It has been a year since my mother entered eternity. So much has happened in that time that it literally feels like a lifetime away. I know through that experience I am fundamentally a different person to who I was before. While we as a family grieve her loss, we also grieve with hope.

With my family I am reflecting on fond memories and giving thanks for my Mum. The following is the eulogy that I gave with my daughter Sonia at her funeral.

Santosh Kumari Kathpal was born in a small town called Gojra, District Lyallpur in Punjab in what was British India in 1942. She was the 5th daughter of her parents where her father had a successful business as a banker and commission agent. When the partition of India happened in 1947, she was only 5 years old. It was the biggest and most brutal refugee crisis the world had seen up to that time. Her family of 8 had to abandon practically everything they had and were taken by truck to a refugee camp along with Mum’s younger brother and 5 day old sister. Eventually the family settled in the city of Jalandhar on the Indian side of Punjab in a home abandoned by a Muslim family that had crossed to the other side.

Mum loved to tell a story about doing maths in school and her text book asking her to calculate how much wallpaper needed to go up in a room with certain dimensions. Confused, she asked the teacher what on earth was wallpaper. Mum was told it was one of the strange things the English did on their walls! Then her teacher added, “And maybe if you’re lucky you might visit England one day!”

Mum went on to study history at college and got married in October 1964. When her exam results came, I had just been born and there were some important prayers happening. But she was so excited she jumped up and ran to get the post, which caused some raised eyebrows as it seemed the post was more important than prayers for her new son! My Mum always spoke very fondly about getting married and moving in with her mother-in-law, who we knew as Bibiji. One afternoon, Bibiji took her to watch a Bollywood movie and Mum was shocked because she had only been allowed to watch religious movies till then!

We came to England in 1968 and Mum worked as a primary school teacher until the early 1980s. Throughout her life, Mum has taught us many important lessons by her example.

Here are 4 life lessons we have learnt from her:

1. Unconditional love.

My Mum got married at the age of 22. I was a honeymoon baby. Mum often recounted how I had turned her world upside down. She took her history finals while pregnant with me, and when I was born she had to adjust to all the challenges of being a first time mother.
I know on many occasions both my brother and I have been an ongoing challenge with choices that may have not been what she would necessarily have expected or wanted. At some stage we have probably diaagreed about everything there is to disagree about! But we have never been in any doubt of Mum’s unreserved love and concern for us. She would certainly let us know in no uncertain terms when she was angry or upset, but was invariably quick to forgive and move on. On the day before she left this life she was cross with me for getting her back in hospital. When I saw her the next day she was blunt about her anger, but then she was over it and we were back in a good place. I am so thankful for that.

2. The importance of family.

Mum always went out of her way to make her family a priority, putting them ahead of her career or other things she may have wanted to do. A very big part of that has been to do with food. Cooking well, making sure we are well fed and eating meals together has been her way of showing us how important caring for one’s family is. She has also constantly reminded us to keep in touch and not neglect our relationships with one another. Whenever she called, she would always ask when I was going to visit again, and we all knew how much she enjoyed seeing and speaking to us.

3. The importance of responsibility.

Mum and Dad initially came to England in 1968 only for 2 years. Then it became another two years and my brother Sanjiv was born. I remember Mum sitting me down and telling me that my  parents had decided to stay on – “for you and your brother’s future. So don’t mess up!” (no pressure!). It took courage and sacrifice for Mum and Dad to move to a new country and culture that was very alien to them, but they took on this challenge and responsibility for the sake of us. Mum’s example of sacrifice for her family and children has deeply shaped my own life. In a small way it points me to the Infinite God who sacrifices Himself for us.

4. The power of perseverance.

When Mum wanted something to be done she would do all that she could to let you know she is serious! She did not give up easily and has encouraged all of us to not take for granted the privileges we have, that have come through the love and sacrifice of both Mum and Dad before us.

In 2015, Mum broke her elbow and shoulder. She was in hospital for almost 2 months. I remember at that time thinking she might not make it. However, I did not factor in her perseverance and determination to get better. We are so grateful to God for those extra years He gave us.

The beginning of 2022 had been particularly hard for Mum. She was struggling with leg pains from her diabetes and had become immobile. Towards the end she asked Jesus for His grace and mercy in her life.

A week or so before her funeral I took Dad to see Mum in the chapel of rest at the undertakers. The day before the funeral my wife Sally and I took Dad again with my aunt. Both of them independently said the same thing to me when they saw Mum lying there. They said to me, “She’s sleeping isn’t she?” Yes I believe she is sleeping!

I believe as Mum has entered eternity she will be given a new body without the sickness and disability she so much struggled with. Maybe she will even be dancing!

So Mum, thank you for everything. You leave a big gap in our lives.We grieve for you, but with hope that we will meet again when you will have a fully restored and marvellously better body far greater than anything we can imagine that Jesus promises to those who call out to Him and trust Him.

But for us now you are sleeping. It is my confidence that in Jesus and His sacrifice for us, that
– our bad things like the pain of death can turn out for good,
– our good things like the love we have for others can never be lost
– and the best is yet to come in ways that will blow our minds and take our breath away!

For now until that great day when the secrets of all our hearts will be revealed and we shall see you face to face, we commit you to our loving Father’s hands whose love is better than life itself and even the most perfect mother’s love.

In the process of preparing for my mother’s funeral I came across the following two songs  which have been such an encouragement to me.

The first in Hindi expresses how the love of God in Christ  is better than even the best mother’s.

The second song is a beautiful and powerful celebration of the goodness of God no matter what:

We played both these songs at my mother’s funeral

I would have loved to have shared this song with Mum as it has been such a blessing and encouragement to me throughout this year.

With Mother’s Day coming up in the UK on 19 March 2023 if your mother is still around do tell her you love her!