A few weeks ago one of my favorite men died, my father-in-law Edgar. I’m of a generation that found it difficult to think about the correct way of addressing Edgar. “Sir” came to mind when I first met him, but that felt too formal for someone whose family I was joining by marrying his daughter. “Edgar,” on the other hand, seemed very familiar and not something to jump to. In truth, I fumbled along for quite a while even after we were married and my position in the family was secure. Then, our girls Ellie and Ava came along, and the comfortable and convenient “Granddad” was the obvious solution.
Not to eulogize too much, but Edgar was a fantastic guy and perhaps the kindest of men I’d ever met. I often thought of him (and Olivia, my mother-in-law) as like Andrea and me in many ways. Edgar and Olivia came to England from the Caribbean, and Andrea and I moved from the UK to the US and have been bringing up a family here.
There is a difference, though, and Andrea and I had it easy by comparison to Edgar and Olivia’s journey. We moved for aspirational reasons, and not because we lacked opportunities where we were.
In the 1950s, Edgar and Olivia were economic migrants who had to build a life in circumstances that were often challenging and sometimes antagonistic. But build they did. A family—four great daughters (Andrea’s only poor judgment was to marry me!). A home. Work—40 years in a car factory. Faith—25 years as a church warden. Every year they saved coins in a jar to give to the grandchildren. Everyone got their share. Edgar loved them all. He also sent money home to the Caribbean to a relative who wasn’t doing well.
His smile was a thing of beauty and his laughter infectious. He had a great style about him, always smart and ready to give someone a hug! He looked out for people, welcoming them to his home in a way that made them feel like royalty. He made me a great cup of tea every time we visited. In his final days, he stood out in that hospital bay. Even in those moments he wore his pajamas with style, had a grace everyone noticed and a dignity which I pray I will maintain when my moments come. He was beautiful! It was a real pleasure to sneak that Jack Daniels in to put in his coffee in that hospital, a memory I will treasure.
So I lied. I just eulogized after all! I couldn’t resist it. He deserves much more, but blogs are supposed to be brief. In various ways Edgar’s life resonates in the stories of many people journeying in life today, migrating to build a good life, to make the best for their family, to worship, to give back to share and to love. His life was truly a wonderful example of remarkable ordinariness.
It strikes me that there are two perspectives in the current swirling of stories of people moving between countries, especially when economics enter the frame. One suggests that what’s ours is our own and there isn’t enough to share. And then there is a perspective of gratitude, especially for those who have journeyed before, who have built the very assets some now claim to be uniquely their own.
Recently we went to Martha’s Vineyard and walked around. I admit I gawked a bit at the huge yachts with people enjoying cocktails on the deck. I certainly never expect to own a yacht and throw cocktail parties there. Nor do I aspire to. I’m sure I’d feel a disconnect between what people have and what they fear they’ve lost or might lose if they viewed their own lives from the perspectives of those who have so much less materially.
If we look into each other’s eyes, no matter the color or country of origin, and see there the things that bring delight to ordinary lives, and if we listen to each other’s stories and learn the reasons for the journeys we’ve taken—challenges and all—perhaps we’ll understand there is enough to go around.
It was a real privilege to have Edgar’s perspective in our lives and each year understand more of his over 60 years of journeying to another country to work and build a life. I’m glad to live in the shadow of his gratitude above all else.
President and CEO
Aspire Health Alliance