.
Mary struggled, as did many people, with the constraints of lockdown, especially not being able to see her family early on, and losing her regular routine which included a weekly trip out to Tesco with me to collect her shopping. But even then, she was still thinking of others. When I had to do her shopping for her, she always instructed me to buy some extra items to add to the local foodbank collection. That was just mum all over.
However difficult today may feel, as we all come to terms with losing Mary, Sue and I are both comforted in the belief that mum and dad are now reunited again, and we know that nothing ever made them happier than when they were together.
Thank you all for being here with us today, in these strangest of circumstances, it is appreciated more than any words could say.