It's been over five months since we last spoke. And the worst thing is that I don't really know why. I guess part of it is that I've been adapting to a new way of living (Mon-Fri working for the first time EVER) but even as I write that, it doesn't well explain a 5 month absence. But anyway, I'm here now - and over the next few weeks I'll fill you in on everything that has been going on and everything that is coming up. I'll also be answering some of your questions (random and bizarre as some of them may well be).
As an early heads up though - for a number of reasons these past 3 months have been really hard on both Cass and I. Now don't get me wrong here, it's not all been doom and gloom as there have been some brilliant moments in there as well (which I'll talk about) - but overall I think that this has been the hardest period of our lives since chapter 9. Hopefully though, we are beginning to come out the other side.
In this post I'd like to look at two major things from the last few months.....
To explain how I'm currently feeling (and for you to get the right context) I first need to explain about my back.
Over a month ago now, I woke up in loads of pain around my Kidney which stretched around to my spine. Fast forward to today and it turns out that I have (somehow) torn a muscle in that area of my body. I'm currently in my 2nd week of physio (today is my 4th session overall, but it'll be my 2nd with a private physio and I've already had two with the NHS) and whilst I've got more movement than I had a month ago (good news), if I don't take my painkillers (that could probably tranquilise a large elephant and constantly leave me feeling nauseous, very drowsy or downright weird / a combination) I'm in no less pain than when I started.
Cass and her family have obviously been left heartbroken by these losses. Whilst we always thought that they would go at similar times, we never expected them to be so close together. And whilst the pain is still raw for all of us (and will be for a very long time), I find it hard to describe what Cass and her parents have gone through and what they are feeling at the moment - so I'm not going to try.
I've spoken about loss in 10 Resolutions before and if I'm being honest about it - much more than I'd have liked to have done (to not have to speak about it at all would have been much more preferable) but instead of going over that stuff again I'd like to do something else.
I was given the amazing honour of doing the eulogy's for both John and Gwen at their funerals and as a tribute to them and to help you understand a bit more about them, their amazing lives and the type of people they were I'd like to share them with you now.
When I first started this blog and you started following my misadventures and rants, I also promised that I would be honest about my feelings and that I wouldn't shy away from stuff that might be painful. These eulogy's were the hardest things I've ever had to write, but I hope that they paint you a picture of the amazing people that we have recently said goodbye to.
John Arthur Bradford (Brad)
Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Gloucester crematorium. For those of you that don't know me, I'm not a vicar and I don't work for the crematorium. But my name is Andi Foster and the easiest way that I've worked out to explain what relation I was to John is by saying that I was John's adopted grandson in law. This is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do, yet it's a complete honour to have been asked by the family to lead this time with you all today.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted
We are here today to celebrate the life of John Bradford and to say goodbye to our dear friend. Over the next 30 minutes or so, a couple of us will share a few memories and thoughts about John and his life with us. Crucially though whilst this is a sad occasion, John would not want it to be. So whilst saying goodbye is never easy and while this may be hard, let's focus on the amazing man that John was, and the memories that he has left us all with as we prepare to say goodbye to him.
John was dropped off with his baby sister at Barnados at the age of 7 and never saw her again. After a decade in the system, he joined the army aged 17 and was based in Palestine.
On leaving the army, John went to look for his Dad in Grantham, where he met Doreen and her husband Bernard and he stayed in flats owned by Doreen's sister Doll.
He then moved back to Gloucester with Doreen and Bernard, and started living with Doreen's mum and has stayed with the family ever since.
His first job in Gloucester was as a bus conductor (as that's what he did in Grantham). He then went on to work at the Fleece hotel as a hotel porter alongside Doreen and Bernard who both also worked there (Doreen as a chamber maid and Bernard as a hotel porter).
At this time, Bernard and John surprised Doreen by buying a house for them all together on Wellington Street where they lived for 10 years (This was also where John started to learn the guitar - taught by Bernard's brother) and John left the hotel to start working for Permali welding before leaving to work for the gas board for 26 years. He later had part time jobs working for NCP car parks and as a stage hand in the evenings at the Regal theatre.
After Wellington Street - Doreen, John and Bernard moved to King Edwards Avenue where Kim was born and they lived there for 22 years.
Following Bernard's death the whole family moved in together At Fox Elms Road and have lived there ever since.
It's quite hard summarising a mans life into a few short paragraphs if I'm honest and I'm sure that at whatever moment you met him, and at whatever stage of his journey you came across him you would have a number of stories to tell about your time together. About your memories of John. About how your lives crossed paths. And I'm sure that as we all gather together later, these stories will be told. Some will be stories that we reminisce about, tales that we have heard before and love, but I'd imagine that there will also be brand new stories about John's life that highlight what an amazing man he was and serve as an example to show just how many lives one man can touch. Words won't and words cant do him justice, but just over the next few moments - I'd like to try my hardest and share some of my thoughts on a man that we all loved.
A number of years ago I started pondering a number of life's big questions. I started off with the easy stuff like would I rather watch XFACTOR or the Twilight Films, what would I do with an extra day in the week or if I could only eat one sandwich for the rest of my life what would it be? You know, the big stuff. But as I continued to think, the questions became more challenging.
What would I actually say if I came face to face with a celebrity that I look up to. You see most of us would probably put on a front and become the sort of person that we think the celebrity would want us to be. John wouldn't have been that person though. With John, the person you saw was the person you got. And if he ever did come face to face with one of his hero's you genuinely get the idea that John would end up being the story teller of the two of them. John could tell some amazing stories as I'm sure we could all agree.
The questions of life I was thinking about then started to get harder. They became questions about my character, a person's make up if that makes more sense and the person that I wanted to become in the future. There are so many words or attributes that can be used to describe someone. And I wonder how all of us would describe John. A man who loved to laugh no doubt. A welcoming and friendly man. A man whose first question to me on entering his house was if he could get me a beer. But beyond that who was John? I'd say with little question that to me he was a man of compassion who would help anyone he saw struggling and put his needs far below others, a man of strength who would come out fighting in the hardest of circumstances and a man of integrity who would follow his heart to make the right decisions. He was a man of courage and one of the most honourable people I've ever met.
The question that has been hanging over me though is how I'd like people to remember me when I go. It's a massive challenge for all of us. What is the legacy we leave amongst those that are left. As I’ve been pondering this question over the last few weeks though I've found the answer in John. John was an inspiration who touched so many of us. But even more than that - John was a good man and when I get to the end I would love nothing more than to be known for that.
I probably didn't know John as well as some of you or get to spend as much time with John as I'd have liked. But John was a man that you could spend time with and in just a few moments he could have had a massive impact on your life. He certainly did on mine. It was an honour to have known him.
John was a good man and simply for knowing him I have become a better person. I'm sure that part of him lives on in all of us.
I don't know what you believe or what John believed in his final moments, but after not being able to play his beloved guitars for a number of years now - I like to think that he is now looking down on us completely restored. Guitar in one hand and a whiskey and lemonade in the other. Let's just close our eyes for a minute to pray.
Lord, Thank you for John and Thank you for the many lives he touched. Thank you that he made us laugh, made us smile and told us stories that changed the way we saw the world around us. I pray that you comfort his family and that you bring us all peace now that he has left. I pray that you look after him as he watches over us. We commit him to you now.
Gwendoline Doreen Cleobury
Friends, family – good afternoon and welcome to Gloucester Crematorium as we come together to say goodbye to someone that we all loved. We all knew her by different names, Gwen, Gwendoline, Doreen (and probably some that I don’t know about), but as I knew her as Gwen, that's what I'll be calling her today.
Anyway, For those of you who don't know me (or who weren't here 6 weeks ago), my name is Andi Foster. Just to manage your expectations here, I’m not a Vicar or a Pastor and I don't work for the Crematorium - but the easiest way of explaining what relation I was to Gwen is by saying that I was her Grandson In Law. And as hard as it may well be, it is an absolute honour to lead this service, this tribute to Gwen and this celebration of her life. Let's focus on the amazing woman that Gwen was, and the memories that she has left us all with as we prepare to say goodbye to her.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted
Gwen was born in Gloucester to Elizabeth and Henry White. She was one of 6 children. Her brothers were Ron, John and Bert, whilst her sisters were Doll and Pearl. Growing up she went to Finlay school.
At 14 years old, Gwen started working at the Reservoir Army camp looking after the German and Italian Prisoners of War with her best friend Dink who later became her sister in law (Bert’s wife). One day an Italian Prisoner of War she was looking after played a prank on her by jumping out and surprising her from around a door. The prank backfired though as Gwen ended up cutting her nose. However, recognising the spirit that the prank was meant in, Gwen refused to report the Italian to the base officers who would have harshly punished him.
Gwen then went on to work for Compton's (a shirt making company) before leaving to start working at a toy factory with her sister Pearl. Gwen started working at the factory so that Pearl wouldn't be starting alone, but once they were separated to work in different parts of the factory production line, she found that the role she was given (putting hundreds of each type of box together) was too physically demanding and a while later left the factory. Gwen then went on to work at the Plaza cinema with her older sister Doll. She lived at home with her mum and dad and all of her brothers and sisters.
Shortly after, Gwen met her (future husband) Bernard who worked on the railway. They married in Wales when she was 19.
Gwen’s sister Doll then moved to Grantham, but when Doll’s first husband died, Gwen and Bernard moved up to Grantham to be with her. It was then that Gwen and Bernard met John and he became part of the family.
When Doll then met and married her 2nd husband Charles, Gwen, Bernard and John moved back to Gloucester and lived with Gwen's mum until whilst working in the Fleece Hotel, Bernard and John surprised Gwen by buying a house for them to share on Wellington Street. Gwen then became a mum to Kim at 34 years old and decided to stay at home as a housewife.
The family then moved to King Edwards Avenue, but after Bernard died in 1980, the whole family (including Gwen, John, a now married Kim to Simon and their daughter Cassandra) moved to Fox Elms Road in 1985.
Gwen had lots of friends and family over the years and was loved by them all. Sadly though, many of them have passed away before now - but Gwen will be happy that she is now together with them all again.
I didn't have the pleasure of knowing Gwen for as long as some of you did. I wish I did. I wish I'd met her in her prime and had longer to ask her questions about how she saw the world and about what was going on in her life. I hadn't even met Gwen by the time she had pretty much lost her eyesight, so in her later years I wonder how she imagined the world. I wonder how it looked to her and if her senses were heightened like a superhero after losing her eyesight. I'm also curious to know if she secretly turned her hearing aid off throughout the X factor auditions. But I'm not going to be able to ask those questions anymore though.
Looking back at her life though can tell us a number of things about her character, so whilst I may not have known her for as long as most of you I'd just like to share a few thoughts with you over the next few moments. My words will never be able to do her justice, but I'd like to try.
The first thing to mention is that Gwen was a lady with a kind heart. It's an obvious trait for us all to pick up on and something that we have all seen but it's something vitally important to mention. From an early age Gwen showed kindness to those around her. Whether it was to an Italian Prisoner of War or starting a new job with her sister so she wouldn't be starting alone. Gwen has always had a kind heart and that's something that was reflected in her later life as well. She was always looking to help (I've lost track of the number of times she helped Cass and I) and she always wanted to be there for those around her (including always asking me if I wanted bacon). But Gwen’s kind and compassionate heart also has a legacy as it is something that is now ingrained into Kim who in turn has passed it on to Cass.
The next thing I started to ponder was about Gwen giving up work at 34 years old when she had Kim. I'm sure we can share some stories about this time in her life when we gather together at the Robinswood Hill Club to raise a glass in her honour later but she had certainly done a lot (and had more jobs than most people have had in their lives). But I started to wonder if she had done everything she had wanted to by that point in her life. If she had achieved and accomplished everything that she had wanted to do. Obviously part of it came down to the culture of Britain at the time, but the question for me remained. It was an incredibly selfless and sacrificial act. The answer to this question for me though was found in part of our time together in the hospital.
On the first Wednesday night in the hospital we were told that there was a very high chance that Gwen wouldn't survive the night (or her operation, or generally her time in the hospital). As we were waiting for Simon and Kim to get back from Benidorm, I went to the chapel about 9pm that evening and prayed a very simple prayer. Please just let her hold on until Simon and Kim could see her to say goodbye. Gwen had been asking for them that night whilst she had been going downhill pretty quickly. Cass and I were anxiously awaiting the 3am marker when they would arrive. Time quite literally stopped that evening but after an unhealthy amount of Wimbledon highlights and late night TV it eventually came, as did Simon, Kim and Denver - and with their arrival I was silently overjoyed. We said goodnight to Gwen for what we thought would be the last time.
Except that it wasn't. We arrived at the hospital the next day to see Gwen’s spirits lifted and to see her chatting away to Simon and Kim like nothing had happened. The change was astounding. She was talking more to us than she had done since before John had died. Having her whole family around changed her. Love had saved the day. Love had helped her to keep fighting a little bit longer.
You see family was Gwen's future. Nothing was more important to her. When she gave up work at 34 years old, she might not have done everything that she had wanted to, but for her that paled in significance to the joy of her family and the love that came from it. When Gwen had Kim, her world opened up, the next stage of her life began. It didn't stop. It was simply the start.
At the hospital, we also discovered that Gwen was a lady of incredible strength. Whilst she had been brought in after a fall, it was quickly evident that something else was wrong with her. Gwen had been poorly for a very long time.
I was told in the hospital that she was a lady of incredible strength and courage and that they were amazingly surprised given how poorly she was that nothing had previously happened. I was also told that even if she hadn't fallen, her timescale would have been the same.
I've wondered since then if she knew that something was wrong. It's another question I'll never know the answer to. But if she did, she certainly didn't show it until her final days.
It would be easy to say that perhaps she was too proud to say that something was wrong. But the doctor said that nothing could be done and because of that I'm much more inclined to think that she was one step ahead of the game and that she just wanted to be on her own terms as much possible. She just wanted to go on surrounded by the ones that she loved and just gradually drift away.
Whilst it seems strange talking about favourite moments in a hospital (and I promised I wouldn't mention the story of Gwen hilariously high on Morphine) I'd just like to tell you about my goodbye with Gwen. On the Monday morning I was driving into work when I had a little prompting to turn around and go back to the hospital. Cass and Kim hadn't arrived yet and in that hour I had the best conversation with Gwen that I had ever had. She told me that she always asked John about the Arsenal scores to speak about with me, that she prayed for us all and she told me stories that I'd never heard or been told about her life. That wasn't the last time I saw her, but that is the moment I have chosen to remember as the time I said goodbye.
How we choose to remember someone is up to us. No one can dictate that. Thankfully we've all got some amazing memories of Gwen. When someone you love leaves you, they never truly go. They stay in your heart. Their legacy stays with you. They become part of you. And I can say without question that Gwen's kindness, her courage, her strength and her love of those around her will stay with me forever. I wonder what she has left everyone here with.
It's never easy saying goodbye to someone that you love and it never should be. And the longer you’ve known someone, the harder it becomes. Gwen had lost her closest friend and someone she had spent a massive part of her life with. And if I'm honest, I think the truth is that no matter what was physically wrong with her, that Gwen died from a broken heart. And as heartbreaking as that may seem to many of us now - think of the party she is now having with John and Bernard and everyone else she has now been reunited with.
Lord. Thank you for Gwen and for the impact that she had on all of our lives. Thank you for the memories that she has left us all with and thank you that she is in no pain and now at peace.
To Gwen. May angels lead you in.
So hopefully now you've got a better idea of what has been going on with us over the last few months and a picture of the amazing people that have left us. It certainly hasn't been an easy time - but thank you for all of your messages of support along the way. I'll be back with Part 2 of this catch up next week, but in the mean time - if you want to send me a question to answer (and please think of some light - hearted ones as this has been pretty heavy) you can do that in the comments section below, on Twitter or through the Facebook.
Right, I'm off to be attacked by the physio again. Wish me luck.
Keep Safe. God Bless