My mother, Carol Mary Hakimian, died at 60 years of age. You don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t particularly old in the modern era, and that seems unfair. The one word that keeps coming to mind when I think what has befallen my mother is “unfair.” Every time. Why her? Why now? Why so unlucky with treatment? Why did it happen so quickly? It’s all so unfair.
But this isn’t the way to approach the matter. Everyone in this room has spoken about mum a lot in these last two weeks since she passed, and probably a fair amount before that too. This is because she just did so much. She went so many places, she helped so many people, she left her mark on so many lives. These are the hallmarks of a well-lived life, a life dedicated to existence and the proliferation of happiness and thankfulness in all lives she entered. It may seem unfair that she’s now gone, but we can be at least a little satisfied in knowing that she didn’t waste her time and she saw more of this world, and interacted more with its inhabitants, than we might ever get to do in the years we have left to us. If we want to take anything away from this experience, it should be to follow in her footsteps and be outgoing, even if it’s intimidating – as it often was for her; to offer help wherever possible – as she always did; and to go outside, see the world and take in as much as possible – as she was passionate about doing.
As I said at the start, my mum died at 60 years of age. The next time I had been planning to give a public speech about my mum was at her 60th birthday party last year, which sadly didn’t quite materialise in the way she had envisioned it. Nevertheless, thinking about what I would say today, it barely needed any modification from what I had wanted to say at that party. Although today might be a day of mourning, it’s impossible to think about my mum’s life and not be filled with happiness and inspiration. Although all we can do now is look into our memories and at photographs of her, the only possible outcome is a feeling of being uplifted. It’s impossible to think about all the things my mum did and all the joy she brought to the world and it not be a celebration. And that’s what today is – even if we’re all wearing black and sitting in silence for the time being – when we move down to the Marine Hotel later, where she had planned to have her 60th birthday celebration that never came about, there is no doubt that there will be music, laughter and merriment in the air, all curated by her from above.
A perfect example of the kind of love she inspired in her friends actually comes from the salvage operation for her 60th birthday celebration. Devastated by the news of her diagnosis, and exhausted by the treatment she was undergoing, Mum decided that she was not quite up to the task of holding a huge party. This was completely unacceptable to her friends, who rallied around, led by my mum’s best friend, confidante and partner in crime, Sharon, and organised a 60th birthday celebration for her, in spite of her misgivings. Evidence of the party that I’ve seen in photos and heard in anecdotes makes me wish I could have attended myself, such was the youthful energy and carefree spirit that fuelled the party – alcohol, karaoke and a mock-up of the Florida holiday home that she so adored and shared with anyone whom she could. Only my mum could have inspired such a vibrant and boisterous party, even if she was in a slightly depleted state. But you never would have known; she was committed to having a good time, always, and naturally found herself at the centre of it.
One only need to look back a decade before that to her 50th birthday celebration to really see how magnetic and radiant she was. Celebrating her half century was an enormous project for my mum, not because she wanted to celebrate herself, but because she wanted to share everything that she had with as many people as she could, and this just happened to be an excellent opportunity to do so. She indulged herself by having the colour scheme be entirely pink and based around pink roses – but beyond that everything else was for the benefit of her friends and family, and she invited as many of them as she possibly could to come and have a good time together. Pictures from that evening – many of which you’ll see around today – show mum at her absolute best. She looked amazing in her dress, had her makeup done perfectly and had a smile from ear to ear throughout. But even in pictures you can tell that there is a radiance to her that is emanating out from somewhere deeper: that brightly shining glow around her is fuelled by the love in which she was surrounded on that evening. That night over a hundred people were in attendance, and they all loved her and wanted to be with her on that special occasion. She grasped the opportunity to give back to all of them whatever she could, and most importantly show them a fun time – as seemed to be her underlying goal in everything she tried.
Of course, as her son, I experienced this generosity and utter devotion to my happiness through my entire life – although I undoubtedly took it for granted far too often. She always encouraged us to join clubs, take up musical instruments or take part in school plays, amongst many other things. From the time we were kids, every Monday she would bring myself and my best friend Theo home from school, cook us dinner, take us out to Beavers or Cubs, then pick us up again a couple of hours later. Essentially sacrificing this night of the week, every week, for our happiness. As we grew into our teenage years she would come to every band night to see Ryan play drums in rock songs that she’d never listen to in a million years on her own time, but she never failed to be impressed or full of praise for the performances – not only of her son but of all of our friends involved too. Whenever we were involved in a school play – even though we had the smallest roles, or even if it was just a behind-the-scenes role as stage crew – she would make sure she had time in her diary to come and sit through our under-rehearsed, off-key and very amateurish productions, and enjoy them wholeheartedly and sincerely. I could go on to mention all the swimming lessons, French lessons, football practices, rugby matches and who knows what else that she encouraged us to take up, and that she sacrificed her time to drive us to and from. Not to mention all the years of the school run! She was utterly selfless when it came to the people she loved, and it benefitted those around her enormously. It was this kind of encouragement that led me to do things like take Drama GCSE, to be brave enough to know when to change my degree at university, and later on move to South Korea to teach English; things which I never would have thought of doing without the kind of open-hearted and reassuring mother that I had.
Throughout our teenage years we always had so many friends coming over all the time that we joked that our house might as well have a revolving door installed. Even though our teenage comrades would arrive in droves, take over the house, make so much noise, stay up late, eat her out of house and home and track mud from the garden all over the place, she never complained. She never said no to inviting someone over and always seemed glad to see our friends and talk to them. Even if on the surface it might seem there would be nothing for an adult to discuss with a teen boy, she always had a smile on and our friends appreciated her warm and welcoming ways.
This was a natural aptitude that she had, in welcoming people into things, and thus she spontaneously became the centre of many different groups throughout her life, even though this is not a role she ever would have sought for herself or probably seen herself in. Beyond our friends, she has always kept her door open to all of her own friends, and wanted to have as many of them around as possible. Many of you here have sat around with her by our pool in Ladybarn, where she might not have necessarily been the centre of attention, but she was always the engine and the impetus; without her there would not have been a group together there at all, much less a conversation full of hilarity and fuelled by wine – as they always were.
This is an attribute that goes way back in her life, probably beyond what I know. My dad tells the story of her, newly moved to New Jersey in the early 80s and unable to work as a pharmacist, so going to secretarial school in the rough urban neighbourhood of Trenton, New Jersey. She was the only non-African American person in the class, so should have been a natural outlier of the group, but because of her gleaming kindness and helpfulness she found herself a popular and beloved member of the class.
Upon moving back to England and enrolling myself in school at Hernhill Primary, she quickly met an ally for life in Sharon and found her way onto the Parent Teacher Association. They worked together for over half a decade on the Hernhill PTA and Dawes Society, volunteering their time to help the school, the children and all the families connected to the community.
Later in life she dedicated herself to giving her parents all she could and making the last years of their lives as easy and comfortable as possible. After the passing of her mother she joined the local Breathe Easy charity, which supports other people with COPD. On first arrival to this group I think she was fairly underwhelmed by their state of affairs and organisation, and quickly took up the mantle of Treasurer, as she had done for the PTA before. More than merely count the little money going in and out of the Breathe Easy group though, she more or less took the whole thing by the scruff of its neck and brought it to life; organising meetings; managing fund-raising events; setting up outings; and writing, designing and printing the regular newsletter. All of this she did voluntarily. And not once did somebody stand in her way, because it was obvious in the way she spoke, acted and carried herself in these activities that she was perfectly capable and more than committed to doing it all. She did this for 10 years and never really asked for anything in return, except for support for Breathe Easy.
As a friend, mother and colleague she was the most reliable and hard working person I know. She was always ready to admit when she was wrong, but absolutely dogged when she knew she was right. She never apologised for her desires but she always took into account those of others. She was adventurous in all walks of life, right up to the end, and always there to donate her small piece of wisdom or experience that she’d picked up over the years.
Naturally, there are hundreds, if not thousands more anecdotes, memories and feelings I could express about my mother, from her work as a pharmacist at The Chaucer Hospital in Canterbury to being a dedicated member of the local Rock choir, but there would never be enough time to do her justice. I hope you’ll trade as many of them as possibly between you this afternoon at The Marine.
I would just like to talk a little bit about the end of her life now. For the last 18 months mum was dealing with this unforgiving illness going on inside her, and even though she had a strong and vastly loving group of friends and family around her throughout, none of us can truly imagine what it must have been like for her to go through that. The pain, the fear, the downright anger at the whole thing. And yet, we never really saw any of it. Always conscious of the feelings of those around her, she always put herself second and focused on others’ needs. At times it was actually easy to forget that she was sick at all, as it outwardly never seemed to put a dent on her mood or slow down her desire to remain active and helpful. The way she carried herself through her struggle should be an inspiration and guiding force for all of us. As her good friend Mandy so aptly put it to me the other day, “she never let her illness define her.”
When you lose someone of this magnitude from your life, it’s difficult to cope. You look for signs and signals from them everywhere. The amount of times in these last two weeks I’ve thought to myself “I can’t wait to show mum this picture,” or “I can’t wait to tell mum about this,” only to have that gut-wrenching realisation a moment later is too many to count. She would always be the first person I wanted to tell about what I’d been up to, or to ask for advice. To lose that outlet is a completely disorienting and hollowing experience. I’ve been looking for her everywhere, and let me tell you this: just as she was always present, willing and ready to listen in life, she remains so in death.
On the night of her first day of her final stay in hospital, I looked up at the night sky and saw there was no moon. A signal that things were coming to an end for her. On the night she passed I looked up at the night sky and saw the sliver of a new moon coming through, a reminder that every end brings a new beginning.
In the two weeks since then, we have had unseasonably warm, sunny and utterly beautiful weather. My cousins, Adam and Lisa, arrived from New Zealand shortly after mum’s passing, and at the start of this warm patch. It seems like more than mere fate that after 10 years of not having seen my cousins, the weather should turn out to be the more idyllic than we ever could have envisioned. We have seized upon the opportunity to go out and about and explore all the sights and scenes of London and Whitstable, as she would have encouraged us to do, and as she took any opportunity she could to do for herself. It’s hard not to feel like the sun beating down on us throughout is a by-product of her resplendent and happy smile looking down on us, satisfied and filled with warmth, as she’s watching her close family make the most of this short time we have together. And let us not forget that she is the very reason why we are here together at all, after so long apart.
Even as I sit now on Tankerton sea front writing this, the weather continues to improve and heat up. I have seen enough pictures of my mum on these very slopes in the wind and rain fundraising for Breathe Easy to know not to take it for granted. This, somehow, is her doing. It has to be. This sunny weather seems like the ultimate encouragement from her to go out and see the world; eat good food; drink great wine; laugh and be carefree; sing good songs badly, and sing bad ones worse. But make sure that through it all you’re surrounded by friends and family, and you’ll find the sun shines brighter, the wine tastes sweeter and the voices harmonise clearer.
Finally, tonight, after this long and celebratory day, I’ll urge you to look up at the sky. Two weeks on from the new moon of the night she passed, tonight you will see a full moon in all its glory, and you’ll know she’s there. Talk to her, confide in her, sing with her. She’s there. She’s still listening and she still cares. She always was and she always will be.