May 10, 2019


My mother, Sally Kathryn (Laing) McCormick, passed away on the 25th of April, 2019. This is the eulogy I gave at the celebration of her life on Monday.

"Your mum is the nicest person I've ever met."

I've heard these words from friends and strangers countless times during my life. They are how I slowly came to understand that Mum was somebody extraordinary and not to be taken for granted. I'm so glad to have been able to express my own gratitude to her in recent years.

In Henry the Fourth Shakespeare has a turn of phrase: "like bright metal on sullen ground." Mum was bright metal on sullen ground. She was solid gold.

Everyone here will have their own fond, and if you knew her well, sometimes frustrating memories of my mum. I want to focus today on those things I came to really admire in her.

We all knew that warm side of her because she gave it freely, to everyone, everywhere she went. No matter who you were you would get a sweet smile, warmth, and praise. Perhaps fewer people here will know of her strength, energy, and willpower, her humour, her infinite gratitude, and her fundamentally uncomplaining nature.

In recent years I've found inspiration in the philosophy of the stoics and it is hard not to notice strong parallels with the way mum carried herself, always ready to help, always grateful, always giving. Standing straight, or held straight, by sheer will. Until around 11 each night when the universe would gently say "ok, it's time to sleep now Sally", and she would nod off where she stood.

And then, as my father knows all too well, was woken every morning by her two alarms, one at 4:30, so that she had "time to think", and one at 5 so that she could actually wake up.

But Mum was not a stoic, she was a Christian. Even though she was tested by the Good Lord with three opinionated, and two atheist sons, her faith never waivered in the slightest, even at the very end. As with everything about her, it held fast and true and uncompromising throughout her life. I am not a Christian but I admire her persistence greatly.

I am going to try to be more like my mother.

I'm going to try to be as grateful as she was. To remember that every morning I wake, every cup of coffee, every lego spaceship built with my kids, is a gift of limited supply. To delight and give thanks as she did in the smallest of things, common or uncommon. Any time I said thank you to mum, she would brush it off. Clearly, she thought it her basic duty to this world and the people in it to give everything she had with gratitude.

The most valuable thing each of us has to give is our time. Mum always had time for people and most especially for us her sons. In this too I hope to emulate her and give more time to my own kids, and to you, my friends and family, and the other people in my life, just as she did.

She never ever complained. Never. Instead she did whatever was in her control to help other people, and sometimes even things which were well outside her control. She knew that complaining accomplishes nothing but to make you feel worse and to burden those around. Mum never burdened anybody. If I need help I will ask for it. If I can fix something I will simply fix it, just as she did.

Mum had incredible energy. It wasn't the kind of energy you get from an energy drink, or from eating high energy food, because we all know she did not do that. No, it was the energy that springs forth at 4am at the hospital after several sleepless nights when your sick kid needs to be held. Its the energy you didn't realise you had until you decided to try and overcome the fatigue with willpower. Mum made amazing use of that particular reserve, and whilst it would probably not be advisable to dip in to quite the same extent as she did, it's good to know that there is always more you can give when required.

Finally, I aspire to mum's strength. She powered joyfully 100% into everything that life handed to her, and even her last hugs were vice-like, and with a genuine smile. Again that is not because she was particularly physically strong, although she was, but because she was emotionally and spiritually strong. If a mouse like my mother can be so mighty, surely I can too. She made it apparent that it is a simple matter of choosing to be strong.

Mum and Dad's legacy speaks for itself. The life they made for themselves in this country. The lives they helped others to build. The success of their sons Dirk and Mike in building a good life for themselves, sometimes against extraordinary odds which most people will never face. Of course I also owe a huge debt to my parents for the wonderful life I enjoy today, a debt I intend to pay forward wherever I can, in my mum's spirit.

At times like this the universe can seem cold, and harsh, and unfair; but people like Mum show us that goodness and love abound in this universe. The goodness and love is in us. We get to defy the cold and the unfair. Like mum, each of us gets to choose to be strong, to love, and to make reality wonderful for each other.

Thank you Mum, for caring for me, and Dirk, and Mike, and Dad, and for Orson and Scout, and for always believing in me. Thank you for always laughing out loud at our stupid jokes. Thank you for sitting patiently and learning to code with me on our Apple IIe when I was 8. Thank you for showing me the way to be a good human. I promise I will try.

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