--> We are here today to mourn and to celebrate the life of Hazel. Someone we all miss terribly. Someone it was a joy to love. I want this eulogy today to be about that.
What we all feel today is grief. It hurts. It twists, but the reason it does is because there’s a cost attached to a force much more powerful than our pain. Because that grief, our grief, is the price we pay for love.
The love of a wife. Of a mother, a sister, an auntie, a friend, a Nana, a mother-in- law.
And for me and Joanne, a wonderful step-Mum. Hazel was an inspiration to Rachel and I as we embarked upon that most thankless but rewarding of roles in modern family life.
A daughter, let’s not forget, who made her parents, Bob and Agnes, so very, very proud.
She may have been someone who you worked with. And you’ll have loved her.
Or even the shop staff at Marks and Spencer in Lancaster who greeted her with open arms every Christmas and Birthday as she’d return the sacks full of gifts so she could exchange them for something she really wanted!
And isn’t it true that whichever of those boxes you ticked there, and apologies if I missed one, that you also tick the friend one too. She was a true friend, a loyal friend, who was there for you whatever and whenever you needed her.
What an achievement, what a life’s work. To have lived a life so full of life and laughter, so full of love, to be so loved. And to have done so without any kind of edge whatsoever. Think about that.
All of us have loved Hazel in those different ways. And all of us miss her in those different ways too. And today I hope I can remind each of you of the ways in which she touched your lives.
I hope to give us all some memories to share when we retire to the Fox and Goose later to celebrate her life.
Much in the spirit that Hazel and her oldest friend June would when they’d put the world to rights most Friday nights. One other difference though - you don’t have to smuggle in your own peanuts as they did.
I may go off on tangents… Wasn’t that an amazing storytelling gift Hazel had? But like her I hope I come back round to the point of this story – the heart and soul of who she was. And in her spirit too, I hope you will embrace, circulate and meet with new faces and welcome old friends, very much as Hazel always did – like her brother Harold – the outgoing wing of the Preston clan. She so impressed her shyer brother and sisters with her confident and illuminating presence at every party, every gathering she ever graced.
And yet there was a curious paradox with that. Someone who worried so much, who cared so much and was anxious everyone was alright, and not offended, could also be so fearless and carefree.
When I asked people in the family to share their memories some consistent themes cropped. Family, friendship, loyalty. And dancing.
Think about what that says about someone. A love of life and fun.
From the earliest years in Pilling, then by the time the family moved to Daisy Bank, Lancaster to be closer to Mr Preston’s job as the head gardener at The Moor Hospital.
Her sister May remembers the Queen’s Coronation in 1952 and how they both had a role in the celebrations - as junior Morris Dancers.
How Peter was wowed by Hazel’s rock and roll moves, as everyone else in the room was as they stepped away to stand, stare and applaud.
And it was at dance classes where a 14 year old Hazel danced with a dashing lad called John Hudson, warming him up for her older sister.
And Angela tells me how when May eventually married John, that she graduated to the big girls room and shared a bed with Hazel, the big sister of the house. It meant dressing up in her sister’s stilettoes and covering for her when she’d sneak in late from a night bopping on the dancefloor at Morecambe Pier.
Andy recalls a holiday at Pwllheli Butlins in about 1975, when she won a can-can dancing competition, wooing the judges with a dandy pair of pop socks.
Happy times. Happy memories.
Hazel always had time for family. Back then, and as she always did thereafter. Coffee at Casa Baba on Cheapside on a Saturday with Angela.
And then in later years staying in touch via texting, Facebook and Skype.
Bridging ten time zones and talking regularly with her sister in Australia, and visiting there too – the royal visit with Angela, Peter and Pat - for May’s 60th.
Taught by the patient master and ever the early adopter of gadgets and widgets, “our Andrew”, she embraced new ways to share her love with friends.
Can a Mum have had a more devoted and loving son than Andrew? Hazel was so proud of what a gentle and lovely man he is, how he and Christine welcomed people into their home – as they have done all of our gang. But how their large group of friends so loved sharing Hazel’s company and she theirs.
And she was the devoted stand out Mother. When Andy set off with 20 other apprentices to embark on their training, two mums turned up at Irelands Coaches to wave them off. Of course, one of them was Hazel. But only one climbed up on to the bus for a last goodbye.
But those Prestons – like us Taylors - have something of a dominant male gene. After Andy, Chris, Gavin and Craig, then David and Stephen - Angela then upset all the odds and gave birth to Claire. Hazel was so shocked she checked inside Claire’s nappy just to be sure. And I think it’s fair to say they had a special relationship from that day to this.
But what a lovely sister she has been – supportive and there for them all when it mattered – through the ups and downs of life and particularly nearly five years ago to Peter and Pat – at the sad time of the deep loss of their son David.
I’ll remember a strong and resilient Hazel too – how she learnt new skills for career changes. From Storeys, to nursing, then from the NHS to the Nuffield. Embracing change – always learning, and supporting colleagues and always there for patients too.
Her mild OCD at making sure things were just so. Carrier bags folded and put away. Curtains drawn just so. I remember her washing up at our disgusting student flat in Manchester. Tackling a pile of plates that contained several new life forms as yet undiscovered by biology.
And how remarkably well she embraced being a Grand Parent. To our five boys Joe, Max, Louis, Matt, and Elliot and to Joanne’s three Jamie, Ben and Harry, she was a terrific Nana.
Jamie tells me tales of how his mates would take over the garage, doing up cars, making a racket, spilling oil and creating a bit of a mess. How Nana would give them a mild telling off, but then bring them a plate a butties and to share a joke and a laugh with them.
I asked our eldest Joe what I should say today and he said: “Just tell everyone how lovely she was.”
These are tales of family love. And I told you I’d go off on a tangent.
Hazel entered my life when she first started going out with my Dad. Two lost souls found each other. From that first romantic date when he picked her up - in his pick up – the old romantic - it was a real love story.
Whatever misfortunes had fallen on them – fate certainly turned its hand in bringing them together and they really, truly found their soul mates.
Our memories, all your memories of Stewart and Hazel will serve us all for the rest of our lives as a lesson in how to build a lasting, deep and loving relationship based on respect and trust. Or as my Dad said, the two words that make the secret formula for a happy marriage – “Yes, Hazel.”
Dancing too. Indeed, my memories of the lovers, at the start of their wonderful 30 year marriage, is smooching to Renee and Renata’s Save Your Love at their joyful and raucous wedding party at the Boot and Shoe.
How they were with each other, so devoted, so complementary, so easy and so in love.
Hazel was a real “people person”.
She was such fun to be around, whatever the occasion. Be it the Milk Kitters Ball or just a night out over a bar snack in Winmarleigh with Peter and Joyce, or Kellett with Peter and Pat, or round at Spencer and Sheila’s or at Ian and June’s. Or on a long walk with her sister in law, my Auntie Elaine.
How she’d talk to anyone, be engaged and ever so interested in meeting new people and hearing their stories.
In recent years I remember two lovely occasions with them both – one at the Albert Dock in Liverpool supporting me at a book launch. The other watching me wearing a silly hat and a gown at Preston Guild Hall for a ceremony for the University of Central Lancashire.
I was proud of how Hazel circulated and met people around those rooms. MPs, professors, editors, Lords. Some of them right up themselves, to be fair. But the point is this. Nothing and no-one phased her. And rightly so.
On my Dad’s mantlepiece – is a card to my Dad from May’s husband John, her brother-in-law, which summed it up for me.
“You know what, I reckon me and you are lucky to have married those two fantastic sisters.”
How right he was. How right he is.
There are a lot more cards on that mantelpiece and a full church today. That says it all.
And now she’s gone.
A friend of mine, a Catholic priest, had these words of comfort for me when we were in bits and in grief recently.
“It’s just crap isn’t it?” he said. (That’s obviously not official scripture or anything).
But it summed up how we’ve all been feeling and how we’ve been entitled to feel. But we have the opportunity today to reflect not just on a rotten year, but to celebrate a wonderful life full of our own love stories.
For how lucky we must feel today.
And to actually quote scripture this time, from Matthew’s record of the Beautitudes of Christ:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
And that’s what I hope we feel today, blessed that we are gathered to remember someone so special. Blessed to be together.
Blessed to have loved and honoured to have been loved.