Tuesday 22 March 2016

Writing An Eulogy For Someone You Didn't Know Well

Last week my Great Aunt Henrietta passed away. She had hit the big 100 on her birthday in December and I think she had just had enough and slipped away peacefully.
It's quite sad really because she has very little in the way of family, she was my dads aunt but they never saw eye to eye, the rest of the family have already passed away and somehow my mom, who is not related to her at all ended up being the executor of the will and organiser of the funeral etc.

I doubt there will be many at the funeral either, she pretty much outlived everyone else, of course, I am the other side of the world so I expect my mom and few representatives from the nursing homes and maybe the guides will make it.

Mom asked me if I would write the eulogy - talk about being thrown in the deep end, I have only every attended 2 funerals in my life so I have virtually no experience of such things! So I brainstormed what I knew then got out the guiding badges and got onto google (and enlisted the help of Facebook friends) to find out a bit more.

Mom managed to contact someone in the scouting organisation that had access to some of the old records so with a bit of sleuthing we managed to pull some of her history together.

For Henriette Walker

For those that don’t know me, Henrietta Walker was my great Aunt, on my father's side. She was my grandfather’s older sister.

I didn’t really get to know Great Aunt Henrietta until her later years, it was the comments from family members that we were alike that prompted me to write to her. I was living in Japan and my Grandmother told me that Henrietta had spend time in Japan too, so I dropped her a line. Apparently my Grandma's geography (or memory) wasn’t quite up to scratch as it had been China and Hong Kong that Henrietta had visited.

From our letter exchanges I discovered that she also had a deep love of travel, over her lifetime she travelled extensively, as far afield as Russia and China which, back in those days were not tourist friendly destinations. And all through Europe, Malta being one of her favourite spots. 

Even in her later years she would send postcards from her trips, often complaining that her hip was playing up and she was stuck with a coach load of “old people”.

She also loved to hear about my adventures travelling around Japan, South East Asian and South America, like me she was more interested in culture and art than the tourist traps and sunny oneself on the beach.

Another thing we had in common was the girl guides. Henrietta was probably involved as a girl in Chester Le Street and then in 1934 she became a Lieutenant for 1st Washington Company and in 1937 she obtained her Captains Warrant which she held until 1980 when she retired. 

She held the position of Washington Division Commissioner from 1974-1979 and we believe she was a District commission at some stage too.

Guiding was a big part of Henrietta’s life, especially after losing her husband Arthur. She told me about the many camps and jamborees that she attended and the visits she made to The Ark, Neutherud House and the Swiss Chalet, to name but a few.

Henrietta was also awarded the distinguished Oak Leaf Medal for meritorious service.

Henrietta didn’t have a big family and she outlived most of them and her friends, reaching a ripe old age of 100 in December 2015. She was fiercely independent and really wasn’t impressed when she had to move to Sutherland Court purely because she liked to do everything for herself. I imagine she made her opinions known to the staff and visitors, she wasn't one for holding back her opinions.

I remember my grandfather talking about her when I was child, saying how independent, bossy and strict she was, I think he actually meant to say she was assertive and disciplined!

Another of Henrietta’s passions was for embroidery and sewing. She was an excellent seamstress and numerous beautiful embroideries have graced the walls of the different places she has lived in.

She always said that with embroidery, the back should be as neat and beautiful as the front, and having some of her work myself, I know she lived up to this ideal, the back truly is as beautiful as the front, something I need to work on myself. She was generally good with her hands and quite crafty but needlework was where her passion lay.

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