Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thanksgiving for Helen Beatrice Clark

Today was the thanksgiving service and funeral for our beloved Nan.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and although it was incredibly sad, it was lovely to see so many of her friends and extended family coming to say their goodbyes, and to be with us and share our grief but also our pride and gratitude for the years we had with her.

It was a difficult thing to do, but I volunteered to give a brief eulogy on behalf of us 5 grandkids - Tash did such a great job at Pop's funeral (as did Dad) and I figured that if Lin thought she could manage it for Nan, well then I could too. Maybe it would help make it seem a little bit more real, but more than that, it was a way to say goodbye when at the moment I can manage little more than sorrow that I haven't been here to share the last 18 months with her. I knew when I left for PNG that there was a possibility that Pop might get sick, and also knew that in going there would be lots of sacrifices I would have to make.

But I never thought those sacrifices would include the last few months of his life, or the last year and a half of Nan's.

I could never regret the time I've had in PNG, and the decision to go when I did was much-deliberated and carefully considered. It was definitely the right time for me to go in terms of everything that was happening in my life, and I can say without a doubt that being at Marianville and living in PNG has been one of the best experiences I've ever had. I also know that both Nan and Pop were very proud of me being there, and wouldn't have had me reconsider for the world.

But looking at that decision now, and knowing what I've lost by being there rather than here...

I don't know.

I wish things were different. I wish I'd been here.

I really don't know what else to write - lost for words - all there is is sorrow.

Here's my eulogy. I plagiarised myself and this blog in the beginning - apologies for that. They told me not to make them cry, so I went for gags instead - a wise move I guess as it helped me get through it - and I think Nan would have approved.

Eulogy for Nan

I wanted to speak this morning, on behalf of my sisters, Samantha and Emma, and my cousins, Adam and Tash, to honour the the life and memory of the amazing woman that we knew as Nan.
I have an internet journal, and earlier this week I was trying to think of what to write about our Helen Beatrice (or Beetroot, as we affectionately called her) Clark.

Eternal rest?

I don’t think so!

Not if I know that grandmother of mine - she'll already be elected God’s first Secretary, and be organising a cake sale and white elephant, and more than likely she’s volunteered Pop to be a runner in some heavenly second-hand book stall, because she figures he’s been sitting around long enough by now – ‘Come on Speedy, what have you been doing all year, waiting for me?’ And I wonder what kind of bus tours they've got organised up there in Paradise, because I’m sure she’s already itching to plan out the next 12 months worth of excursions.

Those of you who knew Nan as her mate would recognise this penchant for organising and being involved – it’s a pretty sad case when your grandmother has more events written in on her calendar than you do, but that’s the way it always was with Nan – she was a social butterfly and the life of the community wherever she went. I’m sure our family is not the only place where her absence will be felt – her liveliness and sense of joy were remarked upon by just about everyone she met, and there’ll be a lot of places that feel empty without her.

She was a sprite, our Nan – tiny (or as a good friend of mine might describe her, a short-arse!), and with a devilish sense of humour and love of pranks that she passed down through all the family (fortunately her height was passed down only to her daughters – oh yeah, and to Sam!). Wherever she went you could expect snorts of laughter, and she was always making mischief, even just days after her first stroke when she was encouraging her nurses to bow to her, and would answer only to Lady Clark. She loved a good joke, and refused to take life too seriously, playing up even to her doctors and generally living up to the nickname on the jumper we found for her and she wore with a grin – cheeky monkey! She certainly was that.

Life is meant for living, and everything Nan did or loved spoke of her zest for life.

She loved bright colours – ruby red, teal blue and mustard yellow will always be Nan to me, and you can see from her rainbow of girls here today that she passed that love down to us too. “Love you in red” she’d say with a smile and nod, and you’d know your outfit met with her approval – the brighter, the better.

Animals were one of her greatest passions. She was batty about dogs – not just her dogs, anyone’s dogs –as well as cats, otters, her canary Josh, the ducks that came to visit her, the wild birds she fed wherever she lived – she loved them all, so much so that her favourite painting in all the world (she who was a lover of art) was not a Monet or a Van Gogh as you might expect, but a painting of cows in a paddock at dawn.

Her garden was another passion where again her love of colour showed. She instilled in me a love of flowers from an early age, both the English garden varieties she grew herself, and the Ausralian wildflowers she named as she and Pop took us for walks in North Epping. Her green thumb and encylopedic knowledge of the names of plants seem to be a part of the genetic code that make up us Clark women (though in Marg’s case I think the code for naming plants got a bit scrambled!). Just Joey roses, heliotrope, pansies, pink, purple and white primulas – all of these will be planted in honour of her in every garden I ever have, and I’m sure her voice will be heard correcting us when we’re out on a post-lunch dogwalk, and Marg’s busy mixing up tibucina with cappucino, and her sons-in-law are naming every plant they see as either ‘gorgonzola’ or ‘gordonia’.

There are so many happy memories of Nan from when we were children – cold Sunday mornings with breakfast in bed before church – Nan’s froggy feet under the covers as we waited for Pop to bring us tea and toast; summer afternoons swimming in the pool at 308 after school; walking the dogs in the steamroller park; and the infamous holiday at the beach where she got dumped by a breaker and came up spluttering with her hair drenched and full of sand (sorry Nan, but you had to know that story was coming!). And so many traditions that continued as we grandkids grew up into adults – the family picnics by the water for any and every special occasion, loud and raucous storytelling accompanied by shouts of laughter and spilled red wine, accusations of disrespect and threats of no Christmas presents as we giggled at her food dripping all down her cardigan, the promised ‘big hit’ that was forever coming our way… I remember getting into trouble for telling a nurse that yes she needed a bib, but no it had nothing to do with the stroke, she was just a messy eater, always had been – the laughter echoing through the rooms lasting even through her final days when she was a silent co-conspirator in all the fun. I’m sure she was giggling and wagging her finger when that nurse came and told us to keep it down – and probably wishing she could have been the one to voice the line that it was the cricket that had finally bored her to death after waiting through her last morning with just my dad, the TV and the Australian test team keeping her company.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I refuse to believe that anything could stop that little woman from laughing or loving, and I know that although we are going to miss her physical presence more than we can possibly imagine at the moment, nothing will keep Helen or Bob Clark from continuing to be a part of this family that they created – the most amazing, rich, strong and loving experience of family a person could ever have. Thank you Nan. We love you, always.


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