My grandfather, Ernie Thompson, passed away last week just shy of his 92nd birthday. In addition to being a beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather, he was also the inspiration behind the character of Walt in my novel, Wings. I was privileged to deliver the eulogy at his funeral today. I only hope I did him justice. This is what I said:
When I considered writing Grandad’s eulogy, the first things that came to mind were the events of Grandad’s long and interesting life. I thought about his adventures on the moors of Lancashire when he hunted with his father to provide food for the family during the Great Depression; his time as a fighter pilot during World War II; his marriage to the girl next door and the five children they raised; his emigration to Australia and the development of his skills as a master woodworker.
But I realised that although these things would tell you what Grandad did, they might not say much about who he was. So instead, I’ve decided to talk about three characteristics of Grandad which I believe sum him up as a person.
The first characteristic was his personal courage. This was most obviously displayed during World War II when he gave up the safety of his job and hounded the Royal Air Force into accepting him as a fighter pilot. Due to his reserve occupation, he could have passed the war by the side of his sweet-heart in a risk-free manner. Not content with leaving the hazardous work to others, he spent the war flying in deadly combat with the Nazis.
Grandad displayed courage again when debilitated by polio in his forties. He refused the iron lung recommended by his doctors. He reasoned that if he let an artificial device do the breathing for him, he would never breathe on his own again. Despite risking his own early death, he backed himself to overcome the odds rather than be tied to a machine.
Grandad was also a positive supporter who advocated the belief that anything is possible. I know that my brother’s successful career as a pilot owes much to the support and inspiration provided by Grandad. Two of my great loves – cricket and reading – were fostered by Grandad. He was always interested in what I was doing, and would congratulate me on my achievements whilst encouraging me to stretch myself further.
The final endearing feature I’d like to touch upon was his sense of gratitude. Over the last twenty years of his life, Grandad had to deal with the loneliness that comes with being a widower, the loss of his sight due to macular degeneration, the loss of much of his hearing, and ultimately, the loss of many of the faculties of his mind due to Alzheimer’s.
Throughout this ordeal, his focus remained not on what he had lost, but rather, on what he still had. With many ingenious inventions, he continued wood turning despite his blindness. I never once heard him complain about the difficulties he endured. He was always top of the world, and he counted himself amongst the most fortunate of men. Even right at the very end, when all was seemingly lost, Grandad still had his faith and counted himself supremely blessed for this privilege.
Courage, being a provider of positive support to others, a sense of gratitude. They are three virtues which Grandad – in his own very quiet and humble way – used to construct a life of meaning and significance.