Tribute to Margaret Jill Soward

On the 15th Of August 1940 Margaret entered the world, on the 29th of June 2019 Jill left a wealth of achievements and memories. This small tribute was spoken at her funeral on Monday 15th July 2019. The names of her children (my siblings) have been initialed.

Nature is cruel and cold, heartless and unfair, at times like these we look for reasons and validations, only to conclude its tangible injustice is as visceral as it is finite – but, I’m not here to talk about that!

Mum recognised herself as a Christian, a good one, quietly drawing strength from her faith. There was no doubt the love and result of her belief would or could ever falter – but, I’m not here to talk about that!

I’m here to talk about Jill Soward, I’m here to talk about our Mum – but not in a sombre way or largely internally reflective way. Like her, I’m going to focus on the positive, the fun and inspirational.

Nike is a popular American sports clothing brand, renowned for dressing the world’s best athletes in stylish and technically advanced, shoes, hats, shirts, jackets, wrist bands, sunglasses, bras, and under pants!

The success of Nike is not in the quality or rather mass production of their garb, but rather the power of their marketing. “Just do it” – is the tag line for this global power, but also a mantra used by Mum.

I have it on great authority that Mum came up with the chant “Just do it”, many years before Nike slapped it on a plastic drinking bottle. Unlike the thinly veiled slogan for an influential brand – “Just do it” held a great power for Mum, it was her phrase, her mantra, her advice for challenging moments in life. “Just do it” means “get on with it”, “go for it”, “what are you waiting for, you can do it if you try”.

As Mums’ children, there were times we would hesitate in confidence over life decisions – career, money, housing, and love – with assurance Mum would turn to us and say, “Just do it!”

At times we would fall, feeling like we had lost everything but even when a glimmer of hope would catch our attention, getting back up felt impossible – Mum would hold us and say, “Just do it!”

There were times we would win, not by a hairs breath, but smashing the competition, celebration would ensue, and Mum would always be there, raising her fist in the universal gesture of strength and reward – and say, “you did it!”

Our parents gave us so much we needed so little, together these two people facilitated our lives to be everything and more.

But I did mention the word “sombre” – so, I’d like to share some classic childhood memories.

Legend has it our Grandma Soward (dads mum) would sip malt vinegar from a wine glass after her Sunday Roast – as a child (5 or 6) I was both horrified and fascinated by this act of delicious vulgarity, the very idea to drink what you pour on your chips, and pickle eggs in had me hooked. For hours one afternoon, I hounded mum. “Can I try it”, “where do we keep the vinegar”, “oh go on, I’m sure I’ll like it”, over and over, and over again I pestered.

Mum quite rightly said no, “it’ll make you sick”, “It’ll be a waste of perfectly good vinegar”, and “I don’t want to have to clean up the mess”. But, being the very embodiment of the manta “just do it” I carried on, “please”, “please”, “please”, “oh please”, “oh go on please”, until “FINE” Mum snapped, and marched over to the panty collected the vinegar from the top shelf, poured some into a coffee mug and set it at the table where I sat, smugly.

As I stared at that dark reddish/ brown liquid – Mum looked on, arms folded as I lifted that cup to my lips, taking one sniff of its earthly acidic aroma I set the mug back down on the table, looked up at Mum and said “yeah, I don’t like that!”

As teenagers, S and D worked farms and forestry, cycling miles in the winter months to milk cattle and fell trees. One particular autumn afternoon, shattered but still standing, D and S visited the our local pub, the Dumb Post Inn, for some liquid therapeutics, headed by the stern warning from our Mum that “D, had milking in the morning” and neither of them must stay late, “you both have a big day tomorrow”.

Well, at 11:55pm two sodden teenagers wobbled back home, and to what can only be described as the bungalow of badness – Mums utter, utter disappointment. “I told you not to get drunk”, look at state of you”, Mum accused.

But emboldened by 6X S spoke back, a quick whittled, ill placed remark snapping the fared temper of a worried, tired mother – and what followed can only be described as stealth accuracy, S received a laser guided slap to the legs, D lifted by the scruff, dangling like dirty washing and both inebriated children were thrown into bed.

The morning after saw S nursing a beautiful rose-tinted hand-print on his right leg, and D unexpectedly capable and lucid made it to work on time to milk his mooing herd.

At the bottom of our garden, there’s an Oak tree, large, strong and baring a swing that fly’s above an embankment of approximately 30 feet above the ground. Again, as children our Mum and Dad warned us of potential dangers, one in particular was a pile of unused tar-mac discarded among the stinging nettles and black thorn, nestled below the high point of the swings flight.

Strong-willed teenagers E and CM took it in turns challenging each other for the highest swing! It’s with teenage grit Emma made the commitment to swing higher and faster than her predecessors.

One word, magnificent, and another three words from CM were “Oh My Gowd!” as E slipped and fell 30 feet onto tar-mac, stinging nettles, and the thorny embrace of poised black thorn.

CM snapped herself from the aw of the spectacle and ran to the house and found mum busy preparing dinner. “Oh, Jill, Jill I think E has really hurt herself” informed CM… Un-flapped and cool as the most sub-zero of cucumbers, Mum set down her oven gloves, pulled on her wellies, and followed CM from to the bottom of the garden. “E?” called Mum, as though to summon a radiant and terrible spirit. “I, I can’t get up” E called back – “good” said mum “you can hear me, you’re not crying, you’re fine”, “now, get up, dinner’s ready”.

It’s important to mention were not beaten children, neither were we neglected, but rather shown to be tangible, real and definite. We learned to win by falling (sometimes 30 feet), we learned we could always get back up, with Mum and Dad at our side we were unstoppable!

Wise and compassionate, she cured and cared for those without, she taught those who needed it most, she cherished her family. Mum was 50% of one of the most successful duos the world has ever known – it’s because of them we are the successes of ourselves. 

And it’s here, at this moment, that I look to the next generation, the grandchildren, that I power phrase Grandma, Grandads love, his wife, and our mother – don’t ignore the world, don’t fear the unknown, experience anything and everything. Science has shown us genetics carry memory, your future is not fixed, you carry the strength and purpose for life in your genome, and it’s been shaped by one of the mightiest of humans.

Whatever you do, however you choose to do it – remember Grandma – and “just do it”.