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About Galene

26 May 2013

A rare photo of the adult Galene – be warmed by the friendly smile, watch out for the mischief

Dying
My sister Galene died on 7 May 2013.

In her last letter to me, when she was in hospital, Galene wrote:
‘I REALLY DON’T CARE ABOUT ALL THESE THINGS. For a long time now progressively things have been left behind. I know I am on a particular ONE-WAY JOURNEY and for me it is good and fine and as it should be. I am not alone. I am following MY GOOD SHEPHERD who is with me and leading on the good and right pathway for me.’

These words, with their capitals and underlinings, in their direct simplicity, remind me of a sister I don’t pretend to understand, but I admire and love.

See how she expresses the strange freedom from the world in which she lived: I really don’t care….
All her life, she was pressing on to what has not yet been reached – note the word, Progressively. Her individuality – even when she was coming to the end which is common to us all, she had a ‘particular’ individual journey to travel.

She was herself with great determination and courage. She was distinctive in quiet determined ways. A person who dares to be different can easily be undermined and disorientated by loneliness. Galene knew that. She was saved again and again by following her Good Shepherd who was with her, and so she could say, ‘for me it is good and fine and as it should be’.

Galene’s Life
Galene was good at school, but left as soon as she could – she did not like being organised. (When she collapsed and was taken into hospital in April, very weak, she could not bear being in a bed that was at right angles to the wall behind it. So she moved it by herself, to put it diagonally across her little space.)

She tried various kinds of work. An old colleague from the library in Weston appeared unexpectedly at her funeral – they had worked together for two years around 1970 and never quite lost touch. Eventually Galene trained as a teacher and went to Zambia for a couple of years: the children there gave her joy she never forgot.

Then she married Richard. To some of us they seemed a way-out couple, not quite hippies. But for Galene, it was a joyful few years with a ‘lovely man’ whose ‘element’ was the ‘world of the spirit and mind and soul’.

Richard died suddenly in 1976 (aged 38) and Galene went back to live with Mother in Weston – two widows together, gardening, knitting squares and sowing blankets for charity, giving friendship to people who specially needed it, having disadvantaged children for holidays by the sea. Holland Street was a family hub, and cousins and nephews still remember the fun they had there.

A nephew tells a good story. Listening to the radio with Galene, they heard someone say young people in these modern times (1970’s) are weak and feeble and cannot walk any distance. They took that as a challenge, and walked the 20 miles from Weston to Bristol, no fuss. Galene and Mother also toured churches and conferences in their search for a ‘closer walk with God’.

All through her life, Galene often made surprising sharp changes, leaving the past behind without looking back. We saw this when she suddenly left Mother to marry Bill, who was thirty years older than she was. When he fell ill and was long bedridden, she cared for him and they lived quietly, reading and talking and praying. From the written evidence that survives, I see there was deep love and joy and fulfilment in this secluded life together.

Widowed for the second time, she returned to Weston and engaged in churches and charities, praying and befriending people in her undemonstrative way, living a hidden life with God all the way through weakening health as she came to the last stretch of her journey.

The Name
All her life, Galene followed our parents in reading the Bible as a book that speaks today and touches life now. The Greek word ‘galene’ is found in the story told in Matthew 8.23-27. Our fond imaginative father saw its potential as a distinctive name. Later, when Galene was ten, Father pictured it in her autograph book which was one of the very few things she kept to the end : there is the boat in the storm, in danger of sinking, Jesus out of it, asleep, and then, He rises – his waking up is linked with resurrection to new life – and He says, Be Still, and there was megale galene, that is, a great calm.

A page from Galene’s Autograph Album

As children we knew this story and so we knew what our sister’s name meant. Mysteriously, it placed her in the Gospel story with Jesus. But being called Galene did not mean she was always calm all through. She could be difficult to live with. She had strong opinions and had the family capacity for critical thinking and sharp speaking. But she was tender-hearted and she agonised about how to repair relations when they were rocky, being ready to take the blame even when it probably wasn’t hers. She never pretended that her name was a description of her character. Rather it was a reminder and sign of the presence of God which she carried all through her life and which carried her to the end.

So we knew what the name means. But I don’t think we, as children, knew why this word was turned into a unique personal name by our Father. I still don’t know, but I can make an intelligent guess.

Galene was born on 9 October 1941, in St Mary Cray, on the south-east edge of London. It was the time of the Blitz. Joy and I, mother and father often sheltered under the stairs and listened to the guns and bombs and planes in the night. Sometimes the house shook. The house we lived in was bombed flat two weeks after we moved from it. There was, simply, a great storm.

The Blitz went on from the Autumn of 1940 to June 1941 when Hitler switched his planes to attack Russia. So Galene was conceived in the middle of the Blitz and Mother had a worried pregnancy but she was born just after it had stopped. By the time she appeared, people were savouring what seemed like a great calm, after so terrible a storm.

Calling a new baby Galene in that moment, was an act of gratitude for the fragile blessings of this life and an affirmation of a hope that was rooted in faith in God who is with us in Jesus.

Haddon Willmer

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