My uncle Gerald


I’m sorry for my absence over the last week but we’ve had a death in the family.

In the small hours of last Friday morning, my lovely uncle Gerald died unexpectedly. He was only 59. Everybody is in a state of shock, most of all his wife Peggy, and his five children Gaeroid, John, Patricia, Thomas and Maggie Mae.

Just hours before his death he’d been at a family wedding dancing and posing for photographs with his four sisters, two brothers and many cousins. This was an unusual situation in many ways – the whole family is rarely together and Gerald never danced or posed for photos.

It’s a very strange thing, enough to make you wonder if people do have a sixth sense that the end is near.

I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to write a few words about the last few days and about my uncle. I know it’s not strictly related to the blog but it doesn’t feel right not to mark his passing.

He was a much loved man.

We travelled from London to County Kerry in Ireland last Friday night and the funeral was on Monday.

In Ireland there is a tradition of having a wake the night before the funeral, where people come to say goodbye to the body and to pay their respects to the family. More than 1,000 people queued down the main street of his hometown of Ballybunion. I’ve never seen anything like it. So many people came to the funeral they had to stand at the back of the church because all the seats were full. They were all ages from 10 to 90-odd. As my Aunty Ann said, she’s never seen so many young men crying – young people loved him.

The friends of all five of his children were constantly in and out of the house – and were often more interested in talking to Gerald than my cousins. When my cousin John moved to America seven years ago, his friends continued to come to the house just to drink tea with Gerald.

He’d listen to everyone and greet any drama, problem and woe with a cock of the head and a tut that seemed to say ‘Sure, what can you do?’. It was a nod that put everything in its rightful place. In a world that was changing and moving he remained resolutely the same, a constant.

He probably knew the secrets of every teenager and twenty something in the surrounding area but he’d never let on. He was the least judgemental man you’d ever meet. And he had a gift with young children too. His beautiful granddaughters Evelyn and Joules were permanently propped on his knee and he’d chat away to them like they were adults. They’d look up at him with massive eyes that seemed to understand everything.

Gerald was a farmer but his main occupation was smoker and tea-drinker. He was always to be found at his kitchen table, tea in one hand, cigarette in the other, looking out the window and listening to the radio. As my sister says, ‘What that man doesn’t know about the Top 40 isn’t worth knowing’.

In between hours of daydreaming and silence, he’d make declarations about the modern music scene. Statements such as ‘That Lady Gaga’s getting more like Madonna every day.’ It was funny being delivered in a thick Kerry accent, even funnier when you took in the outfit of muddy Wellington boots, battered jeans and forty-year-old jumper.

Over the few days before the funeral we heard lots of lovely stories about Gerald.

His children, now in their twenties, talked about watching him as he drove through the fields on his tractor, wondering why he was shouting – ‘No, no, no…’. Turns out he was singing Amy Winehouse song: ‘They tried to make me go to rehab, I said No, no, no…’

There was his knack of acquiring cars with something wrong with them. One was a car that beeped every time he turned the steering wheel. We had fits of giggles imagining him on roundabouts effing and blinding as the horn went ‘beep, beep, beep.’

Despite the fact that Gerald was the gentlest soul you could ever meet he swore like a trooper. His most colourful language was employed for his cattle who never seemed to cooperate with him. His fields were right next to the local village school and the teacher (my Aunty Ann) had to close the windows to try to stem the flow of expletives coming through the window.

His children, my cousins, laughed and cried with these stories and I hope that they’ll be able to keep laughing, at least a little bit, throughout the coming weeks and months. It’s going to be so hard for them but they will come through it with grace and humour. They are five of the best human beings I know.

After the funeral I spoke to a second cousin I’d never spoken to before (every trip home I meet a new cousin) over a pint of Guinness. He’d spent twenty years as a high flyer in the corporate world only to question what it was all for. ‘This is what’s real – your family, your friends – none of the rest of it matters,’ he said. ‘I think Geralty had it right.’

He did.

If your life can be measured by how much you are loved, Gerald died a king.

Talking to my high-flying cousin about what I was doing, he joked that Gerald could have written his own self-help book in which all the world’s problems can be addressed by the phrase, ‘Shhhh, it’s fine. Will you have a cup of tea?’ So today I’ll drink some tea and look out the window in Gerald’s honour, then normal blogging service will resume.

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