The importance of family life

Erica’s Mum was a widow for 61 years. She brought up three daughters not quite single handedly but with the support of a loving family

Over the past three days I have been to two lovely events with Erica’s family in Southend-on-Sea. The only problem was that in between those events we laid my mother-in-law, Marie, to rest at Southend Cemetery.

I reflected, as I have done at other funerals, that the only person missing was the deceased and she would have loved it! All her family were there, and we had a great and comfortable time in each other’s company and nattering about our experiences with Marie and the stories we could all tell about her.

People came from far and wide. My youngest daughter Rachel travelled for 1.5 days from the Outer Hebrides and as soon as the funeral was over had to set off from Southend back home . She brought with her Mairi the youngest grandchild who was impeccably behaved the whole time.

Others flew in from Guernsey and trained in from Exeter. They were determined to overcome appalling weather conditions to show their love for their Mum, Aunt, Grandma, Great-Grandma or just as a friend.

The conclusion that I always come to at an event like this is that for most people the most important thing in their lives is a good family. This is especially true, of children who need a loving and supportive upbringing of they are to develop their own unique talents and potential skills. By that I do not mean just Mum and Dad or any other combination of adults in today’s less binary world. I mean the extended family who at different times give support or need it.

As I get older, I am conscious that perhaps Erica and I are beginning to reach the time when we might need help in our turn. We have spent a lot of our lives looking after our kids and now our grandchildren. We have, like most people our age spent time looking after our mothers both of whom lived to a sprightly age of 90 and 95. Both of them showed signs of dementia, to different degrees, towards the end of their lives but we always knew that on good days we could have great conversations with them and on others not so good.

As we chatted in the meantime with relatives, thoughts came up about wills and living wills. In a strictly legal sense both our mothers left clear legal wills about the distribution of their assets. Erica and I have already drawn up wills, but I suspect that we need to revise them after 10 years. Our intent is clear – we have three children so, apart from some specific bequests everything gets split three ways when the last of us dies.

Living wills provoked more discussion. Erica and I have resolved to have that discussion. Neither of us are religious so neither of us want to put each other in a difficult position. I have no doubt that I will be the first to die and I want Erica to proceed knowing what I would like to happen. But as she says I won’t have much of a say in it as I won’t have a vote. So, in death as in life then!!

I particularly will put in mine a ‘do not resuscitate provision should I ever be in a situation where it is likely that I would be incapable of living reasonably and with dignity if I came out of a severe or traumatic medical incident.

Personally, I don’t want a goodbye service. I would much prefer either to go straight up the chimney or I have seen that there is a new technique in the USA whereby a body can be dissolved in 28 days and then released harmlessly into the drainage system. However, if people want to have a party and reminisce that would be a different matter.

In many ways I have felt good in all the family funerals that I have been to. The women lived reasonably long lives, in reasonable, but not luxurious comfort and have many friends and family until they all passed on. I well remember my mum telling me one day, “I won’t be going to the funerals of any more of my friends”. When I asked her why that was her response came quickly, “because I buried the last of them yesterday”.

Hopefully the day is still some time off before Erica has to make those last decisions and in the meantime I really feel that whatever happens I am surrounded, sometimes via facetime or Zoom, by people who I love and people who love me.

But I am conscious that is not true for everyone. I chair an investment trust which has resolved that it will put £500,000 a year for two years into providing extra support for care leavers. These are often the people who have the most struggle at the start of their life and relatively few of them do go on to have successful adulthoods because of that early struggle.

This money will be used to provide little extras for care leavers and fill the gaps that Mum and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa would normally fill. Do they need a few nice things to fit out what would otherwise be a stark but adequate home? Do they need some extra courses or experiences to add on to the more formal education and training to which they are entitled? Do they need a decent laptop to enable them to participate fully in an educational, business or social life? These are some of the things we hope to provide for just some of the thousands of care leavers who will leave children’s social services over the next two years.

I hope that this blog does not sound smug or self-satisfied. It is simply a  reflection based on the luck that I had to be born into a stable family with a loving mum and dad and big sister who gave me huge support in my early years which enabled me to develop in the way that I wanted to. Others are not so lucky and one of my aims in my political life is to even out the ‘luck deficit!’


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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