On July 29th this year my Mother passed away.
It was strange to finally lose her physically since she had suffered from advanced dementia for several years. Since we live so far away this effectively killed the little communication that we did have by phone. Fortunately my brother and sister-in-law were close by and went above and beyond to make sure that she was cared for and had every comfort possible and we (both Mum and I) are eternally grateful for that.
I said that I would speak at the funeral. I felt it was important but didn’t realize just what a monumental task it was going to be. I’m no stranger to public speaking but struggled to get through it. Delivering that eulogy was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Today would have been her 86th birthday so, instead of the usual call to my brother’s to chat with her while she had someone there, I thought I would say just a few words instead. Most of this is pulled from the eulogy but might not have been spoken with enough clarity so, for those there the first time, my apologies and thanks for bearing with me.
Like so many families Mum was the cornerstone of our lives. I was going to say I see it in the small things, but when I think about it those things are really not that small. They speak to the core of who I am and what I believe in, and I’m a better man today because of that.
Mum grew up as part of a generation for whom the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On was more than just a cool saying posted on Facebook, it was a way of life.
How she managed to raise two boisterous boys almost single-handed with so few resources is amazing to me. Even more so now that I have a family of my own.
Things that would have many people shouting about the injustices of life just caused her to look people in the eye and say “Well…you’ve gotta have a laugh”.
While Mum didn’t have much in the way of formal education she was a true student at the University of Life and could make a pound stretch so far that it was almost magic.
She was also stubborn and proud…but in a good way.
I remember a conversation I had with her when I was about 15 years old. I had realized that the amount of extra money Mum gained by working was only fractionally higher than the amount she could have claimed on the dole and I asked her why she bothered when so many of her peers just stayed home. Her answer was both simple and profound. All she said was “I just wouldn’t feel right taking money without earning it.”
This came back to me when I left school at 16. Given a choice of working in the city on a Government funded job or staying at home for the same money I took the job.
Simple core beliefs such as these have enable both John and I to do well for ourselves and I think Mum can rest easy knowing that on the subject of raising contributing children hers was a job well done.
Mum’s core beliefs showed up in many other ways big and small.
She didn’t show her emotions openly, even though she felt them quite strongly. Love was always there but without the need to constantly prove it. We knew the score but this did sometimes cause a little confusion.
The first time my wife met Mum is a good case in point. Living in America I hadn’t been home for over a year and she had never met Joanne. So imagine Joanne’s surprise when Mum opened the door and, instead of hugs and outpourings of affection she simply said “Oh hello dear, come in” and disappeared inside to put the kettle on, leaving the door, and Joanne’s mouth, wide open. I had to explain to Joanne that this was all perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about.
Mum could also be superstitious. One of my favorite examples is her conviction that crossing two knives meant that there was going to be a huge argument. The situation would often go something like this.
- Someone would put down knives in a way that made the blades cross.
- Mum would see that and immediately say “Arrghh! Don’t cross the knives!”
- She would then walk around in a foul mood for the rest of the day which would eventually lead to a big row with someone
- After the row she would explain to the offender of the knife rule “You see…that’s because you crossed the knives”. And who could say she was wrong?
While Mum could be generous to a fault but this was not the case with all things. For example fudge. Mum liked fudge. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to share it. It’s just that it never lasted long enough to share. This led to the interesting situation in later years when she would forget that she had eaten it. The only evidence that there had ever been a fudge delivery would be the empty boxes and wrappers of which she claimed no knowledge.
Mum was a true survivor and the world is a little poorer today. But someone once said “To live in hearts we leave behind us is not to die”. I can tell you that Mum is here with us today.
Happy Birthday Mum!
Rest in peace…you certainly earned it.