What a Legacy!

A man who refused to be defined by his disability. Restricted by, for certain, but never defined.

A man who lived his life to the maximum. You might say that his maximum was less than an able bodied man, but you would be hard-pressed to prove it.

A man whose resilience sometimes morphed into stubbornness; whose pride in his appearance, and in his work could have been misunderstood to be OCD.

There were two strands to Allen’s life; multicoloured and vibrant with sound – his family and his work. In both strands, he fought hard to leave a legacy; children and grandchildren who he championed to become the best version of themselves. It worked.

In supporting the work of several charities, he gave disabled people hope and reason to cracking on with their lives. “He saved my life,” was not just a one-off, but a common theme, and you knew they meant it.

A man who loved Manchester United – you suspect his patience with them would have been tested to the limit in the last few weeks! And yet that patience spurred him on to work on the family history, hour after hour. (As I write, his oldest daughter, is sat on her iPad trawling through and organising pages and pages of information, trying to make sense of it all.)

It is exactly a week ago that we said our final “goodbyes,” all one hundred of us – wheelchair users squeezed into every available space, others craning their necks from outside the back door of the chapel. There was humour, sadness, the passing on the baton. For sure, a deep sense of loss, gaping holes deeper than we could have imagined. But the memories, the images, the sounds of this man who had a bigger impact than we could have realised, call us to be who we are, to not be defined by our past or our present limitations.

Allen often referred to our family as “the God-Squad,” always with a smile on his face. He never claimed to have any faith – I wouldn’t blame him either. His hard life constantly chucked boulders of questions and challenges in the road ahead of him. And yet… to those who would see and hear, The Inherent Presence was obvious, tangible and comforting.

“Allen, thank you. Thank you for showing me what courage and resilience look like. Thank you for the wonderful gift of your oldest daughter, who has taken up the baton and is living the legacy. Until…”

Teresa found this in the front of an exercise book on Allen’s desk. His words. The way he lived his life. The legacy he leaves for those who will take the baton and run with it.

Goodbye, Grandma Betty

The “always there” human North Star of the Compass of my spirituality has gone. Through the door that we call “death,” a horrible word that fails to tell the truth.

With Grandma Betty, Summer 2021

“Goodbye for now. You have filled every day of my sixty-three years with your kindness, with your prayers and with your interest.

I feel very sad and little bit lonely today, but it will pass. And I will press on to the higher calling of my Eternal Star.”

Grandma Betty. Not really my grandma, but absolutely my Grandma.

I remember 1963, just about, waving goodbye on London’s dockside, as the ship carrying Betty and Cyril out to Jamaica, slowly but resolutely disappeared onto the horizon. Jamaica, a place blessed by their missionary calling and their kindness for many years.

Whenever they returned for a break, they would come to stay with us, or holidays would be arranged so that they could come with us. The conversation has, repeated itself over and over, throughout the years:

“How is school going?”

“How is college going?”

“How is work going?”

“And how is church for you? Is there a youth group? Etc, etc.”

And then, “How are the children doing at school?”

Conversations that have marked me for life. Not by their intellectual or theological muscle-rippling; not by their holiness or their doctrinal accuracy. But by their kindness and by their interest. I would write to them, on those old airmail letters, waffling on about nothing. And always Grandma Betty would reply. Always.

As I struggle to come to terms with the loss and the sadness, I wonder (prompted by my brother), would we even have become a family if Betty and Cyril had not taken mum and dad under their wings, and loved them with gallons of kindness into some kind of normalcy? I’m not sure.

I stayed in Betty’s home about a month before she left us. She was already in a care home. I was staying there so that I could look after dad, who lives, literally, round the corner, for a few days. It felt weird being in Betty’s home without her being there. I stumbled across some books written by an author who has become such a dear friend to me, helping me to negotiate a deconstruction and then reconstruction of my faith. I was shocked. I thought I knew what kind of books Grandma would read, and these certainly did not fit what I thought her theological leanings were. Shocked and impressed. Even at the end, Grandma was full of surprises.

Postscript: It is a few weeks ago now that some of the family stood, sombre and stoic, some fighting hard to hide the tears that refused to remain behind our grey faces. I had forgotten how heavy coffins are. And how empty of hope and joy the words of a Christian burial are.

We resumed our thoughtfulness at the Thanksgiving Service. It was somewhat weird because it was held at the church I was dedicated at, and where my first Sunday School lessons were heard. Not much had changed. Everything bar the pews were in place as I remembered. And some of the people were still in place. The tributes that were read were full of the Grandma Betty that I will always remember – a woman of persistent kindness and fierce loyalty.

Waiting for me when I return home from holiday is a box of photographs, the precursor to several more boxes. Cyril was an avid photographer – all 11,800 of them. I am sure as I go through, deciding what to be kept and scanned, other memories will flood back. All I want to remember is the character of this short dynamo of a woman, who loved our family into a world of kindness and grace. And for that I will be forever grateful.

The human North Star of the compass of my spirituality:

“Goodbye for now. You have filled every day of my sixty-three years with your kindness, with your prayers and with your interest.

I feel very sad and a little bit lonely today, but it will pass. And I will press on to the higher calling of my Eternal North Star!”