When I’ve written about my parents it has invariably been to expound on some negative aspect of their relationship, only ever a partial picture. Since their passing however, with time it is the more favourable remembrances that come to the fore. Adding knowledge, particularly about others and their experiences of family, I think ours was not so bad, only averagely dysfunctional perhaps. Actually there were many aspects of home life that were fairly well disposed. Compared to what some kids go through our upbringing was privileged.
Generosity was the defining aspect. Mum & Dad made us feel that whatever was theirs was ours. That’s no small thing. I was aware of it from an early age, and appreciative. It could be said we were spoiled which is partly true given we are all spoiled by abundance. But otherwise not so much. Spoiling suggests being unfit for the world and it wouldn’t be fair to brand my sisters and me like that. The three of us were socially and professionally accomplished despite turbulent private lives. In terms of being good citizens, holding our end up with reasonable decorum, I’d say our family score was above average. On these fronts we took our cues from Ma and Pa. They were outwardly dedicated, dignified and respectful and always loyal in a crisis. However fractious the dynamic, they dropped tools to come to the rescue if needed to help fight whatever battle had to be joined.
Dad was happier in the work-place. On the job he was composed and well regarded by peers and business clients. Among them were Ayrshire’s gentry. Names like Captain Cunningham, Commander Findlay, Lord Rowallan, Lady Moore and Sir John Young were familiar to us, people with whom my father and his brother were on cordial terms. For a lapsed communist that would’ve been a curious transition, as was building cattle courts given he considered meat and milk consumption an abhorrence. As a principled vegetarian he’d taken his good wife’s lead there alongside influence from his literary hero, George Bernard Shaw.
While Father was doing his thing for the farming community Mother was being the homemaker. She spent thirty years pandering to our endless needs and demands. For the worrier she was that would’ve been no easy task and was carried out with near heroic commitment. It didn’t always get the appreciation it deserved. “I’m just a skivvy” she’d often say. I’d say that was about accurate. Like many women of her generation she was expected to play a subservient role and was repeatedly diminished as a consequence.
Following the demise of the family firm she went out to work for the first time in decades. I saw in her then a person transformed. I saw aspects of her character I never knew about. She seemed brighter, happier, more social and like the rest of us thrived in the workplace too, engaged with colleagues often much younger, sometimes even partying with them into the night.
Eighteen months passed from my mother’s cancer diagnosis to her death at seventy-three. Mercifully she was in the hospice only twenty-four hours before her body gave way. We were with her when she passed and watched her take her last breath. She’d been afraid of dying so it must’ve been a terrifying ordeal for her to face it.
The last time I saw Dad happy was at her funeral. That’s not as bad a thing to say as it sounds. I mean that he was behaviourally happy, surrounded by relatives and friends, people he had known all his life. He would never see most of them again so it was a terminal moment. By brightening up he was only responding to familiar social cues, to the respect and well-wishing of a sizeable gathering. He was less buoyant being left that night faced with an empty house and a barren future. Unlike Mum he died alone in the care home where he spent his last three years, a total of eight spent on his own after she went. They’d been together fifty.
For all my father’s misery, his depression, and something close to alcoholism, he didn’t complain. There were plenty anguished and tearful moments but he made few demands. I stayed around to keep an eye on him and regretfully wasn’t always as sympathetic as I might’ve been. I thought he could’ve made more of an effort to build a new life but at seventy-eight, with no history of independence, with no resources spiritual or material, with nothing around him resembling a community, realistically that was always unlikely.
No amount of eulogising could hide the long shadow cast by my mother and father’s union. For Alexander Sorley and Elizabeth White were not well matched and in a more enlightened world would never have been joined in matrimony in the first place, holy or otherwise. Yet despite their issues they managed to be wholesome parents and dependable guardians, people who treated us with kindness above all else and thus succeeded in ticking most of the boxes reasonably required of them. The older I get the more I realise we were fortunate to have them and that the good stuff outweighed the bad. There are many who would not be able to say the same.
we were fortunate to have them
EULOGY FOR MUM & DAD
personal • 25.03.17