There is only one thing that we are guaranteed in life, and that is that it eventually comes to an end. By that I mean the life that we know now with our loved ones on this Earth, regardless of our belief in what comes next.
Our Dad Ben, he embraced everything that life gave him, including his illness. When he wanted something for himself or his family he went out and worked for it and we were never left stuck. He truly gave us a fantastic life and he thoroughly enjoyed the life he led. A simple life. A life enjoying moments that matter with the people he held dear to his heart.
One of our Dad’s greatest personal achievements was the day that he passed his PSV test. See he fell down the stairs 30 years ago which after a stint in the ICU it left him with a frontal lobe injury in his brain. That meant that his ability to study was very difficult. Mam says that he studied so hard and he was unbelievably determined to pass that test, even though the odds were against him. But he had zero problems with figures when it came to being shortchanged on fares! And he always made sure that whoever got into his car after a football match, that he supported the same team they did.
When he passed that test, for the next 22 and a half years, the world was his oyster. He secured our beautiful home, a home that can never be taken away from us. He jumped at any chance to go on a holiday with Mam, as soon as he’d come home he’d ask her to open the laptop and book the next trip. They traveled to Thailand, New York, Florida, Memphis, The Caribbean, Turkey, Spain, The Canaries and that’s just the tip of the iceberg and when the opportunity for Mam came up to visit Australia straight away he told her to go for it. Always embracing opportunities, and never wasting a second that life had to offer.
He loved his children and grandchildren very dearly. He was always great with kids, I remember myself whenever I had a humour on me as a kid he’d look at me and say “Give me that smile” so many times it was impossible to keep a straight face. He loved his pets and we’ve always had furry members of the family since I can remember. Don’t worry Dad, there’s still seven fish in the tank and I will continue to wind Maisy and Daisy up just like you did everyday as they were your fabulous companions at home since you became ill.
He was referred to as “Gentle Ben” by his brothers, sisters, nieces, nephew and everyone who he met on his days working the coal yard in Foley’s. His brother-in-law Sean used to stick the sweeping brush up at the back door to catch him coming in late after a few lemonades in The Happy Brig. One day Sean and Chris were going to a wedding and our Dad was a couple of hours late for work, Sean couldn’t get a hold of him so he called the Guards to say that there was a massive row in my Mam’s house and that all had gone silent. Well, my Mam opened the door to the Guards, shocked and looked back at him wondering where ELSE had he been last night. That was before we had digital alarm clocks and a snooze button. Once when he went out shooting crows, he gave David a dead crow and told her to give it to Mam and tell her to cook it for the dinner. He thought it was hilarious, she wasn’t impressed.
He enjoyed his bit of telly in the evenings and was very thankful for the live pause feature because Helen would ring every night and “spend an hour talking about nothing” as he’d say. There was no Sky TV in the hospital so we were all to shut up when Emmerdale was on.
It was difficult to treat him as he didn’t drink or smoke or was into sports, but he was easy to please with a bit of cake or chocolate and under no circumstances would he be satisfied at Christmas unless there was a selection box there for him. He loved his Wispas, and I should let you all know that for every day he was in the hospital, Karen collected a Wispa for him. She sent a picture of them to him last week and he eyes up the picture trying to count how many were there. Well, Dad, there are 35 Wispas in there with you now and a Jelly Tot from Isabelle. Enjoy them.
Our Dad was a model man. He was straight. Said things that needed to be said. There wasn’t a malicious bone in his body but if something didn’t sit right with him he would let you know. He never put anything on the long finger, when something needed to be done he did it. I will forever be checking my oil and tyre pressure because the man tormented me to get them fixed. Even when he was sick he went out and put oil in my car, that just shows his stubbornness which of course the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
But what I admire most about our Dad is his love and admiration for our Mam. In 2 weeks time will be their 30 year wedding anniversary, and they were married in this Church where we are seated today. If there ever is a perfect example of what marriage is it’s that between Ben and Sandra. A marriage that, of course, had it’s ups and downs and they faced every challenge head on every single time. Dad idolised Mam, had faith in her even when she could not find it within herself.
They had their first date on 3rd October 1981 in The Happy Brig. Dad taught Mam how to drive, despite him failing his own driving test first time round. He thought he could hoodwink the examiner by holding onto the clutch only to be told at the end he would have passed if he got the handbrake fixed. And wasn’t he only delighted that she can drive because he happily sat in the passenger seat on their many trips all over Ireland. During the snow in the 80’s he walked from Foley’s in Lucan to her house in Kiltalown in Tallaght, not exactly 500 miles but I think The Proclaimers were inspired by that act of pure love. He would have walked to the end of the Earth and back for her.
Even when it came to special occasions, birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries if there was something he could not organise himself, he had the idea, gave me the money and ensured that Mam was spoiled as she deserved, and I will continue to do that for him from this day on. I remember one Christmas where the tables turned and Mam decided to surprise Dad with a holiday, he burst into tears of joy but the next time round he was sweating with worry wondering what he could do to top the previous year.
Our Mam and Dad’s marriage is one to be inspired by. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, they’ve been through thick and thin for the last 37 years. The greatest thing that they have taught us is that love is not a “misunderstanding between two fools” as Dad would joke, but it’s a partnership, that in order for it to survive it cannot rely on one side to keep it alive. It’s a union between two people, forever. And I have to thank them from the bottom of my heart for setting the standards so high and leading by example.
We also have to thank everyone who has been around throughout my Dad’s illness. Between the staff at St James’, Dr. Connelly, Mairead, Lorraine, all those who visited Dad at home (in particular Wille, Pat & Terry) and in hospital, all those who lit candles, said prayers and all those who kept in touch asking for him. Your well wishes and selfless acts will not be forgotten.
I said in the beginning that there is only one thing that we are guaranteed in life, and that is that it eventually comes to an end. But what we are not guaranteed is the amount of time that we have on this wonderful Earth. Time is precious. Our my Dad never wasted a moment. Take a leaf from his book and when it’s your time, have no regrets.
I’ll finish up with a small request of all of you, please don’t avoid talking about our Dad, for fear of upsetting us. Don’t cross the street because you don’t know what to say. Don’t avoid picking up the phone or steering clear, because tomorrow life will go back to normal for you, while for us it will take a little more time and we will need our friends to be near, to laugh and joke and to celebrate the life of
Gentle Ben, The Gentleman.