It’s been a month since I posted last. My apologies for my absence. It was due in part to a family crisis. My mother-in-law, who had been ill for several years, took a sudden, unexpected turn for the worst on Sept. 23 and died the following Saturday.
Doreen was a true lady who grew up amid a great deal of hardship but never saw herself as deprived. She lost her father at an early age, was sent away to Devon as a child to escape the Nazi bombing of London, and came of age at a time of genuine economic privation in post-war Britain. But she took it all in stride.
Even during the worst of her illness she never complained. And she slipped away quietly.
A rush of activity followed her passing—calling friends, relatives, making arrangements, simply sitting still and holding hands—the initial shock gives way to a grief that is expressed in so many different ways. Not always tears.
We struggled with finding the right words to remember her—and this is what we came up with to read at her memorial service on October 8:
Doreen Lucy Gregory, Aug. 4, 1933 – Sept. 29, 2012
Anyone who met Doreen in recent years met a woman who had a great enthusiasm for life even though she was dealing with a debilitating illness. “Life is sweet,” she said one day, and throughout her life, she found sweetness in many things, large and small—the pleasure of a brisk walk through Wentworth Woods, the excitement of holidays with family and friends, or the taste of fresh picked raspberries from her own allotment. Even an experience that was a hardship for many—being evacuated as a child during World War II—was a sweet one for her. She often said the five years she spent in Devon were among the happiest of her life.
She was an accomplished and knowledgeable woman with a quiet kind of confidence, adept at French and knowledgeable of Italian, with a lifelong enthusiasm for going to new places and meeting new friends. Doreen so impressed her future husband on their first meeting that he vowed to his best friend he would marry her one day because, he said, she was so lovely and beautiful. Howard sold his roller skates to pay for their first date—a walk along the river, followed by a meal and an evening at the cinema. On Jan. 1, 1955, Howard made good on his vow and married Doreen in Barnes Church.
She was a proper lady with a sly sense of humor, who appreciated a bit of cheek—and she liked to say that before she met Howard, the worst insult she could think of was to call someone a “silly, sloppy dirty devil.” After she met Howard, she said, her vocabulary expanded considerably.
During the early years of their marriage, Doreen carried on working as a textile technologist for Marks and Spencer. But like many women of her time, she gave up a career she loved to care for her family. She spent many hours helping her kids with their homework, sitting patiently and trying to guide them without doing the work for them—no matter how much they begged her to just give the answer, please. She never did. And even though she was afraid of horses, she often turned out to help Sarah muck out the stable, fetch water, and fill the haynets. She put her children before herself, always.
We can safely say that of all the things she found sweet in life, her family was the sweetest.
But because this is Britain and we are not allowed to cry, we want to remember Doreen with this thought:
“You can cry because she has died or you can smile because she has lived.”
So let us remember her with great gladness and smile at the memory of those many happy times she enjoyed so much with us all.
Rest in peace, dear lady. I am sorry I did not know you better.