Since my last posting it’s been an roller coaster few weeks. Our trip to the US did go ahead and it was just great. I’ll write more in my next posting. But on Friday we got to say a final good bye to our sister Helen. It was a tough day with atrocious weather at the graveside adding to the grimness of the proceedings. But the wake organised by my brother and his wife Deb was really good and the celebrations of her life continued long into the night. In the end it was a happy way to say farewell.
As with my mum I got to do the eulogy which again I found incredibly hard. As I’ve got older I seem to have become more emotional about these things, and it must have been a difficult watch with my nephew Max assigned to stand by me and step in for me. In the end I managed to get through it bar the last two sentences which he delivered beautifully. That’s the confidence of the young for you. Anyway I thought I’d repeat the eulogy here for any family members or friend who were unable to make it…
Some words about Helen
On behalf of our family I’d like to welcome you all today and say thank you for coming to say your good byes to our lovely funny sister, daughter, cousin, aunty, and friend Helen.
I’d like to pay tribute to my brother Dave for sorting all of today’s events and to Reverend Martin Keighley for his kind words. And my cousin Karen has been totally great in supporting Dave from Helen’s woman’s perspective.
It’s a terribly sad day but for all our mutual sorrow I can’t help but imagine how bad it must be for my father Bob, who today gets to say goodbye to his 3rd child. The second to be taken by this dreadful disease. In this day and age that just cannot be right and our heart goes out to him. Not only has he lost a second daughter but also his best friend.
But I don’t want to just dwell on the pain of Helen’s passing. Instead I’d like to try and reflect on how loved Helen was by all. She was the youngest in our family and our baby sister. I can remember going off to Baines school as a 12 year old for the last day of term on 22 December. Our very pregnant mum was upstairs with dad (presumably) and her midwife and the mechanics of the next few hours were pretty much beyond me. But just before we were due to head off for a final school assembly (and an early finish, woo hoo) I was called to the Headmaster’s office. I thought I was in serious trouble but he welcomed me in and announced that I was the proud brother of a beautiful baby sister. I was a bit stunned; a) I’d never been in this room and it was totally lush b) I’d forgotten that my mum was actually going through labour and c) a sister! We were a lads’ family; me and my brothers Dave and Mark. I couldn’t help thinking how was a girl going to fit in? Where would she sleep?
For several months it was a moot question because she had a crib in mum and dad’s room. And then in our new 4 bedroomed house in Oldfield Close she had her own room. But in 1969 when we moved to the 3 bedroomed house in Levens Drive, where my father still lives, 6 folks had to fit into 3 bedrooms and I found myself as a 17 year old sharing with my 5 year old sister for a couple of years before heading off to uni. And I can tell you that she was a dream room buddy compared with some of the herberts who I later roomed with. In fact I’d say those few years we shared were where I absolutely bonded with her. Even as a 5-6 year old she was funny and engaging.
When my wife-to-be Carol first came on the scene Helen loved her coming round as it meant that there was another girl in a very blokey household. Helen just adored popping into town with Carol on the no 2 bus for a spot of girlie shopping.
And in recent times she’d absolutely love to head over to Dave & Deb’s for Sunday tea with her best mate Bob. And those teas were legendary. It wasn’t just the food that hooked Helen to her Sunday evening fix. She absolutely loved her family quiz night which she invariably won, of course. As you’d expect from one of the first girls to be admitted to Baines Grammar school, she was a smart cookie.
And I think everyone who I’ve spoken to since her passing and all those who have sent us messages of condolence have said that she was just the most fun. A brilliant sense of humour, a blogger with a wickedly funny turn of phrase, great company at a party and just the nicest person to chat to. I think that’s why she had so many long-term friendships – she was just so likeable and so liked. Everyone I’ve spoken to has a funny story to tell. My daughter Emma told me about the time Helen told a story about when she was in Manchester with Bob before or after one of her treatments. And Bob accompanied her to all her sessions. They also took time out to visit all the sights that Manchester had to offer including his old haunts and this day she took him to Canal St, famed now as a gay area of the city. In a coffee bar she left Bob to order some drinks whilst she went to the loo and a fabulously attired drag queen came up to ask Bob what he really really wanted. From the menu of course. I think Bob managed to ask, probably in his deepest voice, for two lattes with chocolate sprinkles on the one please, without a hint of irony. Helen returned from the loo all smiling to ask if he was sorted and he declared that it’s very different from his youth where there was no gayness. No of course not Bob.
And of course as you all know Helen came out as proudly gay in her 40’s. I think it was a decision she struggled with, I mean announcing rather than realising it, and she married in 2015. But it didn’t work out, not least because within a few short months she was diagnosed with cancer (myeloma) and for the past 5 years or so she’d been bravely managing that situation, mostly with Bob’s help, until it finally overwhelmed her. This dreadful, awful disease which has blighted my family.
But I don’t want to focus on low points. She was utterly affable and made so many great friends throughout her life like Alison and Beverley and at school with the infamous 10 amigos and of course where she worked in the CiviI Service and in the NHS and her neighbours. I think we all remember Helen for her love of life and socialising with those friends of course which she loved. She was famous for her passions – be it Man United (and deliberately trailing Bob, a life long City fan around Old Trafford’s Museum or Superstore). Or her love of music, especially from the 80/90’s. One particular song came on whilst we drove up last night that always reminded us of her, it was by Womack and Womack entitled Teardrops of course. How poignant. And her love of travel – and we were delighted she visited our place in Italy several years ago. And of course she loved a fast sports car. Who doesn’t love a girl who owns a sports car? She also famously appeared on Eggheads on tv taking on the full smart arse panel after her colleagues fell away early. Helen matched them for at least 4 rounds before succumbing, and all the time flirting outrageously with the then host Dermot Murnaghan. Ever the glory chaser she also appeared with Bob on Antiques Roadshow in the background doing the audience ‘ooh’ sounds to any surprisingly good valuation. In recent years she took great pleasure renovating her house with a new bathroom, kitchen and garden landscaped by Dave and Russell. Business cards available at the door.
But more than anything, I think she hopelessly loved her Labrador dog Bertie, who’s even made a appearance today. Here’s the thing I think she loved that pooch as much as anything. He was her companion, which is what she was looking for all her life, I think, and never found. She was everyone’s friend and nobody’s life partner which is perhaps the saddest thought.
But she will forever be our beautiful, funny, daughter/baby sister, cousin, aunty and great friend. Good bye Hel, my lovely room buddy.