The celebration of my mother’s life was last Friday. The sun shone all day, amidst a sea of grey, wet days both sides of the funeral. The word ‘love’ featured throughout the service including the poem ‘Love’ by George Herbert read by Jack my husband, and chosen by mum several years ago. Love was the main theme in the hymns and songs and an address from Canon Philip Masson, who knew her well. My sister and I read our personal tributes. Here’s mine.
“I feel so blessed to have had June Powell, for my mother.
During my entire life, my sense of mum above all is that she cared about people. She had a huge amount of time for others, especially those who were suffering, who felt outcast, were lonely or hungry.
She was brought up in the little village Penyfai where she passed her 11+, and went on to qualify as a State Registered Nurse. Her first date with Haydn was nearly the last when they argued about the film they’d gone to see. They married when mum was 25. Eighteen months later the couple set off for Hong Kong with baby Christine, and mum pregnant with me. Mum was homesick in the early years. But she learnt Cantonese and finally fell in love with her new home.
I remember countless acts of compassion and kindness. When she joined a flight to Vietnam to take supplies to displaced people after the war there. She took in and cared for an orphan traumatised by that same war. She invited strangers, who were far from home, to join us for Christmas lunch. She volunteered as a counsellor with the Cathedral in Hong Kong, and then with the Samaritans when back in the UK. In later years, she regularly visited elderly people who were housebound, and otherwise isolated.
I was staying with mum just over four years ago, when she woke one morning and didn’t recognise the home she had lived in for 20 years. She’d had a succession of mini-strokes over the previous days. She was frightened and disorientated, but – as I fussed and tried to arrange a doctor’s appointment – her concern was for me, that I was meant to be working. Even then, mum was still taking care of me.
Mum listened well, and was genuinely interested in the family members of people she met. She was always asking after someone’s son or daughter, wife or husband. Dementia didn’t change that. Mum often asked after the new grandchild of the cleaner in her first care home. She regularly enquired about the daughter away at university, of Sam, one of mother’s favourite carers. It’s not surprising she won hearts in the care homes and hospital wards she stayed in over the last four difficult years.
Mum was able to engage so deeply with people, and cared so much about their suffering, because she knew what it was to suffer. Apart from her personal tragedies, the death of her young brother and much later her son, she battled with her own demons. Ever since she left her small village all those years ago, she never really felt she belonged anywhere. At some level she was always an outsider.
She had such humility; was always self deprecating. She said the only thing she ever achieved was winning the Victor Ludorum at her school sports day. Interested and humorous, she somehow managed to make people feel better after a short encounter with her. She had amazing qualities. She made me believe I could do, or be, anything.
June was a wonderful mother. She was a constant support to me, not just in my younger years but throughout my life.
I chose the song “You Raise Me Up” for today’s service. Mum loved Songs of Praise where we first saw Aled Jones singing this song. The lyrics speak of how I feel about mum. Perhaps they may resonate with others who were lucky enough to know her. I will read four lines from the song.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,Songwriter Brendan Graham
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.
My mother was a huge inspiration to me.
And I will always miss her.”