A few thoughts… on the passing of a family treasure

3 Musketeers on Wimbledon Common

A few may have noticed that my blogging became rather sporadic before Christmas. It was due in part to a family bereavement, when my husband’s Gran died aged 97. Various things, like clearing Gran’s flat, took a greater priority than proper blogging (except for the odd adventure in the snow!)

In the period running up to Gran’s death, my husband migrated his ramblings from LiveJournal to WordPress and his thoughts and grieving process, which in many respects occurred before Gran died, appear here.

Many of G’s family are not church-goers. However, Gran had been in the past, and from my conversations with her definitely believed in God, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Her husband had been a Reader for many, many years and she had supported him in that ministry. Even before she died, I had been asked by the family if I would therefore be willing to take Gran’s funeral, as it seemed appropriate as the ‘next generation’ of Reader in the family.

And so, at Putney Vale Cemetery on 22nd December 2011 I led the family in their mourning for Gran (Lily Pepper), and committed her to God’s care. This difficult privilege was something that felt very right, but I am aware that I need to reflect further on the doing of it, when Christmas and New Year aren’t getting in the way! However…

G had asked me to use 1 Corinthians 13 as the Bible reading, as for him it was most appropriate to Gran’s character and the example she set him and his brother as children (as she helped to raise them.) And, to complete the circle of memories he started on his blog, he has asked me to post what I shared with the family here:

I was well aware before I ever met Gran, or the rest of the family, that she was regarded as the family treasure. It was something to do with the way Graham spoke of her, and spoke of the way that everyone treated her. I wasn’t wrong,and i’ve never changed my opinion.

Gran did “love”, by the (snow) shovel-full. Adam has already shared with us about the sacrifices she made, her stamina and her character as the antithesis of a Mother-in-law. But “love” does not take pride in itself, but in the successes of others – and Gran always took pride in what members of the family achieved: Elizabeth to university and The City, Marion her nursing, then both Graham and Michael as they moved through school, to university and successful teaching careers. She was always there for them both when they came home from school, cup of tea and cake at the ready.

Real “love” is often grown through a simplicity of life and outlook, and follows through the tough times as well as people’s successes, and Gran’s story is testament to that picture: She was born Lily Hudson, in East Ham, London where her father was a lighter-man on the River Thames and her mother stayed at home to raise the children, Bert, Charlie, herself and her sister May, who sadly died of TB.

When last we spoke at length, appropriately over a bacon and avocado bap with chips at the Windmill on the Common, Gran talked of their simple up-bringing, playing on the roads that were dirt tracks, games like “knock down ginger”, and watching the cricket on the playing fields behind their terraced house until they were chased off by the groundskeeper! She also remembered weekends walking the bank of the Thames to Barking, and was a good swimmer.

Lily married Jim in April 1939 (April 22nd) with whom she enjoyed ball-room dancing, amateur dramatics and rambling. During The Blitz, they were bombed out of East Ham, moving to Harrow where the girls were born. Jim was a travelling salesman, and when Marion was 3 they moved to Parkstone on the south coast, and later into Bournemouth. As well as raising Elizabeth and Marion, she nursed first Jim’s mother, then her own till their deaths, and also found time to support Jim in his church commitments as a Reader, and play the piano for activities like family carol singing before Midnight Communion.

Together they eventually returned to London, and made a home in Viewfield Road, Southfields. Lily worked as a Registrar at Wandsworth Town Hall, and frequently told the story of having “married the butcher” for which service she always received a discount off her shopping. She was always busy, undertaking civil wedding ceremonies for many Jews and Catholics in the community, before they were able to have their own faith ceremonies recognised as legal marriages.

In later life they were able to afford and enjoy several cruises, and also visited her brother Charlie in South Africa, but after Jim’s death in September 1979, Marion and Dave moved to the house with their boys. As they grew up Gran was able to enjoy coastal walks and holidays with Marion and although she had many friends, her main focus was always the family.

Living in the converted garage as she did, she was a quiet, encouraging companion to those of us that had to learn to live at the rather more hectic conversation speed, and volume, that was shared by the family when all were gathered around her. She was always eager to hear what everyone had been doing. If we dropped a snippet of news into conversation, she’d always say “Go on…?”, eager to have the story or success expanded upon.

There were a wonderful selection of doggy companions including Kimmy, Pat, with whom the boys learnt to play ‘tiggy’, then Beau and then the more refined Jamie-dog the Cavalier King Charles. It was Jamie that assisted with the Christopher-therapy after her stroke, as Gran knocked a ball the length of her living room using the up-turned end of her walking stick, so that either dog, or boy, could retrieve it.

Gran was patient, Gran was kind. She did not envy, or boast in herself, and only showed pride in those who were the treasures of her life. She lived a life that loved, protected and trusted everyone in the family, and she was certainly not easily angered.

It is incredibly difficult, to do justice in a few short minutes to the memories that we all share of someone who brought so much joy and friendship to the lives of her loved ones. Whether they make us smile or cry, we should treasure those memories. We need to make them part of our future as well as our past, in a way that means we can build on the values of love and family life that Gran made the focus of her life.

Love, and sacrifice, was of course the focus of Christ’s activity in this world. His was a love that understood grief – he expressed his own loss and pain with tears. The knowledge that Jesus in his humanity, also cried when faced with difficult situations in both his earthly and eternal family, are a comfort and reassurance for those of us who face these situations today. Jesus’ sacrifice of course led him to death on a cross, and to resurrection and his rightful place with God in glory. We can now be assured that Gran too, has her rightful place with God.

Gran has been a living example of loving sacrifice. Let us hang on to those values, and continue to live by the example that she set, because it is a good one. By following it, we will honour her name, and the importance of our memories.

 

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First time ever…

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…on a sledge! Yes, really. Honest!

C has been borrowing Mr and Mrs Bs, and finally, between bouts of funeral prep, computer instalation (not desired, but necessary) and Christmas stuff, he got us and the dog out with the sledge in tussock field.

No one realised till after my first tentative go, that I had never, ever, been on any sort of sledge before 🙂

I was slow, I was nervous, but it was fun – especially as it started snowing again!

Families First in Winchester for Mothers’ Union

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I’m thawing out in the car after an excellent start to the Mothers Union charity stall at Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.

The team of volunteers are keeping warm chatting to the many folk who are passing by. We are giving away FREE ‘Families First’ the great magazine that supports family life, and this issue features The Nativity series to be seen on TV next week. Other free gifts include post-it notes, and notepads that we have been donated.

Every ‘Families First’ also comes stuffed with our local magazine ‘Archway’ and information cards about the Bye Buy Childhood Campaign.

If you are in Winchester over the next two days please come and visit us – you might even get a chocolate or a Christmas cracker!

Who is buying our children’s childhood

With today’s news that MU Chief Executive Reg Bailey will head up the government review regarding the issue, by continuing to take the well balanced view that he’s come to be respected for in Mothers’ Union, I’ve started to reflect again on the subject I was already focussing on last week.

It would seem that some products and marketing techniques probably do need to be legislated or regulated against. But, it is also important to raise the awareness of parents and others of the pressures they unwittingly place on children’s well being by the purchases they make, whether they are responding to marketing and pester power. This is why I believe the Bye Buy Childhood Report is so good and the Mothers’ Union campaign so important, because it’s trying to create a balanced view of the issues involved.

So in case it’s any use to the world at large as interest in this issue snowballs, here is the presentation I gave last week in my local church to get people thinking about the issues. It is a Powerpoint file which can be downloaded from here: Who is buying our childrens childhood. It should read with it’s notes pages so you get the gist of what I said, and what you could say – because you’re more than welcome to use it. I hope I made the questions open enough to simply get people thinking but if you don’t think so, feel free to change them, and let me know the alternatives you suggest.

A friend using CNet YouTube Downloader enabled me to use four YouTube video’s of adverts during the presentation.

I would hope that this sort of material would be appropriate for a PTA or Church discussion or parenting group – what do you think?

Mothers’ Union Chief Exec to review commercialisation of children

On Friday I posted some responses and questions that came from my recent presentation about issues raised by theMothers’ Union Bye Buy Childhood Campaign.

On Sunday, The Telegraph ran a story announcing that the Mothers’ Union Chief

Reg Bailey - Chief Exec Mothers' Union (photographed Romsey 2007)

Executive, Reg Bailey will be heading up a government-commissioned review of issues surrounding the commercialisation and sexualisation of children:

Mr Bailey’s review will gather evidence of ways children are having unfair commercial pressure put on them or being “prematurely sexualised” by retailers amid protests over high-heeled shoes and provocative underwear aimed at girls as young as 10.

This news has been confirmed today to me in emails from staff at Mary Sumner House, via the Department of Education website, and it featured on BBC News. I’ve even had visitors call round at my house just to make sure I know!

The Department of Education’s website states that

The review will look at the following themes:

  • risks of harm and barriers to parenting
  • principles – what is acceptable in this area and what is not
  • consumer voice
  • corporate social responsibility.

I’ve met Reg Bailey several years running at Mothers’ Union conferences and other events, and know how passionate he’s been for years about making a real, but realistic difference to the problems that some products or their marketing cause. I’m sure he’ll take a balanced view and make an excellent job of this important task.

Childhood – bought, sold or lost?

This week I made my first presentation as part of the Mothers’ Union Bye Buy Childhood Campaign. Due to the weather conditions ‘Who’s Buying our Children’s Childhood’ was shared with a very small group, but together we produced some interesting reflections and ideas which I bring together here to see what you think. Please make good use of the comment facility!

1. We were thinking about how media and marketing impacts on what children are willing to eat, one of the group noted that cheaper food products (usually the value version of supermarket brands) usually have higher levels of sugar and salt making it difficult to maintain healthy diets on a tight budget.

Why is this the case? What can we do about it?

2. Research quoted in the Bye Buy Childhood Report (which is full of supporting, referenced statistics) suggests that materialism (the need for ‘stuff’) can develop in children as young as 7. We all felt that we see materialism existing in children as young as 4!

At what age do you think children start recognising that money buys ‘stuff’ and they want more of what money can buy?

3. David Cameron has suddenly made happiness a buzz-word and opened a debate saying by saying that money doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Research quoted in the Bye Buy Childhood report suggests that the need to accumulate material possessions contributes to stress, poor self esteem and relationships difficulties. If this is the case, then if the government wants to raise the nations happiness they they need to provide stimuli and mechanisms to reduce our own, and our children’s materialism.

Would changes in the regulation of advertising, especially marketing directed towards products that children might desire, help effect an improvement in our children’s mental health and happiness? If so, what changes?

4. My science teacher husband says one of the positive educational uses of the TV and films, is giving children cultural reference points to ideas he is trying to put across in the classroom. His prime example is…

Which particular TV programmes encourage children to ask questions of the world in which they live, and engage with the ideas behind the stories or images?

5. ComRes research for the Mothers’ Union report suggests that

80% of parents believe that films and video games with sexual or violent themes can be accessed too easily by children; and 80% also believe that television, films, magazines and the internet make children sexually aware at a younger age than they would be otherwise.

Anecdotal evidence from the group led to surprise at how high these figures were. One parent gave an example of querying with other parents the content of what she felt to be an inappropriate dance video at a school disco for 4 year olds, and finding that other parents didn’t think there was a problem with the suggestive movements or clothing shown.

Are parents concerned about the impact of clothing styles and body posture on young children?

6. The Old Testament Proverb “Train children in the right way, and when older, they will not stray.” (Proverbs 22:6) suggests that teaching good purchasing and media usage principles by example, will help our children avoid in adulthood difficulties with physical and mental health, and relationships.

Does the pressure on all generations from the media to ‘consume’ (despite the economic environment) make parental example lived with integrity, less and less a realistic way of handing down values that will benefit our children?

Whilst writing this post a friend in continental Europe sent me this interesting post he found: Childhood isn’t a race! This recent post from Right Revd Paul Butler is also good, suggesting our children’s education is actually benefited by a few snow days when they get outside, away from the classroom and the TV and learn and exercise for free, perhaps even without realising it!

Do I think childhood has been bought, sold or lost? Well, the answer I think, is only if we let it be! Childhood isn’t a race and it’s really up to us, the parents, to make sure that children get the childhood they deserve – and though it’s hard work, it’s worth it!