Tribute to Mac Sutcliffe – Memorial Service 5/11/16

Following my last blog reflecting on memories, I wanted to share the eulogy I wrote and gave at Mac’s memorial. it remains one of my proudest moments.

14 November 2008 our lives changed for good.  A small, quiet, wan 8 year old, Macaully Clark, moved into our house with a few boxes – all his worldly goods – what was to become the last of the many moves that he had made in his short life.

But that is not where our story starts. Swee and I had been working through the adoption process for a number of years.  Following approval, we had not been lucky enough to be matched until Mac’s name came up.  It is not common for 8 year old boys to be adopted – normally by then permanent foster care becomes the more likely route.  But Mac was determined that he wanted a family of his own – a mum and dad.

So what followed was a number of meetings in what can only be described as bizarre circumstances.  The first time, Mac was brought over one evening after school by his social worker.  He promptly brought his scooter out and stated “Do you want to see my skills?”, as he set out to impress us with his use of his scooter (and he was later to become something of a scooter boy around the village!). 

On another occasion we spent the time together walking the dogs in the worst rain ever (it was thought inappropriate at this stage for him to come to the family home).  I lent him my coat which led to me being soaked through to my underwear!  The evening followed with chips in The George and a game of pool – a treat that he never tired of.

After these initial meetings we were officially matched with Macaully.  Then followed a rather fast process of meetings with him in his foster home, days out and overnight stays at our house.

We remember our visits to Sue and Mark’s house very clearly – there was a small window upstairs where we would see Mac’s little face staring expectantly waiting for us to arrive.  Those visits were so special – playing together, reading together, dressing up for Halloween – getting all of us ready to be a new family.

And so back to 14 November. 

Nothing prepares anyone for parenthood – but to be presented with a fully formed 8 year old, with strong opinions of his own, was a rather daunting prospect.  On that first evening, we sat down to watch “Children in Need” on the TV.  Macaully said,

“That’s a bit like me – I was a “children in need”, but I’m not anymore!”

He knew how to pull at the heartstrings even then.

All the training and preparation we had been through didn’t prepare us for the mundane, practical things.

Swee remembers clearly Mac standing at the top of the stairs wearing nothing but his underpants.

“You want to be my new mum, don’t you?  I need some new pants, these are really tight!”

So Swee rushed off to Asda, to get several sets of pants, not really sure what size or style was appropriate for an 8 year old!!

There is often a honeymoon period when children first move in for adoption – a period to lull you into a false sense of security.  Macaully kept this pretty short.  He was very soon testing every boundary that he could – seeing just how far he could push us – to see if we were really going to stay the distance, to see if we really were going to stick by him whatever, as we had promised.

Looking back Mac had everything planned (just when we thought we did).  He had spent the best part of a year with Sue and Mark – a couple who really made it possible for Macaully to be adopted.  So when he moved in with us, he was pretty sure he knew how he wanted it to be.

From day 2, he decided to call us mum and dad (no longer Richard and Swee as we had been before).  He had also decided that he wanted to be known as “Sutcliffe” at school even though that would not be his legal name until the adoption order went through some 6 months later.  He was also keen to change his name – to become Mac, rather than Macaully.  He was clearly making a positive break from the past and moving forward.

The thing that Mac was most keen to do was to make friends.  Mac had moved so often that he had not had the chance to make and keep real friendships – he was keen to do that in St Mary Bourne. 

And slowly, but surely, Mac became part of this village.  He always found it easy to endear himself to adults – I think this was a necessary skill from his early life of getting to know and settle in with different carers.  It took him longer to make friends with his peers – but he did, and many of them are here today.

St Mary Bourne School was a great place for Mac to begin to make those friends.  I think it’s fair to say that Mac was challenging at first!  He had a book that enabled his teachers to let us know how he had behaved and we could report back to them what was going on at home.  Mac decided that he would hide this in that hatbox at school (later claiming he had lost it!).  It was found some months later, having been replaced.  I asked him,

“How did you feel when you hid it?” expecting he might have felt guilty.

“Great”, he said – he was so often disarmingly honest – “until I realised I’d just have to have another one”.

After St. Mary Bourne, Mac went to Testbourne and finally to Henry Beaufort, and made many friends at both schools.

Mac loved musicals – very early on we went as a family to see “Wicked”.  He was completely enthralled by the whole spectacle and it became a firm favourite.  He loved to sing, and that soundtrack could often be heard blaring out in our house, or when he and I were singing along together in the car.

Mac also loved to watch films.  He had many favourites – Harry Potter, High School Musical.  But I think his absolute favourite had to be “Forrest Gump”.  Mac watched it again and again – and could quote just about any line.  It was a film that he loved in so many ways.

One of the things we were always keen to do as a family was to make good memories – times that we were able to share with each other and those close to us.

We were very lucky to have some great holidays together.  To be honest, as long as there was a swimming pool, Mac was happy.  He was a real water baby and never happier than when he was swimming.  This is something that he and Swee shared – he had a natural affinity for water, and no fear.  On one of our trips to Cornwall, we watched him go from being barely able to swim to being a confident swimmer in just a few days.

At home he motored through swimming lessons and soon became a “rookie lifeguard”.  He was just planning to become a full lifeguard now he had turned 16 – a skill he knew would come in handy if he decided to apply to do Camp America when he was a little older.  He had already used this skill just this summer when he rescued one of his little cousins, Cole, who got into trouble in the pool.  With a couple of strides and those strong arms he was able to shoot across the pool and pull Cole out to safety.

He also spent many an hour swimming with his Uncle Andy – the two of them playing and larking about in the various pools on the holidays we shared.  Mac never liked it better than when he had plenty of his family round him on holiday – aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins – making the most of the time that they gave to him.

But the holidays that stick most in my mind are our times in the US. 

The first time we went as a family to the US was in 2011, when we spent a fortnight in Disneyworld in Florida.  We stayed in the Animal Kingdom Lodge – who needs to go to Africa, when Disney can bring Africa to you!  Giraffes grazing just outside your balcony – African wildlife all around.

Mac enjoyed every minute of that holiday!  He loved every ride that he could go on – even if it did mean he was soaked to the skin.  At Universal studios he was able to get a proper wand at Harry Potter world; and we all got to swim with dolphins and float around Lazy River in Discovery Cove.

He also discovered the joy of the unlimited soda fountain – he would come back with bizarre concoctions of the various flavours of Fanta, Coke and Dr Pepper – and then go back to try something different.

Three years later, Swee, Sandra, Mac and I spent a long weekend in New York.  Again Mac loved being in the US – the chance to get a baseball cap personalised was a highlight.  But Mac also loved our visit to see the musical “On the Town”. 

Mac loved all his relatives – but he did sometimes play them up – even in New York.  Sandra was convinced that she had lost him in the M&M’s shop – she was frantic, but he was much more relaxed, stating “I was able to see you the whole time”.  He had made a habit of this sort of behaviour with Sandra – the first time she babysat for him, he disappeared completely, until she realised he thought it would be funny to hide in his wardrobe.

And then this Summer I was lucky enough to have the most fantastic holiday with him in North Carolina, meeting up with so much of our US family. The USA “agreed” with Mac – I know had he lived longer, he would have spent a lot more time there.

Mac also loved animals.  When he first came to live with us he asked if he could have a pet rat (he actually meant a hamster!).  We duly agreed and spent two years with the least friendly hamster that ever lived.  Lizzie (who later was renamed Les, when it became very clear she was a boy), was not a favourite.

But Mac did love all of our cats and dogs.  He and our cat, Ron, had a special affection.  Ron would come running from wherever he was if Mac called him.  He used to play fetch and I’m sure thought he was a dog.

And then there is Mac’s dog, Stella.  He trained her well and was often seen walking her around the village.  She misses him.

As I have reflected on Mac’s time with us, and read the more than 200 cards and letters we have received, some themes come out.  Many of the same words are used to describe him.

It is clear that Mac had touched so many lives – his easy-going nature with adults, his willingness to talk to anybody and to be polite and engaging comes through in bounds.  Many people remarked how, unusually for one of his age, he was always ready with a kind word for his elders. 

I think there are two reasons for this.

For some reason, Mac was not always confident of his relationships with his peers.  He was not always sure that he had friends or was liked.  He tended to stick with one or two close friends.  But it is so clear that this was not the case.  I think he was beginning to realise this over the last 6 months or so, when he was the happiest that I have known him.

The second reason is that Mac was always out in the village.  The great thing about a place like St Mary Bourne is that you can let you children out to play.  Mac was never really a “lock yourself in your bedroom to play XBOX and never go out in the light” teenager.  He was never happier than when he was out and about in the fresh air – whether on his scooter when he was younger, his BMX, his mountain bike or most recently his motorbike.  All these vehicles were Mac’s ticket to freedom, and he was already planning what car he was going to get next year.

He did a lot in the village – singing in the choir, playing for the cricket team, helping in the shop, helping in the annual duck race.  Mac was always ready to lend a hand.

Mac was very happy.  His relationship with his girlfriend, Amy made him happier than I have ever seen him.  They were truly a very well matched couple.  He was also very happy at Henry Beaufort school – Mac was no academic, and I’m glad to say had not wasted any of his life on revising for his GCSE exams in a few months’ time – but he enjoyed his time at the school, learning about music, making things in engineering, becoming a more accomplished sportsman and discussing all sorts of issues in RE.

A number of people have remarked how much he had changed in the last year.  First of all, physically – he was over 6 foot 3 when he died and very proud that he had overtaken me and was the tallest in the family!

But he had also matured.  I have to say many things contributed to this – but there was a definite change after his time in Mityana in Uganda with Dodie and group of his peers.  To say that he came back from there a man might seem trite, but the change was profound and changed his attitude to all sorts of aspects of his life.

Mac came such a long way in 8 years!  We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for him and for our family since he died.  People have complemented us on what we did for him, and the better life that we gave him.

But as I stand here, I have to say that it was a job shared with Mac.  His determination to be happy and part of a family was part of what made this work.   We may have helped Mac grow and mature in to the fine young man that he had become, but much of it was also down to him.  I can say that Swee and I are insanely proud to be his parents.

But I can also say that I have learned so much by being Mac’s dad – I am more tolerant, more patient, more understanding.  Being Mac’s dad has made me a better person and for that I will always be thankful.

I’m sure we have heard the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child – in Mac’s case that was true in spades.  On 14 October, our village stood still.

We can all agree that it was a life too short. But Mac burned bright in all of our lives and lived it well.

Mac Richard George Sutcliffe – may he Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory!

One thought on “Tribute to Mac Sutcliffe – Memorial Service 5/11/16

  1. Hi Richard

    I have really enjoyed reading yours, Swee’s and Mac’s story. You express your feelings so well, what a special family you had. I feel so very sad that it all came to such an abrupt end. I can’t imagine how I would be in a similar position. Thank you for sharing it.

    with love and very best wishes to you and Swee (who I’ve never met and would love to one day)

    Becky xx >


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