Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea south of Italy, it has a population of around 400,000 people yet is only 122 square miles making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It’s location, between north Africa and Europe, means it has a rich and interesting history, invaded by everyone and his dog and finally gaining independence in 1964 when the British decided to let the Maltese have their island back. The official language is Maltese which up until the 1930’s was a spoken language only, most Maltese also speak fluent English and Italian. Bruce tells me there are 365 churches on this predominantly Catholic small island and one of these churches is Saint Helena Basilica in Bruces home town of Birkirkara. Most towns have a Festa celebrating their church and village and the Festa of St Helena was on 21st August this year, the day Bruces Nan died. I believe she had lived in the same house in Birkirkara all of her married life, giving birth to 12 children including Bruce’s Mum, Bruce’s Uncle still lives in the house that Bruce grew up in. Mary (Bruce’s Nan) loved the Festa celebrations each year, with the parades and the Band Club and spectacular fireworks at night, so it is fitting that she died on the day of the Festa and her beloved church was still dressed up to the nines on the day of her funeral.
We stayed with Bruces Uncle who is a former politician and had many stories to tell regarding the turbulent political history of Malta. In the early 1980s he was exiled to Italy for broadcasting his parties message from Sicily following the then Prime Ministers (Mintoff) nationalisation and censorship of the media. His stories and the family history were fascinating and quite extraordinary and far removed from his suburban life in Attard. He didn’t see his mother for 6 years during the exile which must have been hard on Mary and for this reason and because he is a friend of the family, the Prime Minister of Malta Dr Lawrence Gonzi paid his respects to Bruces Nan by attending the funeral.
The service was moving with a lone female singer playing guitar in one of Maltas most beautiful churches. Her rendition of Amazing Grace was simply stunning. Bruces Nan was likened to one of the silent heroines of the Old Testament, suffering and enduring what life delivered in silence with dignity and grace. Her perseverance, suffering and endurance has a message for us all in this consumer led society. I didn’t understand anything during the service, except for when Bruce spoke of his Nan at the pulpit, as the service was in Maltese but it was translated afterwards. Mary had ‘lived a poor woman’ but had saved so that she could ‘be buried like a rich woman’ and her wishes were granted as 200 people including family, friends and senior dignitaries sat and prayed for her in the splendour of the church.
I met Mary on several occasions on two brief visits to Malta and it was not until I had seen the bond and love between Bruce and herself that I understood why he feels he is more Maltese than English. He completely fits into the Maltese life (except for the religious bit) and his family history is strewn with politics and drama and goes a long way to explaining his strong political views, one ancestor even made it to Prime Minister of Malta in the 1950’s. He has relations in England he adores but it was his Grandmother who first showed him unconditional love and I am glad he was part of saying a final goodbye to a remarkable woman whom he loved very much. Sleep tight Mary xx