On Saturday my mother died.
As Ms M said, it’s all very well for the dead. Off you go, to heaven, eternal sleep or wherever, never more to feel the pain and joy of life. It’s the living who have to miss you.
Anything I could write about my mum would be inadequate to express her complexity and sweetness. She grew up in an age when high school wasn’t compulsory, and so her parents took her out at 13 or so and enrolled her in typing school. And that’s why I was always able to win arguments with her (unfairly, because she certainly was no stupider than I was) . I had the logic, I had the training, I even sometimes had the facts – but she had the clincher. “Well, have it your own way, then.”
She had long, coiled silver hair and a face which I always thought was beautifully symmetrical. She had a warmth that made even casual visitors say ‘Your mum’s lovely, isn’t she!’ and want to go see her again. She was well-mannered as a duchess and shy and modest as a sparrow. She always said she didn’t know how to do small talk, but somehow she charmed everyone she met.
She used to take me into town in Sydney when I was a little girl. As we sat on the bus she’d rub my leg with her hand, and follow passengers with a kind of birdlike, expectant smile. Both used to embarrass and please me.
For my highschool formal, she asked me what I’d like to wear. I couldn’t decide between two dress patterns, so she MADE me both. She also made me a terry towelling bikini (oh dear – but thanks, mum). I don’t remember even buying any clothes till I was 17, between my big sisters’ hand-me-downs and mum’s handmade outfits.
My dad died in 2001, and she missed him. You love your kids, she once said, but your bond with your chosen life partner is something different. Or something like that. She was nearly blind, deaf, sick and arthritic but she’d always stand at the door in the freezing cold to see your car safely out of the driveway (Australia’s most dangerous driveway, maybe?).
Life is all we have, and death ends it. If there is such a thing as a ‘good’ death, mum had it – at home, in her own bed, with her children and grandchildren cuddling her. If there is such a thing as a ‘good’ life, mum lived it – she had the main thing that you need, and that, of course, is lots of love – a passionate and later deeply affectionate marriage, kids who thought the world of her, loving grandchildren.
You know those people who write books and say in the foreword ‘I couldn’t have written this book without the help of my loving family, helpers etc…but if there are any errors they are all my own’. Well, if there’s a book of me, the good bits are all down to you, mum (and dad too) – the not-so-good bits, they’re all my own.
Goodbye, darling mum, wherever you are