This is the text of the Eulogy I wrote and delivered at my Mother’s Funeral in Geelong on Thursday August 23. More online tributes are available here
We gather today on an ancient land and acknowledge the Indigenous owners of this place. We remember the women who mothered and nurtured communities for thousands of generations prior to our families’ ancestors arrival in more recent times.
We gather today in this sacred space to remember Kath, woman of faith hope and love. We gather in this church to which she was brought soon after her birth in 1927 to be baptized into the Catholic faith that inspired nurtured and sustained her life. We gather in front of the altar at which she married Alex Robertson, the great love of her life in 1952. We gather in the Church John Mary Gerard and I knew as Ashby where our parents brought us to be connected through prayer, sport, dance and community.
We gather to remember, to celebrate, to grieve and to give thanks for the gift that Mum was for each of us. That gift came wrapped in the joys and hope grief and anguish of life which she lived to the full for 85 years.
Kath was a Tracey girl who became a Robertson woman, connecting two families whose lives and stories centred on this Church, the Hall and the old Tennis Courts that used to be a vital community hub.
Mum was a woman of faith whose life was surrounded by the grace found in family. community and the relationships she so easily established. She was generous with her time and her gifts. She believed in getting involved in our school fetes and mothers clubs. She never drove but managed to volunteer for canteen duty at St Pat’s Primary, St Joey’s and Chanel. She and Dad believed in celebrating not just the traditional family birthdays and anniversaries but also the annual Balls that were once a regular feature of Church and school life in Geelong.
Kath believed in social graces and proper behaviour. The nearest she ever got to bad language was “ruddy” and “shut-up” was just not meant to be part of family conversation. Hospitality was a grace in which she excelled. There always seemed to be an abundance of home cooked delights for visitors although there was a distinct hierarchy of service. Clergy and religious were served with the Royal Doulton, family got the basic settings. We only ever saw the best ‘Wedding” dinner set at Christmas Easter and clergy visits.
Anyone who can remember the kitchen Mum had at Margaret Street for many years, like us now look back in awe at the volume and variety of food she prepared in a space that was really just a galley. For John Mary Gerard and myself there are the fond memories of favourite dishes for birthday celebrations. I got apple pie, John got apple sponge, Mary had golden syrup dumplings and Gerard got jam tart.
The kitchen was small but it was spotless as was the rest of our home. One of Kath’s routines was to wash the dishes with the doors under the sink open so that she wouldn’t get water stains on them. She continued this practice even after moving into her more manageable unit at Rice Village. Some family habits just seem to have a life of their own and Mary admits to this practice for a while after moving into her home.
Mum’s practical housekeeping was of such quality that our annual pilgrimage to the Whites place after lunch on Christmas Day was scheduled so that Kath would arrive in time to help them with their post lunch dishes. After that Mum and her late sister Mary would sit with some dignity sipping Pimms as an annual treat.
As children of this remarkable woman each of us holds a special memory of ordinary and extraordinary moments.
Gerard was the youngest and shared some of Mum’s adventurous forays into the world of the suburban punter. He tells of his regular Saturday walk to Dorrie Jagos’ place to North Geelong with Mum’s 40 cent investment in the weekly neighbourhood racing syndicate. He never quite figured out how this investment could ever bring a good return. Mum loved her flutter on the horses and always blamed the government of the day if her bet failed.
Kath stood up for her kids no matter what and John recalls a time when he was in Grade 6 at St Pats and the then Principal, a pretty hard nosed nun had told Mum that he “wouldn’t amount to anything” To prove her wrong Mum changed John’s enrolment from St Mary’s Tech to St Joey’s from where he went to a successful career with the Federal Government.
Mary not only raised her own family but also provided Mum with care and support following Dad’s death 20 years ago. Mum made a decision to sell her family home and move closer to Mary at Marshall so that it would be easier traveling for shopping and other trips that Mum loved so much. Those shopping trips were a routine she loved and Mary speaks of Mum’s insistence of buying lunch or afternoon tea because Mary did the driving.
I am the eldest and still carry vivid memories of Mum’s tenacity to never allow her history of epilepsy to stifle her love of life. Mum belonged to the generation that never spoke about this condition as publically as we do now. As a littler boy before beginning school I can still remember watching my mum having a grand mal and the sheer terror of not knowing what was happening to my beautiful mother.
We have very few photos of Mum on her own. She was usually photographed with family. In boxes and albums we now sort through amazing visual history of her life. There are the classic wedding shots with her loving husband and then the life of children and grandchildren told from a bownie box camera through to the latest digital slr images.
What is interesting is that Mum rarely took photos herself. In fact Mum had a pretty “hands off “ relationship with modern technology. Dad had to explain to her several times that the TV remote would only work if she actually pointed it at the TV and not to the ceiling. When we were young she constantly referred to the TV as the “Idiot Box” There was a routine where she went to a neighbours house to check a racing comp for about 10 minutes each week. If she was late getting back we got to watch a bit of Homicide until she walked in the door and made us turn it off. We knew it was not going to be a good idea to introduce her to computer technology and I remember our first skype call and having to assure her she didn’t need to come so close to the screen for me to hear her.
The 40 years of married life Mum shared with Dad stand as a witness to romance, devotion and friendship that happens when two people commit to each other with a bond that is unshakable. Together they not only raised a family, they travelled, danced and shared a passion for music and love of literature. Together they built community in their neighbourhoods and local Churches at Ashby and St John’s North Geelong.
Mum nursed Dad in his final days with heroic courage and reluctantly allowed him to be cared at St John of God where he, like her slipped quietly into eternal sleep after a determination to live every breath that life offered.
Today we gather with Kath. After a lifetime of goodbyes we come to the final farewell. You have gathered here because you knew Kath as sister, auntie, cousin, mother in law friend and neighbour. A new generation of our family remember her as Grandma who baked lovingly for their visits and made sure they were taught good social skills such as how to sit properly. John, Mary Gerard and I knew her as Mum. She will always be the bond that unites us across our different personalities and life choices.
So thanks for bringing us all here today Mum. We pray in this space, we will weep at your graveside and then as you would wish we will gather in the old Ashby Hall to remember through laughter and tears the gift you were in our lives
May you hear the angel voices singing you home on this day:
Oh! I will take you back, Kathleen
To where your heart will feel no pain
And when the fields are fresh and green
I’ll take you to your home again!.
April 1 1927-August 19 2012
In the morning of August 19 2012 my beloved mother, Kath, gently slipped into eternal peace, her frail body no longer able to carry the strong spirit that had loved so much for 85 years. As a first born child I carry so much of the journey and now another cord is broken in a life long connection. My mother was a strong woman who taught me to live with grace and beauty. She nurtured my love of music and literature. We came from two diverse experiences. She was a child of the depression and the Second World War. I was a product of the 60s and the era of questions and exploration.
Part of me is now gone, there is a grief that almost overwhelms me for the loss is not just this moment but also the losses that are part of life’s journey on a road less traveled
I wrote the two pieces below in 2003. In that year i turned 50 and my mother moved from our family home into a more manageable retirement unit at Rice Village. Here she lived among new and old friends until her health began to fail and she spent her final months in the care of the nursing home staff and family visits.
Mother is the home we come from. She is nature, soil, ocean. – Erich Fromm,
The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent. Erich Fromm
Quotes on Mothers
In Gratitude on Mother’s Day 2003
Togther for 50 years as mother and son
We come to this sacred space in awe
The wonder of grace our common ground
The tyranny of illness, provincial culture and the generational divide
kept us apart on an life’s ocean wild and wide
I am in awe of your resilience, your passion, your commitment
shared with family, neighbours, friends and strangers.
I am in awe of your body’s survival
I am in awe of your nurturing me into the world of music and the love of writing
I am in awe of your patient understanding of my journey on a road less travelled
I am in awe of your apple pie and lamingtons
I am in awe of your hospitality and generosity
Together we have crossed thresholds of life and walked in to a new millenium
My mother Kath Robertson centre with her neighbours of 40 years, Vera McGrath and Elva Rigby. Taken on the day my mother left her family home for her final years of new life in Rice Village
In memory of Neighbours
Of the men they chose and the children they were given
Women of strength and pride
Homemakers and lovers
Mothers and carers
Young dreamers, now elders of a new generation
Story tellers and keepers of the old traditions
Bearers of laughter and tears
Dreamers and weavers of a new world
Wise women of long age
Healers of past hurts and present anxieties
We Will Remember You