REFLECTION ON THE LIFE OF KATHLEEN CALLAHAN
Delivered by Don Callahan at the Requiem Mass for the repose of her soul at Saint Patrick's Cathedral Ballarat at 1.00 pm Tuesday 05 October 1999.
On behalf of my father Jack and my brothers and sisters, Christine, Philip, Bernadette, Rosemary, Stephen, John, Julian and Louise, it is my great privilege to welcome you all and thank you sincerely for your attendance this afternoon as we mourn the loss of our dear Kathleen and celebrate her entry into eternal life.
In the early stages of Mum's illness, I was asking her whether there was anything in particular she would like emphasized in this reflection. Her reply was typical. "Please don't be morbid and don't go on for too long . People might get bored". Very considerate, very Kath.
Among the tributes to Mum in the family's death notice last Saturday in the Courier was one from my brother Philip which proclaimed proudly "What an angel!". I thought this to be a completely appropriate sentiment for a woman who has devoted her life to family and God even though she herself, who is sure to be observing these proceedings from her celestial vantage point, would roll those soft blue eyes, and with a knowing smile say "Don't be so ridiculous!"
Kathleen Joyce Forte was born at Beaufort Hospital on April 9, 1922, the seventh of eight children of James and Mary Forte (nee Egan). Two of those eight, namely, Jack Forte and Ethel McCulloch are here today and we extend to you a very special welcome.
Ethel told me recently that Kath was the "apple of her father's eye" and "woe betide anyone who laid a hand on her". She was a "beautiful little girl" with blonde hair and blue eyes and a "sweet, calm nature".
Mum told me that among her significant childhood experiences was being dropped by her brothers down the funnel and into the boiler of a (thankfully) abandoned steam train and later being placed inside a truck tyre which her brothers gleefully rolled down a steep incline, coming to rest at great velocity against a fence. Mum attributed this latter experience to her being as "silly as a wheel", which of course was not the case, just part of her penchant for self-deprecation.
Under this surface was a woman who showed extraordinary strength, generosity and love. She was from a family which valued selflessness over selfishness, generosity over acquisitiveness and modesty over conceit.
Educated by the Loreto nuns, Kathleen found herself in Commercial College at the outbreak of hostilities and, with jobs hard to find in Ballarat at the time, she eventually went to Melbourne, boarded with her sister Ethel and brother-in-law Jim McCulloch in Footscray and worked in the office of Edments the jewellers in Collins Street. Friends from that early era include Dorothy Hulett and Claire Gavin.
In l942 a proposal of marriage was forthcoming from a lean, studious-looking young man of 22 with a whimsical sense of humour, a love of music and an eye for a well-turned ankle. And we all know who that was! Dear Jack.
Let me quote to you from the Ballarat Courier, Christmas Eve 1942. Engagement party. "Kathleen, a dainty figure in white silk net, trimmed with tiny pink buttons". How could he have resisted?
Kath and Jack went on to produce the nine of us and we, with our partners, 29 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. 40 direct descendants. Not a bad effort for a "dainty figure".
After outgrowing 501 Drummond Street, Jack bought in 1963 the wonderful Victorian pile at 106 Dawson Street which many of you here would have visited until the move to Landsborough Street 10 years ago. Every morning, Jack would take Kath her cherished cup of tea. As childen, we watched in amazement as Mum perfected the art of drinking tea in a lady-like fashion while lying on her side! By 8.30 she was up and running literally. She once described this period of her life as "I arise at 8.30 a.m. and then I run until midnight". During this period she developed long life friendships with Marion Bracks and Lois Walker
Kath's wry sense of humour is captured in her reply to a person who once expressed wonderment at her having raised nine children. "Well, thank you but I didn't have them all at once".
Most of you here today know how much Kath loved her family and friends. In this endeavour, she set a breathtaking example for us all. She was the consummate professional without a degree.
She exhibited great commonsense in solving problems, her own and others, great compassion for those who suffered from nursing Christine for three years, her brother Claude and sisters Sheila and Mavis through their own terminal illnesses, to her voluntary work with the homeless at Peplow House and the abandoned at the Children's Protection Society. It was rare for Mum to cry but she wept buckets for the hapless children she encountered at the CPS. She knew her limits. How lucky we have been to have this angel of a woman for a mother.
Rosemary reminded us of Mum's battle with stomach ulcers her rapid departures for the bathroom mid-meal. But she was tough good genes and good example from a long-line of flinty Beaufort timber-cutters and shearers and don't forget that the name Forte is the exact Latin for "strong".
Louise thanks Mum for awakening in her a resilience and determination particularly over the last 3 months as she nursed Mum so closely. She recalls a strict and exhausted woman probably those teenagers! She recalls the warmth of Mum's bed and body that gave her such comfort as a small girl. And Mum's fury when she caught Louise smoking in the toilet at 13 years of age!
Mum's great integrity and resilience are best illustrated by this letter she wrote to her children in 1967 when she was a frantically stressed mother of nine, with Jack's mother Iris being with us and Mum dealing with the approaching death of her own mother, Mary Forte.
106 Dawson Street
10 May 1967
This letter may sound strange, and it is written in all sincerity and while I am of sound mind and still able to understand the difficulties endured by the young trying to care for the difficult aged parent.
In the event of my becoming an old and difficult mother and unable to care for myself in a proper manner, don't consider yourselves under my obligation to care for me. I would prefer to be placed in a suitable Institution. I will not have my children's adult life made unpleasant on my account.
People might say, "after all she has done for them". Disregard this type of remark as you now have it in writing that it is my request. Any mother, worthy of the name, does not rear her children expecting something in return. I have so often heard the expression, "After all I have done for my children", I resolved to write this letter informing you that I expect nothing in return for my labours. I did what I did for the glory of God and out of Love for my children.
My only request is that you all lead good and useful lives, never losing sight of the goal for which you are created.
Your loving mother
So there we have it Mum's purpose in life was to love and be productive. And she succeeded magnificently on both counts. She was a modest woman who did great things. A wonderful cook, she was also a lover of floral arrangement and had a fine ear for "proper" music. Her love for her God and Church was personal and intense. Not for her evangelism and bible bashing but rather a quietly reflective and respectful relationship with her church which culminated in her appointment as a Special Minister. She also spent many years as a member of the floral committee and would of course be delighted with the beautiful arrangements we have in this special place today.
As her nieces (our cousins) Maree Carr and Anne Pearce told me once : "Aunty Kath had real class. Always in high heels in the kitchen when we came to visit as little girls. And she treated us like real people not pests. Even the way she removed her apron revealed her style and her class".
I would like now to read to you some beautiful verse that Bernadette and Rosemary uncovered in Kath's birthday record book a few days ago.
"Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain,
I am the soft star shining at night,
When you awake in the morning light.
Although I am at rest
I am the sunset in the west
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I do not die.
So heed these words that here I say
I am the love that will guide your way."
I trust that these reflections will create a context for you and your own memories of Kathleen during the Requiem Mass.
To us she was a gentle, compassionate, principled and loving mother. She was strict in the early days and she expected high standards which she herself of course displayed at all times.
Mum insisted that I not be morbid so I will share with you one of her famous aphorisms :
"If you have money, spend it wisely and enjoy its fruits. There are no pockets in shrouds!"
Finally, I have to share with you another delightful moment from the early part of Mum's illness.
She was lying in bed spending quite long periods in apparent reflection and I asked her : "A penny for your thoughts? Are you thinking of God Mum?" She looked at me askance and said "No". Then she winked and smiled cheekily, touched my hand and said "Isn't that awful!".
Kathleen was devout but not pious and maintained her ready wit to the end.
As she would say : God Bless You All
REQUIESCAT IN PACE