This is the eulogy I read at my dad's funeral on March 8th 2001. I found what I believe is the only copy of it that remains in a pile of papers when tidying my office at home. I tweeted to that effect and BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans mentioned this on his radio show when I presented a Pause for Thought five days later. Although I am sure i could file it safely away in that same pile of papers and find it again in another twelve years, I'm saving it here just in case...
ALAN BERNARD TOBIAS
12/03/1928 – 01/03/2001
There was something Mum said about Dad on what was his final day down here that struck a chord with me. I shall explain what I mean by ‘down here’ in a moment. She said how he was struggling with his breathing and with every breath his head wobbled in a manner which seemed most uncomfortable for him.
One of my Dad’s literary loves was A A Milne’s ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’. This was something he passed on to his children who, in their turn, sought ways to pass it back to him: his bookshelves contain various birthday presents offering just about everything you could ever have wanted to know about Winnie-the-Pooh – even a version of the stories in Latin (along with a Latin dictionary).
At Stansted airport four weeks ago, having returned from a flying visit to see a rather miserable Dad here in the New Forest, I found what I thought was a perfect card for him: a picture of Eeyore the donkey holding thistles in his mouth. It seemed apt, so I bought it and sent it to him – and it also started me thinking about aspects of my Dad’s personality which seemed to be reflected in the characters of the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood.
Of course, in his final weeks, there was much of Eeyore about him – sadly resigned to the decline in his health, the lost look in his eyes as he stared miserably into a future that held no promise for him. That was difficult for him, as it was for those around him: the resignation, the frustration, the surrender to those medical realities which had overwhelmed him since last summer.
But there had been better times, memories and experiences which bring other characters to mind. I don’t think there was very much of the Tigger about him and those who knew him would probably find it difficult to conceive of him bouncing energetically around*. Perhaps there was more Rabbit, surrounded by his friends and relations, and here is an aspect of Dad’s character which all who knew him will instantly recognise: his commitment to domestic harmony and his devotion to his family and those closest to him who were at the heart of his life. We never really find out who all Rabbit’s friends and relations are in the story, but we know who they are in Dad’s case and those of us fortunate enough to be in that position knew that his support and love would always be there for us, whether as a brother or a parent, friend or husband, always supporting, protecting and accompanying Mum on holidays, cruises and journeys. He perhaps resembled Rabbit also in that he was so devoted and diligent with regard to his work for the family firm – always busy, always making shrewd financial investments with his family’s interests at heart- and also as the house-proud, domesticated character who so enjoyed renovating and decorating, making homes out of houses until illness struck and that source of pleasure too was taken from him too early into his retirement.
From that time onwards he spent most of his time sitting in his favourite chair – or should I say even more time… Here he was Owl, the wise character whose wisdom was sought and dispensed, whether it be in the form of answers to the clues of Times crosswords or occasional observations about the state of the world in general and English cricket in particular. Many of his thoughts remained unspoken and they always shall, carried with him to wherever he is now, silent and at peace.
As the youngest of three, my picture of Dad as a child is of little Roo, always looked after and protected by people older than himself, always a little vulnerable. And there were, if it doesn’t seem insulting or absurd to stretch the point this far, some of the characteristics of Piglet in him: that small timid character who showed a great shyness, a reluctance to be drawn into social situations or environments that he would have preferred to avoid. The stories of A A Milne often show Piglet cast as the reluctant companion of his friend Pooh as they enjoy adventures and escapades in which the little character would rather not have taken part, yearning for the quiet life at all costs – and there was part of that in Dad too.
Maybe there is a little of each of these characteristics in every one of us in differing amounts – and that’s what makes the stories of A A Milne so enduring and so endearing. But I’ve left the main character until last, because it’s Pooh Bear himself, the lovable old bear with his idiosyncracies, his profound insights and observations and – perhaps most important of all – his love of sweet things, that Dad most resembles. As I’m sure you all know, Dad loved eating out and I think he regarded the starter and the main course as necessary chores to be overcome in order to allow access to pudding – a family tradition which is in safe hands as you can see (pats stomach). And Pooh Bear was always to me a kind and gentle soul for whom the world was always just a bit too complicated and yet he could explain it with a simple insight, a character from whom one would always receive compassion and concern, and for whom one could feel nothing but love and respect.
And, tragic though it was, there was something quaint about his absentmindedness of the last few years: many instances of forgetfulness or puzzlement which brought to my mind – and almost to my lips on occasion – that loving phrase from Christopher Robin ‘silly old bear’. And that’s how I’d like him to be remembered, alongside all the other characteristics which make up his personality, I’ll hold onto his memory as kind, lovable, gentle, absent-minded, pudding-loving ,silly old bear.
Which brings me back to where I started – the wobbly head and the discomfort. The Pooh stories always ended with Christopher Robin dragging Pooh upstairs to bed, bumping his head on every step as he climbed. I always thought that was very painful for poor Pooh. And maybe it was. And maybe the wobbly head which accompanied Dad’s last few hours of breathing was painful too, not to mention the final days and weeks of his illness. We don’t know, we can’t know any more than I could know as a small child reading the story, whether or not Pooh Bear’s head hurt as he was taken upstairs. But what we do know is, having climbed the stairs, Pooh Bear would have found himself tucked up and at peace, and so too we know that Dad is also at peace, having made his final journey to wherever he is now, whatever pain and discomfort there may have been on his way up there now surely passed.
So we leave him there and cherish our memories of him here, whatever elements of his character we may have had the privilege to experience and know. For the memories will always abide, and though he has been taken from us, he will live forever in our hearts. May our memories of Alan as husband, as father, as brother, as friend be a source of blessing and comfort to all who were fortunate enough to have their lives touched by his gentleness. Amen.
March 8th 2001
* His (late) sister, Trudy, told me after the prayers that he was a very energetic and bouncy child, so he was ‘Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger Too’ (one for the aficionados there!)
Welcome to the thoughts and reflections of a Liberal Rabbi: Pete Tobias > Articles > For Pete's sake... >