Mum - Marie Keegan - 1926-2020
As some of you know already, my Mum died last October after a long battle with advanced cancer. This is a transcript of the eulogy I gave at her funeral in November of last year.
I've been putting off publishing it, in fact, I've put off doing writing of any sort, but now's the time. And you never know, it may help someone else deal with what they're going through with someone they know who has died. After all, we all go through bereavement at some time or other.
How lovely to see so many of you here in person and online this afternoon and I thank you all for being here. I'm touched that my Mum meant so much to you.
Hello, my name is Helen and I’m Marie Keegan’s youngest daughter. It’s not an easy job to write a eulogy for one’s own mother, but here goes.
I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard for me to believe Mum’s gone which sounds a bit odd, after all, she was 94 years old and suffering from advanced cancer. Yet she seemed so strong and ever-present.
When speaking to Mum’s friends and relatives, many lovely things were said about her - ‘such a livewire’ ‘so thoughtful’ ‘bright and sparkly’ ‘never any different’ ‘beautifully turned out’ ‘great sense of humour’ ‘strong and determined’ ‘an amazing woman’ ‘formidable’ ‘the best looking girl to come out of Tyldesley’ ‘witty and charming’ ‘easy and interesting to talk to’ ‘elegant’ ‘a great hostess’ ‘a smile to light up a room’ ‘approachable’ ‘interested in others’. Mum was all these things and more. She may have been small in size but she certainly wasn’t small in personality or impact.
Mum came from humble beginnings in Tyldesley in what is now Greater Manchester. She met my father at the age of 15 - my father a coal miner and my Mum working in the coal board office. 10 years later, and after a long engagement, they married and set sail for India where my father had been appointed as manager for a coal mine in the North East India coal fields.
That was an adventure and a half! Their new life in India was a million miles away from post-war life in a Lancashire mining village. Mum loved it, not least having two children, Martin and Jane, but also the friends she made, the trips to Calcutta and their active social life! But after 15 years, it was time to return and start a new life in England.
But all did not go according to plan. Mum was surprised to find that she was expecting me, and speaking to her sister, Betty, confided in her that she really didn’t know what on earth she was going to do with a new baby at her age. My Auntie Betty said, well, it’ll be wonderful. She can look after you when you’re old. Quite the prophecy, Aunty Betty. Mum only shared this memory with me a few months ago. And to be honest, it was a surprise to us both that I should end up being Mum’s full-time carer. Neither of us knew that I had it in me to do it. But what I never told Mum, but now wish I had, was that it was a privilege to be able to do it.
Mum was very well travelled and enjoyed holidays near and far - whether that was a day trip somewhere or a short break with me in Cheltenham or Hereford, long summers spent in the Isle of Man and Ireland, winter months spent in mainland Spain, Majorca and Portugal or trips further afield to South Africa and Florida. Most of these trips involved a lot of walking - coastal paths, hill climbs, tramping through fields and half overgrown footpaths. Mum and I spent a lot of time together on our feet and as we'd walk, we'd chat and admire the views and Mum would tell me what all the different flowers and plants were that we passed along the way. Mum's knowledge of plants was really impressive.
Mum was always very smartly dressed, well turned out with perfect make-up, pink lipstick and a spritz of lovely perfume. She always had great taste and great interest in clothes and shoes and she enjoyed shopping. When I was a little girl, Mum would drag me around the shops, and I'd end up sitting on the floor in the dressing room at Russell and Dorrell in Worcester whilst she tried on what seemed like an endless array of clothes asking me what I thought of them. And then afterwards treating me to a toasted teacake in the cafe there. This trend continued well into Mum's old age with regular trips to House of Fraser and the local TK Maxx. Mum always loved a good sweater! I hope some of her excellent taste and style has rubbed off on me.
One thing that did rub off on me was Mum's penchant for bargain hunting. I seem to have Mum's knack for spotting a yellow sticker in the food aisle in Marks & Spencer or a sale rail in the fashion department at 50 paces.
And where do you wear all your nice clothes? Why, at a party. And there were lots of those in Mum’s life. Mum loved to dance the night away starting in her younger years in Lancashire, to glamorous parties at The Grand Hotel in Calcutta in her thirties, to corporate dos at The Dorchester in London or a Riverboat Shuffle in Worcester in later years. And when there weren’t dinners or dances to go to, there were dinners and parties at home and Mum was a great hostess. I remember there were many late nights when the grown-ups would be listening to the likes of Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, and Barbra Streisand. And sometimes I'd have to come downstairs to ask them to turn it down as I couldn't sleep!
But it wasn’t all socialising and glamour. Mum was also very down to earth, practical and gave her time to others. She volunteered in charity shops in Worcester and in the Isle of Man and also helped out at school and parish fundraising events. She did the flowers at Church with her friend Noreen. She looked after her neighbour Herta when she became terminally ill and became her carer. She befriended one of the Mums at my primary school who was having a lot of trouble with her husband and took her under her wing to help her sort herself out. Even in her 90s, Mum would pick up a bit of shopping for her friend who was younger than her but clearly didn’t have her stamina. Not forgetting how much she loved to spend time with all her family too.
Mum also liked to keep up to date with current affairs - be that the news kind or the kind that happens on TV in Coronation Street or Last Tango in Halifax. Until Mum’s sight failed her, she would read the Telegraph most days and always did the crosswords - both the quick and the cryptic. I can still only manage a few cryptic clues before giving up. But not Mum. She even completed the Telegraph cryptic Crossword a few days before she died. If I tell you nothing else about Mum, she would want you to know that she was still doing the cryptic crossword right up until the very end.
Spending all this time with Mum over these last few years has taught me much about life and love, just by being with her, listening to her and observing how she lived. The easy way which Mum could talk to anyone and how she treated everyone the same, whether you’re a corporate bigwig or a part-time waitress in a cafe, is an example to all of us. The way Mum could make and keep friends anywhere and everywhere and have a genuine interest in their lives. Mum could find out someone’s life story within a short time of meeting them - that's a skill I don’t have but I’m working on it. Mum’s gratitude at the smallest thing and the way she was touched by small kindnesses is something we could all learn from. And Mum’s memory! She could remember small details about people - their lives, conversations they’d had, time spent together, birthdays and anniversaries. Even right up to the end. Incredible.
Mum’s faith was also important to her and we spent time praying together every day. And I can’t help but admire Mum’s strength and fortitude. She used to say that old age isn’t for the fainthearted. She’s not wrong.
But what I learned most of all from Mum, especially in these last few months, is about love. After my father died, I remember telling a close friend that although it was very sad that he’d died, and I missed him terribly, it had allowed me to get to know and to fall in love with my Mum all over again. And I’ve enjoyed seven and a half years of that and I wouldn’t swap that for the world.
My goodness, she was one of a kind, that Marie Keegan. I know everyone says that about their Mum, but I really mean it. Her love of life and love of living was extraordinary. She was so sad when she realised she wasn’t going to make it to 100 and there would be no telegram from the Queen. She really wanted to just keep going. But by her own admission, what a life she had led. Full of joy and laughter and filled with love given and received.
Daughter, sister, wife, mum, Grandmother, Great grandmother, auntie, cousin, neighbour and friend. Mum loved us - her friends and family - and will continue to be loved and remembered with great affection by all of us.
Marie is joining those who have gone before her including my father, Terry, her sister Betty, and her brother in law Tommy. I imagine they are having a great party up there - Sinatra on the record player, my Dad pouring the drinks, Uncle Tommy telling the jokes and Mum and Aunty Betty dancing the night away, but this time no-one is telling them to turn the music down.
Oh, I have an awful lot to live up to, Mum. You’re a hard act to follow, all right, but I’m going to do my very best.
As you used to say to me every night before you went to bed, and as I say to you now, Mum, ‘thank you, thank you, goodnight and God Bless’.