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Eulogy to my brother Donald, whose funeral was held today

Posted on 30 August 2016 | 9:08am

When my brother Donald died three weeks ago, aged 62, I posted a blog here, which had first appeared in The Sunday Times, and also said that come the funeral, I would post the eulogy. The funeral was today, and the eulogy I gave is below. Many thanks for all the messages of support, from those who knew him and those who didn’t, in recent weeks. Donald touched so many people, and I am hopeful that in keeping his memory alive, I can continue to help the Time to Change campaign to change the way that people, employers, the health service, the drug companies, politicians and governments think about mental health and mental illness.

This eulogy comes in three parts, one of them musical, as you shall see and hear.

This is Donald’s day but I want to start with a word about someone else. Liz – you have been the most amazing sister, always, but especially since Mum died. Helping Graeme with his health problems. And above all to Donald since we moved him down to be near you. The last few days of his life were not happy but his last year was and a lot of that was down to you, Rob, and the triplets. We all cared for Donald so much but the care you showed him was beyond any call of duty save love.

Now Donald did do God, so do you, and I know it pains you that Graeme and I don’t. But let me say if you’re right and I’m wrong – and there is always a first time for everything! – there is only one place Donald is now and there is only one place where you are going when your time comes. More important, for me, Mum said in the poem she left for the four of us ‘love each other for my sake.’ Liz, you have delivered for her and more.

Now to the star of the show. Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell, born Keighley, Yorkshire, May 3 1954. Not plain Donald Campbell, some Hebridean vet or some bloke who drove speedboats on lakes. But Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell. If there was no room on the form or hospital wristband he would allow Donald LC Campbell. But he preferred the full monty. He loved his name because he loved his Scottishness. Good job really, with names like that.

With names like that was he ever not going to be a piper?  Was he ever not going to join the Scots Guards? Was he ever not going to live most of his life in Glasgow, a city he said was home to ‘the greatest people on earth, Alastair’ in an accent so strong people doubted that we really were brothers.

Another thank you. Glasgow University. For understanding that it is possible to have a severe mental illness and do a good job well. Donald worked in the security team, mainly in the library, where he would often tell students ‘see that carpet under your desk? That’s where you put your feet! … Good lad. Now keep them there.’ Oh, he liked having authority. But what he loved was his role as the university principal’s piper. He played at hundreds of ceremonies and graduations. At his farewell party, retiring early because of his breathing problems, he announced proudly that among the tens of thousands of students he piped out ‘I did seven thousand two hundred doctors.’ Yep, I said, and you’ve seen quite a few of them since.

Glasgow University did not see him as ‘a schizophrenic.’ He was an employee, who had schizophrenia. Big difference. His illness did not define him. So often he rose above it. And his work was so important to his well being.He would have loved it that all of you are here and we’ll spend all day swapping stories about what a great guy he was, laughing about his little ways, recalling his countless acts of generosity. But he liked that status. He liked ritual. He liked performing. He liked being something. Twenty seven years in one job. A generation and a half of students. And when Liz and Kate and I went up for his farewell we saw just how much he meant there. So Stuart [Macquarrie, university chaplain], and others who have come down from the university today, please take back our thanks to an institution which gave our Dad his veterinary education and our brother so much purpose and meaning.

If he refused to let his illness define his life the same cannot be said of piping. Dad taught Donald and me when we were small, first over the kitchen table on the chanter then down in the cellar on the pipes. Then later we were taught by Tony Wilson, a former Scots Guardsman who led the pipers on Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, and when Donald became a Guardsman himself he had a brilliant Piobaireachd teacher in Pipe Major Angus MacDonald. Donald loved not just the music but the culture, the camaraderie, the competitions. Mum and Auntie Mairi from Tiree worried we loved the drinking side of the culture too much and they had a point. But it was the music that drove Donald. When his breathing deteriorated so that he couldn’t fill the bag with air he got himself a set of electronic pipes. This was a problem for fellow pipers. With real pipes it is impossible to play and keep a phone to your ear. With the electronic he could. ‘Ali, I’ve written a new tune. Tell me what you think?’ Donald also spoke fluent piping when he was driving, as many of you know.

The last time he played the ‘real’ pipes was at the university’s memorial for Charles Kennedy, my friend through politics and Donald’s from when Charles was Rector. Charles has a son called Donald who, when he was young, on car journeys used to insist on listening to our Donald’s CDs. CDs incidentally, ladies and gentlemen, which you can and must buy at the end so we can make donations to MIND and to Good News Broadcasting to which Donald had one of his many direct debits (once we had finally settled his generosity to the bookmakers and got him off that particular bad habit).

Anyway – the whole political establishment of Scotland seemed to be at Charles’ memorial. Donald didn’t look well. He was struggling for breath even before we started. I said to him ‘listen; I can do this on my own.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I liked Charlie.’

We led the procession into the quadrangle. But a third of the way round he had to stop to fight for breath and I finished alone. He never played again. To lose his work and then his piping to physical ill health, after doing so well for so long with his mental ill health, that was cruel. But he never complained. He got the electronic pipes – in fact being Donald he got himself more than one. And he just banked the thousands of hours of pleasure gained and given from his playing days; and Donald, I know, would have been so happy that he having piped the lament at so many funerals himself, today it was Gavin, son of our cousin Susan, and one of his star pupils, who piped him into the crematorium, Donald’s pipes and glengarry atop his coffin. Don’t worry – he left his really good pipes to me in his will. These were his Number 6 set. The piping shops of Glasgow will miss him.

As Gavin knows, Donald was a good teacher. He loved the work he did for the children on Tiree. Of course it helped keep the connection with Dad. But it also kept him as part of that community and there are children today who will be adults tomorrow and hopefully keep piping alive on the island because of Donald’s teaching.

So … Worker. Teacher. Soldier. Piper. A husband, though not for too long. An insurance salesman too but money was never really his thing – unless you count giving it away to people you like. That quality made him much more successful in his role of uncle. He was never happier than when chauffeuring Kate around after she had her accident earlier this year and couldn’t drive. He was hoping her brother Graeme would lose his licence when he went to court recently so he could drive him around too. Graeme liked being driven by him because with the front passenger seat full of oxygen canisters he could go in the back and pretend he was Alan Sugar. More seriously, when Calum followed in the Campbell family tradition of alcohol dependency, Donald was his first visitor in rehab.

Rory, Calum and Grace, Kate, Jamie and Graeme, Mike … Donald loved you all to bits. He was proud of any exam you passed, any song you sung, any film you made, any game you won, any success at work, any act of kindness shown and above all any struggle endured. And though he never got round to rewriting his will – he’s left everything to Liz, Graeme and me – he only told us a few thousand times that he was planning to rewrite it for your benefit. The fact that several of you already have more in the bank than he ever did didn’t seem to trouble him in his pursuit of your enrichment.

Of course even if his illness did not define him we cannot talk about his life without mentioning his schizophrenia. But before I do that, I want to take a break, and ask our nephew Jamie to come and sing one of the remarkable songs he has written about mental illness, which we are going to use to raise funds for MIND, the mental health charity. This one, inspired by and dedicated to Donald, is called MY MIND. The lyrics are on the order of service. So read along as Jamie sings.

I’ve been in that place

Where the stars are blue

When it rains all day

Though you don’t want it to

 

Nothing bright to see

No horizon to find

All alone in this world

A world that’s borne of my mind

 

My mind has taken over

Over my life

 

The voices are so loud

Drowning out all other sounds

My mind’s a beating drum,

Tells me evil’s ways have won

 

The crowds, they laugh at me

Codes and words are all I see

Can’t share a joke, a laugh, a smile

While the world is in denial

 

My mind has taken over

Over my life

 

So listen to me now

I’m a person, not a clown

This life is not a game

It’s a fight I choose each day

 

So pick me up when I am down

Dare to turn my world around

Fight the demons here with me

Boy, I could use the company

 

My mind has taken over

But my life, it isn’t over

Hello world, give me a shoulder

That I can cling to

 

That I can cling to

Let me cling to ….

 ‘My mind has taken over … but my life it isn’t over.’ Jamie, that sums up Donald’s attitude to his illness so well.

One of his GPs from 15 years ago wrote to me after Donald died and said ‘we were best of pals.’ One of his Glasgow psychiatrists said to me ‘Donald is my greatest success story. Holds down his job. Owns his own flat. Drives himself around. Has a passion for his music. Has more friends than any of us. Has a positive attitude almost all the time.’

That last bit was certainly true. ‘It is what is it, Ali. I got given a bit of a crap deal, but you’ve got to make the best of it, know what I mean?’ It helped that he did do God and his faith was certainly a comfort.

We were counting up all the different hospitals he had been in the other night. It was like a map of the length of Britain, from the military hospital near Southampton, where it all started, London, Leicester in the Midlands, Hull in the north, and various wonderful places around Scotland. Donald had fantastic treatment from so many NHS staff right to the end, including near here at Millbrook and then Kingsmill in Mansfield, where he died.

Schizophrenia is a truly horrible illness. You can’t see it. No crutches. No sudden baldness. No bandages. No scars. It is all in the mind. People who have it often pariahs, shunned in the workplace, derided and abused on the streets. And because of the stigma, it’s at the wrong end of the queue for research so that the medication takes on average 20 years from the lifespan of someone who has it. Dad 82 when he died. Donald 62.

It is not a ‘split personality,’ that awful cliché, as awful as the way people use the word ‘schizophrenic’ when they mean there are two views of something, or someone has good moods and bad. Please don’t. It minimizes. It misunderstands. It stigmatizes. Schizophrenia is a severe illness in which the workings of your mind become separated from the reality around you. And it can be terrifying. Imagine a cacophony of voices in your head, screaming, telling you to do things you normally know you shouldn’t. Then imagine plugs, sockets and light switches, road signs and shop signs, talking to you. Imagine sitting in a place like this with a crowd like this and thinking every single word being said and thought by everyone is about you. Imagine watching TV and everyone is talking about you. And then imagine snakes coming out of the floor and wild cats charging through the walls and ceilings. Donald had all that and more when he was in crisis.

So imagine the strength of character it takes to deal with that in a way that had so many people love him so much, not out of sympathy – he didn’t want sympathy – but out of an appreciation of the real him, unclouded by illness. That is an achievement of epic proportions. Doctors and medication were a big part of his achievement. But he was the biggest part.

Also to have had that and never say ‘it’s not fair’. I said it, for more than 40 years, from the first day Dad and I saw him lying in Netley military psychiatric hospital, terrified, his eyes not the eyes I knew. ‘Not fair. Why Donald?’ I said it, he didn’t. Not then. Not ever. Not once.

Imagine being so keen to be a private in the Guards, making it, doing well but then with this illness, his career terminated, the prestige of playing in the Scots Guards First Battalion Pipe Band gone. Did he ever say a single word against the Army? No. He loved those years. He talked of the Guards with fondness, always, supported the Scots Guards Association, would be thrilled to know so many former Guardsmen had been in touch. It just ended badly and he got through it, got on with it, adapted, lived the best life that he could. And if you’re wondering why I’m not wearing a black tie it is because he said to me once, at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow – ‘if you do my eulogy, make sure I’m in my kilt, my Guards jacket and tie in the coffin – don’t forget the glengarry – and you wear my spare Guards tie.’ We thought he was on the way out then. He kept going for years.

In the recent days before he was taken ill – one of the pictures is on the back of the order of service – he was looking as healthy and handsome as he has for ages. Rory, I am happy you saw him like that just before the final turn, and Grace that you recorded interviews with him when he was well and we were talking about making a film about living with schizophrenia. But sadly my last conversation with him, Kate’s last sighting of him alive, ditto Graeme Naish who was with him the night before he was admitted, and Liz who saw him in hospital shortly before he went to respiratory failure  — we were seeing and speaking to a Donald most of you never saw. That you didn’t is testimony to how brilliantly he and his doctors managed his illness.

He was violent when he was admitted to hospital a few weeks ago, so unusual for him, throwing himself around, refusing medication, tearing out his oxygen tubes, snarling and shouting at everyone. The staff on Orchid Ward  – that is the only Donald they ever knew. They were a new addition to his NHS map. But do you know what? – when we went from seeing his body at the bereavement centre to collect his belongings from the ward the nurses sought us out, not just to offer condolences, but to tell us how much they liked him. ‘Oh you could tell he was a character,’ said one. ‘I know I shouldn’t laugh but he was funny,’ said another. And Donald having listened to his piping CDs in there – loudly – other patients had said they would never hear the bagpipes again without the hair standing on their necks and thinking of Donald. They knew that beneath the crazy stuff that the voices and the visions made him do and say, was a great guy. The fact nurses could see it even as they had to restrain him, three staff members in his room round the clock, underlined that.

The letters and messages have been incredible. Both volume and content. There is so much grief for Donald because he inspired so much love. When we went to see the body, it was about saying goodbye, but I couldn’t say anything. I was in bits. Liz did say something. She stroked his hair and she said ‘you taught us more than anyone, Don.’ He did. Resilience. Fortitude. Courage. Kindness. Not letting even a horrible illness destroy zest for life and love of people. Thinking of others more than yourself, even when life was so tough. And as he lay there, bruised, a bit discoloured, I felt as sad as I have ever felt in my life that his eyes would never open again, we would never again listen to him playing the pipes, never again see our children in hysterics at his observations of other people; sad too that their children as yet unborn would never have the joy of knowing him; that I’d never see ‘Donald Mobile’ come up on my phone and I answer and say ‘Donald, you phoned me an hour ago. Why are you phoning me again?’ and he says ‘I just wanted to see how your hour’s been? You OK yeah?’

But I also thought at least he never has to hear those wretched voices in his head again. He really was at peace. Above all – and the next time I went to see him at the chapel of rest I did say this – I said you’re the best big brother anyone could ever wish for; and every single person who was ever touched by you had a better life, because Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell was a part of it.

One of the most touching messages I got was from someone who had never even met him. Sonia Kilby, the wife of a Burnley director who read my tribute in the Sunday Times and texted me to say having read about Donald, she thought his family and friends should ‘grieve with thanks and with pride’. We should. And we will.

My mind has taken over … but my life it isn’t over.’ It is now. But Donald can keep on touching us, all of us, every day, until our lives are over too.