The Reverend Allison Barrett

Loving the World with Words

Petey's 70th cropped -1

Words for my Darling

For so many years, as a minister and just as a human being, I have watched people get up and eulogize their dear ones; parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, spouses and even their own children. The minister part of me always worried about how they would feel, whether or not they’d be able to do it and why they felt they ought to be the one to speak? Simply as a human being, so often I couldn’t imagine how someone could get up and speak after, and in the midst of, such pain. I also felt that they shouldn’t have to, that a funeral or memorial service is designed for the bereaved, so they can sit with their arms around each other and simply let the service wash over them, beginning the long task of healing from great loss.

Traditionally, in a worshipping spiritual community, the minister (or iman or rabbi or priest etc.) knows you and they know your loved one very well. Whatever your religion or belief system, the task for the person presiding is to make that person come alive so that everyone in the room knows, understands and remembers who they are. Then your community closes in around you to comfort, help, and support you in your grief.

And yet, even though we are all mortal and will someday be in need of being remembered, for lots of different reasons, not all of us are part of a religious community. Long ago, Peter and I talked about how we found ourselves with a beloved circle of family and friends instead of a spiritual community and decided that each other was our only possible eulogizer. As difficult as that might be, as Peter said “Who knows you and loves you better?” Who indeed?

Of course, as it turns out, only one of these will get delivered in person by the other. His words for me lie tucked in my drawer in the form of a Christmas love letter he wrote me on what we both knew would be his last Christmas. Sure, there may be years of living between his service and mine, but there is still no-one who “knows and loves me better,” so when the time comes, he will be the one to “speak.”

I took up his challenge and said these words at his service of remembrance. But I have to admit, even for someone for whom words are their stock and trade, I could never in a million years express how wonderful he was and how happy we were together. Peter taught me the true meaning of love every day of my life. I know what it is to be truly loved and even now, 4 years after he had to go, I am amazed at how his love never leaves me. I am truly the luckiest woman on earth.

Love you, Petey.


Words for My Darling

Spoken at the Service of Remembrance and Celebration
for my husband Peter George


I would like to thank each and every person for your ministry of words and music here today, for your presence and participation and for the way you have tenderly held Peter and me and our whole family through these last months. Truly we appreciated every meatball and matzo ball, every noodle and dumpling, bowl of soup and bag lunch delivered to our door. Your cards and letters, phone calls, emails and texts, flowers, fruit baskets and yes, chocolate – were love and kindness personified and we would truly not have made it through without your love and support.

Throughout most of the last 20 years, a strange phenomenon has happened to me on a very regular basis. I am out and about in Hamilton or Dundas or Ancaster and someone suddenly realizes who I am married to and stops me to say “He is a really good guy, you know! That Peter George is a very good man!” If there is anything I want you to take home from me today it is this: “I know!”

But there is no way to tell you who Peter was and is to me or to describe the love we shared in our family. Love is not measured in time or space nor made up of molecules or particles, yet it is the most important substance on this earth. There was never a time when Peter appeared in the doorway that my heart didn’t leap in my chest. Our time together felt not like “Chronos” – the chronology of time, but “Kairos,” time in the mind of God or magical time; “Fishing Time” as Peter called it, where you are so in love with what you’re doing that 20 years of joy flashes by in the blink of an eye.

I had no idea who Peter was when I met him; all I saw was a sad man grieving an unimaginable loss. He told me he cried himself to sleep most nights and now I know exactly what he meant. It became the joy of my life to help put a smile back on his face and a twinkle in his eye again. And although he was sad when we first met and the last days of his time on this earth were also filled with the sadness of parting and grief for what we knew he would miss, in between, we shared more joy and happiness than I ever knew was possible.

Our time together while he was President at Mac and I a busy minister blew by in a blur of scheduling and craziness, both of us working evenings, weekends and holidays, with “bodies by banquet” and moments stolen from the two “jobs that ate your life.” We set a goal of making it to every single women’s and men’s sport at least once a year and I believe we made it every year! Our record was 22 nights without dinner alone together, but instead, thousands of nights with 250 of our “closest, most personal friends!” And always, Petey, the reassurance of your hand under the table holding mine made it all worthwhile.

His old friends; what beautiful people you are! How you welcomed me into your circles of fun and friendship without question, even after the loss of your own dear friend. I was and am so grateful for your unending kindness! My beloved family and dear friends, you were so overjoyed to finally see me so happy and welcomed him with open arms and plenty of pie!

Peter was the most amazing minister’s spouse. The day he announced in church that he’d asked me to marry him – and got his first standing ovation – he baked enough butter tarts for everyone – as a sign, he said, of his intention to be a good ministers’s wife. And was he ever! Throughout my career, whenever I did anything of worth or faced a challenge, he was both my inspiration and my soft place to land. There is a line from a song that says “Right from the start, I believed in the church of your heart” and that is where I always found my home. We helped each other in every way and I know he appreciated everything I did.

Many of his colleagues have said that Peter was the most incredible listener and I want to tell you a story about that. Before I met Peter, I was kind of a “Prince Charming agnostic.” Not a disbeliever, but hadn’t seen much evidence, either. I was heading toward 40, had work I loved and 2 cats – figured I might as well just get the other 4 cats and be eccentric Aunt Ally! I wasn’t despondent about it, but I told Peter there was a line in a song that summed up what I thought my romantic life might be “At the age of 37 she realized she’d never drive through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.”

Even though I had only mentioned it once several months before, guess who showed up the day before my 38th birthday – the last day I was 37 – in a sports car to drive me to Paris? OK, it was Paris, Ontario and my birthday is in late October so the wind in my hair was not that warm, but you get the idea!

He was a completely delightful man who made every single one of my dreams come true, even ones I didn’t know I had. We had a lot of silly nicknames for each other but, born in our travels in the middle east, the ones that stuck were “Sillyman the Magnificent” and “Noor Al George” or “Light of George.” His suited him to a T. He was a very goofy, magnificent man who made the hard times better and the good times magical.

Peter was far quieter than many of you would ever guess. I always said “You Say it Best When You Say Nothing at All” was one of our songs. He lived his love with a thousand thoughtful gestures every day, the breakfast delivered to my computer on Sunday mornings, the dozen roses once a month on the anniversary of our first date and right till the end, the cup of tea brought upstairs in the morning by the 75 year old with the sore knee. He showed me the true meaning and nature of love every minute of every day – that love can take flight in a moment and last your whole life long.

After he retired, the kids said “Baba, it’s like you’re the Daddy AND the Mommy!” he did so much for his girls! And, like the song “Every now and again, he’d say something wonderful.”

You all know I was the party planner in the family, and had carefully crafted every word of our wedding ceremony when I asked him if he wanted to add anything to our vows? “How about this?” he said ‘You are my heart’s delight and your love is precious to me.’ And at the end ‘I love you and will be with you always?’” They were by far the most beautiful parts of our wedding ceremony, and Hearts’ Delight became the name with which we christened the cottage we built together.

Like everyone, we had our share of hard times and we faced them together with humour and love. The three times I was pregnant he left me phone messages telling me how beautiful I looked “blooming” and came home with bags of fruit, veggies and vitamins. When we lost our second baby in 6 months, he brought me movies like “Rat Race” and “Best in Show” that made us laugh through our tears – and Harry Potter books because, as he said “A world where you wave your magic wand and get what you want is looking pretty good to me right now!”

We loved the May/December couple in Best In Show who are interviewed on camera and she says “We have a lot in common. We both like soup. And talking, or not talking. We can just talk, or not talk for hours!” Peter joked that was us; me talking, and him not talking – for hours! Once, when I was blathering on about something, exasperated, I said “Are you hearing anything that I’m saying?” and without missing a beat he said “Most of the good stuff.”

When he did speak, his words were always worth waiting for.

After 8 long years when our babies were born into our lives in a crowded Civil Affairs Office in Nanning and, of all places, a restaurant in Chongqing, China, as we left in wonder cradling our precious girls in our arms, he turned to me and said “Well, that was exciting! The first time they didn’t let me in the delivery room!”

When our whole house was destroyed in “the flood,” and we had to rebuild our home completely from scratch, the girls starting grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 living out of a suitcase, he was determined to wrest joy out of mishap. “It’s an adventure, not a disaster!” he said. He was the heart-shaped rock around which the floodwaters swirled – and then, on the day he died, the rainbow that stretched from one end of Hamilton to the other making a complete arc over his beloved McMaster. His love and strength carried us all, then and now.

He was also full of delightful contradictions. A soft-hearted man who cried easily and tenderly loved his wife and children – yet a man’s man, beloved by a great many “brothers from another mother.” An inherently cautious man who waded only a few 100 feet upstream of Niagara Falls in pursuit of a fish! A completely responsible person who asked both his wives to marry him almost instantaneously! An essentially shy man who was always willing to be the first one up on the dance floor. “Jam-Master George” who proudly put his Ancaster Fair “Canning Best in Show” ribbon up in his office right beside his Order of Canada and Order of Ontario!

His love and our life together was magical to me. That he could literally be the busiest man in town and still make me feel like a call home was the highlight of his day. That he could be utterly chivalrous to the memory of Gwen and still make me feel like the most cherished woman on earth. That he could treasure his old friends and enthusiastically welcome my new ones. That he could be the kind of father and grandfather that Mike described and then joyfully do it all over again in his 60s when our girls came home was nothing short of a miracle.

His tenderness and love for our daughters was a revelation to me, and while our grief as a family feels overwhelming at times, I am so certain that having Peter George as a Daddy for any length of time is the very best gift I could ever have given my girls. They have his quiet self-possession, his kindness, his tender heart. Baba is so proud of you girls and he always will be and remember what he said “My love for you is forever.”

As a husband and father he was game for everything! The only guy carrying a red canoe on his head in Algonquin park at 65. The only 70 year old riding the Niagara Rapids Water Coaster at Great Wolf Lodge (although he may have inadvertently taught our daughters their first swear words when he said “I don’t like this expletive-deleted expletive-deleted ride!” as we shot over the falls! The only 75 year old I saw taking his young daughters pop-up camping.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the video we just saw says more than I ever could about who he was as a father and grandfather. He told me he had to pull over in the car when he heard that song on the radio (“Father and Daughter” by Paul Simon), he was crying so hard, he needed windshield wipers for his eyes! I could use a pair of those myself these days.

We genuinely loved each other’s company and when he retired, we made up for all the “lost time” in those 22 nights, managing to pack our hoped-for 25 years of fun and love into just 7. Those of you who were there know the fun and joy we had when we celebrated our 25th anniversary on our 15th, with the big wedding we never had at “Hearts’ Delight Cottage” on the Ottawa River. We were going to celebrate our 50th next year on our 20th. We knew how precious our time together was and we lived with that understanding in our hearts every day.

I learned so much from him; that accomplishment and humility can go hand in hand, that civility and decency never go out of style, that circumspection is required for wisdom, that being a true gentleman means being a gentle man. He never stopped being the thoughtful, caring man he was his whole life, right till the end. In the last 6 months, if some of you could have seen what he was dealing with when he sent you that note of encouragement, congratulations or condolence, it was truly unbelievable. Peter showed me that a good life consists simply of one act of goodness and kindness after another; I happened to be the lucky recipient of a lot of them, but I know all of you were, too.

Above all, he showed me that life is a gift to be shared abundantly; that children are a gift, family is a gift, friendship is a gift, meaningful work is a gift, this country is a gift, education is a gift, good health is a gift and that Love, the greatest gift of all – is lived every day by your actions far more than your words, though every now and again, you should “say something wonderful.”

In Harry Potter, there is a map that shows where you are, even if you’re under the cloak of invisibility, a map where your footprints and presence are still seen and felt. Incredibly, it’s called the Marauder’s map. (McMaster’s sports teams are called Marauders)

And so I will use the map that my very own Marauder left me, where I can feel his presence even when he’s under the cloak of invisibility, the one that shows me the footprints his life and love have made, that will guide me and the girls safely home. And when we are weeping, we will remember that we are “weeping for that which has been our delight.” (from the Kahlil Gibran reading entitled Joy and Sorrow)

As for me, my darling, already I know I will keep talking and you “not talking” and probably we will just “talk and not talk” forever. When I see you now, I see you as I always did, through the eyes of love; strong, beloved, whole, healed and beautiful, always and forever.

So I am not saying goodbye, because you are right here, (in my heart) but instead I am saying “You are my heart’s delight and your love is precious to me. I love you, and I know you will be with me always.”