Sunday, 19 February 2012

Eulogy for my Dad

John Haley (27th February, 1940 - 12th October, 2011)

Me and my Dad!
I wrote about my Dad in my last post.  I told of his total support for our move to Vietnam.  He was very excited for us and read a lot on the internet about where we were going and what we would face.  Without his blessing, we woudn't be in Vietnam at all.

I mentioned in my last post, too, that he had suffered with ill-health for a number of years.  His problems began when a routine annual medical for work revealed a problem with his heart, resulting in a quadruple heart bypass operation being performed on him.  A few months later, when he was back at work and apparently making a good recovery, he was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a debilitating disease for which there is no cure and the treatment for which is high doses of steroids.  This was 15 years ago.  In the following years, my Dad's health deteriorated, mainly due to the drugs he had to take.  He was diagnosed with diabetes, neurothapy, renal failure and a number of other ailments, but he still managed to keep going.  He rarely complained.  I knew he was having a particularly bad day if when I phoned to ask how he was, his answer came back, "Oh, fair to crap!".

So, my Dad wasn't in the best shape or the first flush of youth, but neither was he particularly old nor were any of his illnesses, taken on their own, life-threatening.  So, it came as a huge shock when, less than 4 weeks in to my new life in Vietnam, I got a call from my Mum to tell me that Dad had suffered an abdominal aneurism and wasn't expected to survive.  In fact, he died three hours after that initial call. 

I didn't know how to react.  My new employers were very supportive.   I went into auto-pilot - booking a flight, packing a case and getting to the airport.  Once on the long flight home, though, I went to pieces.  I don't know what my fellow passengers thought of me sobbing quietly for the entire journey!

The next few days passed in a blur of activity.  There was so much to organise, I barely had time to think.  There was one thing I was determined to do, however, and that was to write and deliver the eulogy for my Dad.  One night, a few days after his death, I couldn't sleep, so I got up, went and sat quietly in the lounge and wrote the words I wanted to say.  I'm proud to relate that, after several read-throughs, I managed to get up in front of a packed church and give my tribute for my Dad.  I reproduce it here as a permanent reminder of the day and of my Dad.

'I am a teacher.  I’m used to speaking in front of groups of people.  It’s my job.  I do it every day.  But this is different – very different!!

The last time I was in this church for a service, just a few short weeks ago, my Dad was standing where I am now, reading the lesson in his own inimitable style – clearly, with sufficient volume for those at the back to hear, and in his ‘special voice’ – the one where his usual ‘pass’ became ‘parse’ – the one reserved for the phone and for church!  Today, I’m faced with a much larger crowd than Dad was, but I’m aiming to match his clarity and volume, if not the accent – my vowels will remain flat like the ‘real Yorkshire lass’ Dad often reminded me I was!  If I fail, if it all gets too much for me, please forgive me and don’t worry – Peter has promised to step in and finish reading for me.

We are all here today to celebrate the life of John Haley.  Every time I say his full name, in my head, I hear Susan’s voice, saying, “My brother, John Haley, he’s my brother.”  Susan is Dad’s youngest sister and, as many of you know, she has Down’s Syndrome.  She has always had so much love for everyone, but especially her brother and sister and, whenever we went anywhere, she would tell anyone who would listen about ‘her brother, John’ and she would put her arms round him, kiss his cheek over and over again and then smile at everyone in the room.  Sometimes, she would tell Dad directly, “You’re my brother, John Haley.  You’re my brother, you are.”  Not that Dad ever needed reminding of any of his roles and responsibilities.  As a husband, Dad, Granddad, father-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, group member, or friend, Dad always shouldered his responsibilities without question and with enthusiasm and I am very proud of him for that.

Dad’s greatest role in life was always as a husband to my Mum.  In many ways, they were like chalk and cheese, but, as in all the best partnerships, they both strove very hard to make it work.  And it did work – for over 50 years.  They met as children, brought together because each had a sister who had contracted Polio and was left severely disabled.  But from such tragedy came such happiness.  They started ‘courting’, as I believe it was called in those days, when Mum was 16 and Dad 19 and married 5 years later.  Mum and Dad always celebrated milestones in their lives together – important birthdays and anniversaries.  Many of you here today were with us when we celebrated their silver and their ruby weddings.  2014 would have brought us all together again for their golden wedding and they were already planning the party and looking forward to it.  Unfortunately, it was not to be, but I’m sure many of you will have great memories of past celebrations and will be raising a glass or two to them on May 23rd a couple of years from now.

As a Dad, I can’t begin to tell you what he meant to us.  Early morning walks along the prom at Mablethorpe holding his hand; his silly sense of humour which never quite left him, even in the darkest days of his later illnesses; tucking us into bed at night; taking us in a dinghy in the sea despite not being able to swim and always telling us about how he almost drowned when he was seven; the stories of childhood antics which included (Sorry, Mum – this was the only part of this eulogy she didn’t approve of!) blowing up frogs with a bicycle pump, putting them on a wall and then shooting at them with a catapult so that they exploded; his hurt when we let him down; his pride when we did well.

One of the greatest gifts Dad gave us, though, was a love of learning – a desire to discover answers for ourselves.  He had left school at 15 and gone to work in a gents’ outfitters in Doncaster, where he learned how to dress smartly and present himself well.  As the eldest of 4 siblings, he felt it was his responsibility to help to provide for the family, but no-one expected him to remain a shop assistant for long, and he didn’t!  He worked very hard to improve himself and succeeded beyond expectations.  Throughout his life, he was an avid reader and we always had lots of books in the house.  When we were children, he was often taking night school classes, both to further his career and also, simply, to expand his knowledge – just for the fun of it.  He took courses in subjects as diverse as bookkeeping, German, French, accountancy, calligraphy and wine-making.  (The language classes were probably the least successful of his endeavours, as anyone who was with us during our time in Paris would testify!  ‘Une grand noir, anyone? Mercy boo-kop!’).

Dad’s thirst for knowledge continued to the end of his life when he was an active member of the University of the Third Age (I know we have many U3A members with us today), but it was during his working life when it led to some of his greatest adventures.  He readily accepted when his company began offering him overseas trips in the 1970s.  One of his earliest excursions led to him being kept under house arrest by Colonel Gaddafi in Libya for three weeks.  In the days before mobile phones or the internet, neither we nor his company had any idea where he was.  It was a very worrying time for Mum, worry she largely kept from us, so that when Dad did come home safely, I was just delighted to be able to take his souvenirs into school – including a tin of Heinz baked beans with the label printed in Arabic and a packet of the most disgusting boiled sweets I’d ever tasted!!

A few years later, Dad was promoted.  His new role meant that he had to travel all over Africa and would be based in the company’s Paris office.  So, Mum & Dad gave us the greatest opportunity of our lives and moved us to Paris.  You have to understand how big a deal this was in 1981.  We were living in a village outside Doncaster.  We hadn’t even been abroad until the year before and now, here we were, living in one of the most beautiful cities on earth.  Dad didn’t always enjoy his job – especially the travel & the food (he would go off on his trips with half a suitcase full of Bird’s Apeel Powdered Orange Juice and Jacob’s Fig Rolls!), but in terms of broadening our horizons, forging friendships that last until today and educating us about the wider world, there followed the two most exciting and enjoyable years!  Thanks, Dad!!

So, I’ve talked about Dad’s role as a husband and a father, but, a few years ago, he took on his most treasured role – as a Granddad.  He and Mum have 3 beautiful granddaughters whom Dad described in a recent letter to Ian as ‘the sun & the stars’ to them.  He loved them completely and that feeling was reciprocated. 

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Grace.  She’s 9.  She wanted me to say something on her behalf.  This is what she wrote:


The smiles you gave were the best, the hugs and cuddles and kisses will beat the rest.

The memories of you Granddad will be the days out, and the rides you let me have on your scooter.

I will remember you for ever and Grandma and Aunty Andrea and Uncle Mark will miss you as much as me.

I am so lucky that I got to have some time with you this year. While I am at school today, I will remember your smile as we say goodbye.

With all my heart, Granddad, I am proud to say you were my Granddad.

It is a tragedy that Grace, Tiegan and Isabel will now have to grow up without their beloved Granddad, but those of us who are left, will make sure that they never forget how much they were loved by him.

I’ve already told you about Susan and her relationship with her brother.  Dad’s other sister, my Auntie Janet, wanted me to say at this point, that she will always be grateful for having had the most supportive and kind brother for herself and for Susan.

As a brother-in-law, too, Dad was totally supportive and caring as, indeed, he was as a father-in-law.  He and Mark shared an interest in aviation, and in the year when Dad turned 60 and Mark turned 40, they shared a flight over London in a frighteningly ancient plane, an experience they both talked about with pleasure in the years that followed.

Many of you here today know my Dad as a friend.  Some of you have known him for many years and, for some of you, he came into your lives more recently.  I know what a loyal, generous and gregarious friend he was and you will all have your own memories of him.  I would love to hear about some of them at some point!

We, as a family, have been overwhelmed by the messages of support we’ve received since Dad’s death.  The many kind words have comforted and moved us.  A recurring theme in the cards and letters has been, ‘what a gentleman he was’.  We are so proud to know how loved and respected he was by so many people – how many lives he touched.  I don’t want any of you to think he was a saint (most of you know that he wasn’t!), but he was an honest, decent man with a curious sense of humour who led a good life and who has left a lasting legacy in his family and in his community.

On the day Dad died, a colleague of mine in Vietnam asked me if I had religious faith.  I had to say that it was something I had struggled with for many years and, even now, I was unable to give him a definitive answer.  But I told him that Dad had and so had Mum.  Malcolm then said, “My faith is unshakeable and I know that your Dad is up there now waiting for your Mum, so that they can dance together again.”  Now, Malcolm had never met either of them and didn’t know if they used to dance together or not.  In truth, they didn’t very often and, when they did, Mum often complained that Dad had two left feet, but his comments brought to my mind images of Mum & Dad dancing together when Ian & I were children and Mum laughing like she hasn’t very much in recent years.  So, I hope Malcolm’s right and that, when Dad’s finished dancing with Mum or wants to give her toes a rest, he’ll save a dance for me and one each for his beautiful granddaughters.

Goodnight, God Bless, Dad!'

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