It is good to read about a life well-lived, I think. Especially if you struggle with your own existential dread. (Following Covid, isn’t that all of us, to a degree?)
My mother’s Uncle, John, to us “Uncle John” even though he was actually Great Uncle John, died last month. The funeral will take place next week. It’s a sobering moment for us as a family, because John represents the last living blood relative of my grandparents’ generation on both sides. John leaves behind his second wife, Pat, his two sons and my mother’s two cousins Alistair and Andrew and their families, an enormous number of lives touched, and, well, us. Me.
I got to know John a little in his retirement, my adulthood. Before that he was someone we went to a football match with one time and a face in family photographs from a time before I have memories. But following the death of my grandfather George, John’s brother, J and I would stop by John and his wife Margaret’s place in the midlands on the way to or from the Lake District. After George and my other remaining grandparents died in rapid succession within a matter of months in the early 2010s, my whole immediate family gravitated towards our parents’ and grandparents’ siblings, as if putting out tendrils, desperate to connect to what remains of each other here on Earth. Redoubling our efforts with more obscure branches of our family trees.
I had known that John was active with Burton Albion FC, his local football club, and involved in its work in the community. I hadn’t known, although it doesn’t surprise me to learn, that through his previous role with Burton Albion Community Trust he had been instrumental in enabling the Pirelli Stadium to become a vaccination centre during the pandemic. Our whole family is quite “light under a bushel”, I am perhaps less this way inclined personally but in general it is in our family culture to be understated.
I knew John for his warm hospitality, his unlikely fandom for Russell Brand, the sincerity with which he welcomed us as a newly married couple and with which he talked with me over the years as we grappled as a family with our history and with our future. I remember how he took his own tragedy and worked with his son to make a BBC Documentary on a systematic problem in UK Hospitals, always with care and love and never with self-pity. His late wife Margaret was an astonishing character, and following her death John never wallowed but carried on, welcoming J and I, holding my hand when the marriage failed, building relationships and being at the centre of his community.
I know John’s death isn’t about me, but he won’t mind being part of something bigger – that was him in life for sure. I want to note somehow how different birth and death look once one believes. When John was dying, I felt calm and steady; I prayed because that’s what I do now, and I listened to others grieving and grappling. Coincidentally seeing as it’s John’s funeral this week I held a newborn for the first time in several years too, the much-longed-for son of a friend; I gazed into its unseeing eyes, my heart unable to hold onto this miracle. Babies are have been Simply Marvellous, but Everything Is Different Now.
Lots of love to John and his family, and blessings aplenty to my new friend’s new life, also, as it happens, a “J”.