As loyal readers of this column know, Christmas for my family is a celebration that, although joyful, is also tinged with sadness. During our first Christmas without Dad in 2017, we didn’t have time to dwell on his loss as my sister was gravely ill, and died at the beginning of January 2018. And so the second Christmas without Dad was our first that the loss of them both was really felt around the festive dinner table. I’m sure there are many of you reading this who can relate to that. We do still thoroughly enjoy it, but our absent loved ones are very much present in our thoughts at such times.
When I took over this column, my first piece appeared not very long after Dad had died, and it was a tribute to him. The grief was still raw, and I’m sure those feelings came out in the way I wrote it. This week, when I took out my dad’s column from 20th December 1980, I wasn’t expecting to read what I did. It is a very moving tribute he wrote to his own father who had just passed away.
I was 13 when my grandad died so did not truly appreciate the impact it would have had on my dad. But reading his tribute now, it is a rare occasion when his emotions are clearly close to the surface. Having experienced the same loss myself, the words that Dad wrote back then have moved me to tears because they are words that I could so easily have written about him. His deep love for his father shines through.
I hope you will indulge me a bit this week, as I’d like to share his words with you now, and although they are written about my grandad, I’d like them to be a tribute to all our lost loved ones whose absence we feel so keenly at this time of year.
So, over to you, Dad:
‘We are facing this Christmas without my father. He died shortly before I settled down to compile this weekly article, a comparatively young man at the age of 64. He passed his final hours in hospital, attended by a devoted hospital staff whose actions helped to cushion the inevitable sorrow.
‘I am sure we are not alone in our sorrow this Christmas. Many other families and individuals will have to cope with similar losses and tragedies, and their personal fortitude will carry them through the dark period ahead.
‘But my own father would never wish us to be sorrowful on his behalf. He was a realist, a gentle person with a delightful sense of humour whose outlook on life was based entirely upon honesty and service to his fellows. He would never wittingly do anyone a bad turn and was always willing to help and assist, yet at the same time never wishing to intrude. He allowed his children to live their own lives, always with a guiding hand but never with compulsion, while his personal views upon politics and religion remained entirely his own.
‘He was a man of remarkable talent, a fascinating combination of arts and mechanical skills with hands that could produce music from almost every instrument and also cope with the task of repairing any mechanical object from an electric iron to a motor cycle or motor car. He firmly believed in doing everything himself – repairs to the house, decorations, plumbing, roofing, gardening, and everything else. That talent has rubbed off on his family and I am thankful for his leadership in that respect. As we say in Yorkshire, “he could turn his hand to owt”.
‘Clearly he will be missed and it is difficult to sum up his qualities in a short phrase, but perhaps the following lines from Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) are suitable:
‘The gentle mind by gentle deeds is known.
For a man by nothing is so well bewray’d
As by his manners.
‘But Christmas is not a time for sorrowing. It is a time of renewal, reminding us of new beginnings and it is a time for celebration and happiness…it is the one universal celebration which is founded upon trust and happiness and it has the ability to cross international boundaries, political arenas and religious differences.”
I send you all my best wishes for the festive season and for a very Happy New Year.
Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times and the Gazette & Herald on 23rd Dec 2020