The Reverend’s Welcome:
We’re here to do honour to Marjorie Walker, and we’re here because in one way or another, death affects us all. My name’s Ian, and I was a friend of Marjorie’s for 18 years. We met when we were both selected for training as psychoanalytical psychotherapists, and we remained friends ever since. I was moved when during her first bout of illness, she asked me if I would be able to officiate at her funeral, were the worst to happen. Well, the worst did not happen, and Marjorie’s illness went into remission. However years later the cancer returned, and with it my plan to emigrate to Australia with my family. We all said what we thought then was going to be our final farewell; that was 7 years ago. But the cancer went into remission again, and we kept in touch by email, Marjorie in London, myself in Sydney. Seven years later, we decided, my family and I, to return to London, to family and friends. I let Marjorie know about this, and she said ‘I can’t wait!’ I said ‘You’ve got to.’ I visited Marjorie as soon as I got back, and that was in late March, and she was still walking around, but clearly unwell. ‘Thank God you’re back! I didn’t think I was going to make it’ she said.
On behalf of Marjorie, Mike her son, and myself, I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being here today. And I hope we will give Marjorie the best sendoff possible, the sendoff she deserves.
Marjorie grew up in the mainline area of Philadelphia, the daughter of Miriam and Mike Girsh. Her father was a successful entrepreneur. Marjorie had a difficult start in life; her mother had a breakdown, and was hospitalised. Divorce followed shortly after. Miriam remained in care of psychiatric institution for the rest of her life; her father remarried. And although Marjorie never spoke much about it to me, when she did it was clear that unsurprisingly it had impacted upon her life. She went to Bennington College boarding school, where she told me she flirted with the idea of being a Catholic. I was quite interested in this, and she said, ‘don’t get excited, it was only so I could have an extra day off, a Saturday and a Sunday’ and she said ‘anyway, it was too difficult to learn the Catechism, so I decided to stay Jewish’. Apocryphal? I don’t know, maybe, sometimes, Marjorie’s stories were apocryphal.
Marjorie married Joe Walker and she became stepmother to his son Steve, and then Michael here was born. Sadly the marriage was not to last, and they divorced. Because of her childhood experience, she developed an interest in psychology, and in particular the impact that the early years have upon our subsequent development. In her 30s she completed a PhD, and published her book Your child’s development from birth to adolescence, co-authored with Richard Lansdown. Marjorie lived in Miami during her young adulthood – her hippie phase, as she referred to it. Have we got anyone here from her hippie phase? That was wild. An interest in Buddhism followed. She described her home in Miami as a place which everybody gravitated towards, and she said to me ‘The house was always full of people; hippies, Buddhists chanting – oh the chanting – in hindsight I know it was hard on Mike.’
Mike and Marjorie later moved to London, she then worked for the Open University. She developed a serious interest in contemporary art. As I’ve mentioned she was selected to train as a psychotherapist at the Association for Group and Individual Psychotherapy, before transferring to the British Association for Psychotherapy. She spoke with great affection of her deep love for you Mike. In a whisper, only a couple of weeks ago, she said to me ‘He is my first thought upon waking, and my last thought before sleeping. I love him more than he will ever know.’ She went on to talk of the joy her grandchildren Juno and Clara gave her, and how much she enjoyed seeing them. She spoke with admiration for Hellen, her daughter-in-law; she said ‘Hellen has been amazing, incredibly strong.’
What’s a priest doing, taking a funeral for somebody who comes from the Jewish tradition, you might be asking. Well, the planning of this celebration of Marjorie’s life actually took place at her bedside over a period of weeks. We met twice weekly for four weeks, during which time she listened to the music, the prayers and the psalms that I suggested, and from those she made her choice. So everything that you hear today is what Marjorie chose herself. However, Marjorie was always one to surprise me, and no sooner had we agreed on what the service was going to be, I noticed that she snuck in ‘Amazing Grace’, from where? I don’t know, but ‘Amazing Grace’ came. The week before she died, she lay in bed propped up with pillows, and she fixed me with that steady eye she sometimes reserved for being extra serious, and she looked at me as if urging me not to forget this bit; with all the energy she could muster, her voice now little more than a whisper, she said ‘The most important part of my years in England has been my friendships. Every friend – and I mean every friend – has given me something of themselves. It has been very special. I’m so grateful. During these last months of my life, I have really enjoyed the quiet times I’ve had with friends. Let them know, let them all know; and you too – everyone should have an Ian. Tell them about mourning. I don’t want anyone to sit shiva; but it’s good to talk. Tell them to come back here for refreshments and to talk to each other, and to share their memories of me. And if it’s nice, they can take a walk in the gardens.’
Well, while this service is not in the Jewish tradition, Marjorie and I tried to be respectful towards her family’s religion, and althought she decided to use a priest, all the biblical readings are from the Hebraic Old Testament. Marjorie made me laugh when she told me ‘I didn’t even know I was Jewish, until my father took me to a room they were dedicating to my mother’s memory at the Synagogue.’ ‘Are you serious?’ I asked. ‘Nah, but it’s a good story.’
Marjorie would take a very serious situation, to which she applied her humour and intelligence, to provide a way of thinking about what was happening to her. Her blog, which some of you may have seen, ‘Cancer Curmudgeon’, is typical of this.
During the last period of consultation with me she became so sick and medicated that it was sometimes difficult for me to get all of the facts straight, so forgive me if in this eulogy I’ve missed some important points.
Throughout her illness, Marjorie retained her dignity and sense of humour; she always asked others how they were faring. Every time I went to see her the first question was ‘Have you eaten? Do you want something to eat? Do you want a drink?’
On Friday the 8th July, in the mid afternoon, she slept. Friends who were visiting her momentarily left her bedroom, to take a break and to sit in the drawing room. At that point, Marjorie Walker died, peacefully.