Monday, 15 February 2010

A belated Valentine

I have had a lovely day today.
My Mum, my big sister and myself all have birthdays within a couple of weeks of one another, and it has become a tradition for little sis to take us all out for lunch. Which she duly did today, bringing along my nearly 3 year-old no. 3 niece, who is such a natural comedienne that there was never a dull moment!

We met in Ironbridge, a sweet little town with many interesting shops and good places to eat. It's also a place with happy memories for me. R and I held a big family meal there for our 20th anniversary, and we also celebrated no. 1 niece's 18th birthday in the same restaurant.

Sitting in the restaurant over lunch, I was watching my Mum and looking at the story of her life etched on her face.
She turned 78 this year, and has coped with so much pain throughout her life, starting with when she was 5 and her mother died from TB. She and her brother were sent to live with her grandmother and aunts as their father was unable to cope. They both stayed there throughout the war and, when her dad came back from the Navy and married again, he took her brother to live with him, but she had to stay with her grandmother. Whose decision this was is unclear, but the feeling of rejection that must have created in a young teenager must have been enormous.

But she got on with her life, trained as a nurse, married my father and went on to have 4 children and a happy home.
Then it happened - the thing that every parent fears most; my brother, David, was killed while riding his bike home from school. He was just 13 years old, kind, intelligent, fun to be with and a fantastic musician. A life full of love and promise ended in a moment.

How my parents survived that I have no idea. But they did, helped partly by moving to the other end of the country to Somerset, where I roamed the countryside in semi-feral fashion for several years until I discovered boys!

Sadly two years later our family suffered another terrible tragedy when my two cousins were hit by a truck as they were crossing the road with their mother. Their father - Mum's brother - was unable to handle his sadness and literally disappeared from view for about 20 years.

Finally my Dad passed away on 18 February 2003 after a long battle with leukaemia.
It is a horrible disease, the effects of which ebb and flow with the passage of time. It goes into remission for periods and the drugs and blood transfusions help, but it always returns, visiting its damage on a different part of the body. During the last few years of Dad's illness, Mum nearly faded away with worry, and I never cease to wonder how she managed to keep on going.

Yet through all those years of sadness and pain, she has always been there for me and my sisters. Always supporting us in what we do. Always there with a shoulder to cry on, words of kindness or encouragement or a home-cooked meal.
She still keeps a beautiful home, looks after herself and dresses well, although her memory is starting to fail her a little, and confusion is a regular visitor. But she bears it stoically, and enjoys watching the birds that flock to the food tables in her garden, particularly in this bad weather.

If I have been able to be strong in my own journey of grief, I know full well where I derive much of that strength.

Love you, Mum. xxx

(Pictures taken from Wikimedia Commons, as they are so much better than the ones I took today!)


  1. J, this is such a beautiful writing about your mother. what an incredible woman and an inspiration to anyone who thinks they have a hard row to hoe. i am humbled by her. and yes, i now know where you get your strength.

    i hope all you "girls" have lovely birthdays.

  2. Your words about your dear mother also greatly humbled me and brought tears to my eyes. She faced tremendous loss throughout her life - the events you describe seem unimaginable for me to survive. Yet, she has gone on to live a good and fulfilling life and is still there to support and love her family.

    This story is like a belated Valentine for me. It shows me that grace, strength and elegance can exist in the face of pain. It reminds me that none of us have been guaranteed grief-free lives. It is how and where we wind up through it all that ends up mattering. With the main point being that we still aspire to love those in our lives despite our circumstances.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your lovely day with family and to share some of your family history. It has impacted me and shifted my own personal perspective.

  3. I hesitated for a long time before writing about Mum as it somehow seems wrong to tell someone else's story without their knowledge, but I felt it needed telling even just as a brief synopsis like that.

    @WitM, thank you for these words: "It reminds me that none of us have been guaranteed grief-free lives. It is how and where we wind up through it all that ends up mattering. With the main point being that we still aspire to love those in our lives despite our circumstances."
    I shall carry them with me today.