I wrote this piece to put on this site on the 17th June, which was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. I ended up going to hospital for an emergency admission, so this is a bit late. It’s quite difficult to write pieces like this without becoming too sentimental, so I hope it isn’t but if it is, well it is.
It is ten years today since my mother died. Her name was Dorothy and I don’t remember anyone shortening it, I could never imagine her as Dot! She was well educated at The Orme Girls School in Newcastle-under-Lyme during the 1930’s; she knew lots of poetry and Shakespeare off by heart; her hand writing was clear and neat as was her use and knowledge of English; she’d read lots of Dickens, Austen, Scott, Brontes, Trollope and so on. Mum loved reading and read novels and biographies prolifically and was always open to new reading suggestions, though I’m not sure she always really liked what I suggested! The love of reading is a great thing that she passed on to me, she always had a book with her.
Mum always thought the best of people and would look for the best in them, they opened up to her and from its earliest days of the organisation she was a Samaritan, giving endless time to people who felt they could rightly trust her. It was a part of her practical Christianity, she tried to live what she believed. I remember her being part of the WRVS and as a very young child ‘helping’ her at the hospital; but she wouldn’t join either the local W.I. or Mother’s Union which were part of the village church she attended, because at that time single mothers weren’t allowed to join (1950’s-60’s) and she believed that groups like that should be there to support all women, perhaps she had in mind my birth mother. Mum was sorry that neither my brother or I followed her Christian belief, but in the ‘liberal’ beliefs of both parents they didn’t force the issue. I hope that the help and support she gave people has come through in the way I have lived.
Her generation and schooling made her very attentive of good manners; bad manners would annoy her and she could become the strong school teacher to those who got on the wrong side of that, especially officialdom. My brother and I were expected to have good manners and respect people, and she would let us know well into our adulthood if we didn’t, perhaps not a bad thing! It was certainly not done to swear and she once said to me that swearing, as well as being unpleasant, meant you showed you didn’t have the ability to express yourself properly.
Some of you who will read this will have known her and enjoyed her company. I remember Anne and she drinking far too many gins one evening, which relaxed her greatly just before she had to go for cancer treatment at Christies in Manchester, and Mum always remembered that with affection. Mum enjoyed the company of children and young people, probably coming from her days as a teacher, she was never one for pensioners events and clubs and where possible kept away from them, except of course where her good manners meant she ended up at events in the village in Lincolnshire she moved to. Mum never liked getting old and believed birthdays stopped at 35, it of course got a bit annoying for my brother and I as she wouldn’t use a stick or her alarm (she once spent over 24 hours on the kitchen floor as she hadn’t taken her alarm with her because she didn’t want to be a bother to people). Despite terrible arthritis would never use a wheelchair or get one of those ‘scooters’ and so on as it may make people think she was old. I usually had at least 10 years taken off my age when she talked to people!
Mum was married when she was 19 at the start of the War, Dad and she were very close and his death in 1980 hit her hard. They did everything together, there were very few times when they were not together.
For many years, as well as some quick chats in the week, we would have a long talk on Sunday mornings, often when I walked Milo round the park. She liked hearing about people I’d met and places I’d been, the work I was doing. Until that ended when she died I hadn’t realised how much I too needed those talks. One of the things she used to say was that when your mother dies then things are never the same. Until it happened I couldn’t see it; when my father died life felt different, I was 25 and he was 47 years older than me, so I had only known him as an older man. But (and perhaps this applies to being male) no-one cares quite so much about you as your mother; like that ‘annoying’ “have you eaten” and the insistence to place a huge meal in front of you as soon as arriving to visit, that caring doesn’t happen from anyone else.
Then there was the point which came when the roles reversed, when the carer becomes the cared for it’s an odd time. I remember in my late twenties when I insisted on paying for her shopping and she realised the roles were beginning to change.
It’s odd what comes to you when writing something like this. Some of which features in my poetry.
After someone dies so much memory is weighted to the last days of a person, but that wasn’t/isn’t really them. As a child a parent is your carer, you know no different, food appears, things happen, other households seem a bit strange. At 16 my father had retired and we moved to a country cottage, I went to Leek School of Art and was for three years living at home in somewhat of a ‘halfway house’, my days started much earlier than theirs’, my bus journey beginning at 7.15am and most days arriving home 12 or more hours later. Then at 19 I moved to Cardiff, still going home, but increasingly as a welcome visitor.
When my father died in 1980 my mother became ill with cancer and I had moved home to look after her. So the relationship changed for a few years. I look back on that time that despite the sadness as an enjoyable period, a time of equality, two adults living in the same house, rather than the child/carer period.
I was an adopted child, mum had lost a baby and couldn’t have more; I was adopted about 18 months after it had happened. It never made any difference to how I was treated and also never discussed. Mum’s brother had died in the late 1940’s just 19 years old, her father died in the late 50’s and her mother soon afterwards. The trauma of this was never transferred to my brother or me, as a consequence we were brought up with no wider family, and I am sure it was all this happening over such a short period that made her so dislike funerals. She hated the falseness of the events and wanted to remember people in their best days. Grief always hits us anew each time. Death is a part of life but at the time is very hard. Mum dying is sinking into my past, the good memories far more important than the period of grief I felt, I still sometimes read a book, see a play or film, listen to a piece of music and think she’d have appreciated it, but it’s not now with sadness but an appreciation of what was given without question and shared with love.
I haven’t a recording of Mum or Dad talking. Their voices are the first thing which for me have gone, the photographs and memories of events are there, but their sound intonations accents, they are gone. So I would urge anyone who have parents or loved ones, record them, we now have so many ways of doing it, you may not realise how quickly it all goes.