My grandfather died a scant week and a half ago. There’s no doubt “He’d had a good run” although just where the fuzzy boundary between “Had a good run”, “Did alright for himself”, “That’s a shame” and “Won’t be taking home a prize in the life olympics” no-one quite seems sure about. For myself I neither know nor care. He raised me, he’s been in my life my whole life and I will miss him. Therefore I am sad. This isn’t a termianal condition but it is affecting me more than I would like. What is werid about grief that they don’t seem to talk about is the fatigue. The first few days I was just tired. Bone tired. The kind of tired you get after running a marathon and doing calculus.
Being the families designated speech maker I got told that I would be giving the Eulogy at the funeral. Normally if you give me a topic and ask for 300 words I can give you something in around 20 minutes. Give me a couple of hours and it would actually be worth reading. For the first time I can remember I got writers block. As I always do in times of trouble I turned to my friend Jaimie. And she reminded me of a few things that I had forgotten. And helped me write the following. Thankyou your kindness is never forgotten or wasted.
James Gleeson Eulogy
First, I’d like to just say that it is an honour to speak here today. When I was asked to speak about Jim though, I found writing this daunting. Not because there isn’t much to say, but because there is so much to say. The facts of his life alone would take all the time we have. And they are compelling. And I found out things that I didn’t know even now he’s gone. For instance, I didn’t know that he ran a toy shop. I didn’t know up until recently that he had been a vegetarian till he was 18 and joined the army where that kind of thing wouldn’t fly, but perhaps this is not as interesting to me as how I felt about him. So, I’m going to tell you about that instead.
Bertrand Russell wrote:
“An individual human existence should be like a river – small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past boulders and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly and, in the end, without any visible break they become merged with the sea and lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death since the things they love will continue.”
Jim loved: New televisions, a well-cooked fish more than anyone I have ever met. Organ music, electronics, vintage radio’s, a bargain, he would defend at any and every opportunity the Leyland P76 a poorly regarded car that he had bought but, maintained that it had a great engine and space for a 44-gallon drum in the boot. And he loved his church, and Jesus, quoting the Bible and he loved. You….Us….
When I say Jim Gleeson “was the best of us” it’s not an idle commiseration for those of us left behind. It is customary to say wonderful things about our departed loved ones, but in this instance, there is no shortage of laudable qualities that Jim possessed.
Grampy/James/Jim/Uncle Jimmy/ dad/poppy Jim was born in 1922 to Rubie and John Gleeson the last of nine children.
At 18 he joined the army and spent 4 years in New Guinea at Port Moresby. The war left an indelible mark on him as it did almost every one of his generation. After four years his legendary patience wore thin, and was building a raft to head home when the war finally ended. He met Dorothy Brown on leave in Brisbane and in 1945 married Dorothy in Albury/Wodonga and was with her till her death nearly twenty years ago now.
In the 1970’s He was a member of the Ormond Church and elder at the East Bentleigh Presbyterian Church and went to Arakoon Mornington Island on mission work amongst the aboriginals to provide them with electricity. He did everything from running a successful electrical business to be the manager of a toy store, although I do find it hard to imagine Jim in a position to give toys away and being able to resist doing so.
I have never met anyone as generous as Jim, not just with family but with anyone he met. If you needed it, he would literally give you the shirt of his back. If you liked something in his house, he would ask if you wanted it. Not because he didn’t need it but because there was a possibility that it would make you happy.
If we love, we grieve. The mathematics of the universe are set, terrible and beautiful. Love and sadness will always go hand in hand. It is natural that we should be sad today because in a practical sense Jim is no longer a physical part of our everyday world. No phone calls, no cards on birthdays. I don’t think there is anyone here who does not feel themselves enriched for having had Jim in their everyday world.
He will be remembered as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a good friend, a parishioner a faithful servant and example to us all. His influence lives on in the unending consequences that flow from his life and from his character.
I of course didn’t get to meet Jim till the 1970’s when he was retired but somehow perpetually busy. Either helping his son James or working on his own projects to improve the lives of people around him. He always had something to do. Always somewhere to be, always in motion, working, creating, thinking. It was an example that I noted well. For me I remember him as someone who was always there, reliable, dependable, always willing to listen, always had time for me, never turned me away in a time of need. I suppose the memories I will cherish are times I spent with him making things in the garage, helping me as a young boy trying to achieve my dreams of making a workshop I could tinker in. Helping me build whatever seemed good to my tiny young mind to build on that day. Everything from cubby houses, to cars. I’ll remember him holding my hand when I fell over, looking after me when I was sick. Watching the Sunday night movie with me and explaining over breakfast what had happened when the movie had gone on past my bed time. Although sometimes when I went to bed he changed the channel and, so he told me what happened in the movie that he watched instead. Which, could be terribly confusing. I remember him spending the days with me at Sea World on the Gold Coast, after the first day he had no interest in going on any further rides, but he generously stayed with me and went on any ride I wanted to. Although he drew the line at my desire to break the record of “most times on the corkscrew rollercoaster in a row.”
Couldn’t tell a joke to save his life but he was charming, oh my goodness people were charmed by Jim, he would talk to anyone. But more importantly he would listen to anyone. “Hey, come and meet this person that I’ve met, they are very interesting, and I’d go over and he would say “This is my grandson……. Robert…., Mark! Christopher!!
When I was younger I didn’t appreciate the kind of person that Jim was, now I aspire to be like him. It’s hard not to judge people, to be warm and genuine and selfless, to just want everyone in your sphere to be happy. But Jim did it and it didn’t look like effort to me. That was just who he was. Many people could have come through the war bitter and angry, without faith in humanity. But Jim was always seeing the best in people. I remember him once saying to me. “You know, I’ve been thinking, those Japanese that were over there that we were fighting, well, they didn’t want to be there anymore that we did now did they?” I agreed that they probably didn’t, but I didn’t appreciate the gravity of this statement when I heard it. I do now.
The other thing that I will always carry with me is Jim’s curiosity. He was always curious about things, news, events, other people, you, how things work and how they could work better.
He was uncomplaining, uncompromising in the way he accepted what came throughout his life but particularly towards the end. He understood that things are as they are, and every river eventually meets the sea. A few months ago, Jim he was in hospital and things were looking bleak, I visited him, and he asked me what the doctors had said. I told him, and he said “Well, I’d like to make to Christmas at least” and he did.
I am lucky. I got to have him as my grandfather, only a few people had that privilege. I carry his inheritance with me always – his kindness, his sense of purpose, his love for life and family, the lessons he leaves us through the way he lived among us. I’ll always miss him, but I know what he left me.