She died today, February 8, my Mum, Jean. She was 87 years old. A ‘good innings’, as they say.
I spent many hours over the past few days just sitting with her, holding her gnarled old hand, as she slipped into the oblivious state that precedes death. I wondered if she knew I was there but it didn’t matter. She was busy – letting go of her life. I was privileged to be able to say ‘Goodbye’ to her. I washed her and dressed her, ready for …. I’m not sure.
I never had that very close mother-daughter relationship that some other women I know have. Jean was from a generation that kept emotions in check, who didn’t heap overt affection on their children in case they became ‘spoilt’, who was sparing with praise and compliments in case the child got a ‘big head’. She was puzzled by this daughter of hers who was a ‘clever’ one, who looked beyond the traditional role that she had chosen. While I rushed headlong into the generation of the baby-boomers and ‘liberated’ women, she remained steadfastly entrenched her generation.
Unlike herself, this daughter was always seeking, questioning, never static. I rarely knew what she thought, she thought what her husband thought. Her role in life was to raise her children, support her husband and create a home for them. Something that my generation of women began to question as a fulfilling life and sought something else, sometimes with mixed outcomes. Over the years I have often wondered who she really was, deep inside, my mother.
But, as I was sitting with her I began to remember those little things….
Jean sitting at her sewing machine, singing in that beautiful contralto voice she had….
The frocks she sewed for my sister and me, copied from the more expensive, store-bought ones…
The magnificent plum pies she made in winter from fruit she had bottled the previous summer….
Busy making costumes for my callisthenics concerts and sitting patiently on the sidelines watching me perform….
And, later on, painstakingly painting china with hands that were becoming increasingly deformed from that insidious disease, arthritis, that eventually robbed her of her mobility and a pain-free life.
She just seemed to be around, my Mum. She never judged me, constantly there when I slipped up (and I’ve had some monumental stumbles!). She was always ready to help out when I became a mother, in fact, I can’t remember a single time when she said ‘No’. She comforted me through my own tragedies and always greeted her ‘Heatherbelle’ with her beautiful smile. All of these things illustrate the love my mother had for me.
I have realised over the past few days that I now know who my mother was. My mother was her family – they defined her – the role she chose brought her happiness and fulfilment. Who am I to question her choice? She was my mother and I will always love her and I’ll miss her. Not with the raw grief that comes from losing someone before their time, or in sudden, tragic circumstances, but with sad resignation that she just couldn’t stay any longer. I still have my Dad but, for the first time in my life, my Mum isn’t here to comfort me through a sorrow.