My mum died on Friday after a long illness. I’m not sure what i’m thinking now but what it keeps coming back to is how hard she worked. All the time. By the time she rested in life and was now cruelly too ill to walk her dogs and look after her beloved garden, she was so exhausted she just took comfort in watching bad tv and her joy at hearing about her grandchildren.
She was born in Brighton in the middle of the war and the eldest of four daughters (like my wife oddly) . She literally did have those austerity childhoods where kids had Mars Bars and a doll for Christmas. She spent much of her teenage life looking after them; cleaning, walking them to school. When I proudly told her that in my new house a few years back I’d ripped out the electrics to have an open fire in the living room, she looked appalled and recalled having to brush out the grate daily every winter back in her uncentrally heated house. Why go back to that ?
In the sixties she met my Dad, on a blind date, moved in with him and in 1966 had twin boys. My Dad was a shop steward at the time and didn’t come home until late and I only know now, having 3 boys myself, what bringing up twins must have been like. Yet throughout the 70s and early 80s and now joined by my sister a few years down the line I just remember a secure, safe and happy childhood of being thoroughly looked after. If friends came round. A knock on the door and a tray of biscuits would arrive. If I sneaked into Brighton on the bus to play down the arcades I’d come back to a miraculousy tidy bedroom and just the one cry “Are you hungry?”. On Saturday nights in front of the Generation Game and Starsky and Hutch I was allowed a big bag of Spring Onion Marks and Spencers crisps, a cream cake and with barely any resistance the ok to stay up late to watch Match of the Day. Spool through 15 years and now in her fifties and my mum regularly came round and hoovered my disgusting bedsit, heated up one of her cooked dinners in the microwave and then washed up the plate before she left.
Of course i only realise now that this incredible support and indulgence of her (lazy ?) son didn’t come by magic. My Dad worked long hours keeping his engineering business going and from time to time in the 80s my mum spent many hours as waitress at tented corporate dos and all of the above means two things. Unconditional love and exhaustion. I really didn’t understand this at the time. I’m a married Dad now, and i can’t say i work that hard at being one.
Anyway I was only the second person from either side of the family to go to university and thats because she and my Dad (who is similarly the most generous man you’re ever likely to meet) provided the safe, supportive, and encouraging home that made all that possible and desirable. Over many years she forgave me for playing loud Smiths records over and over again through the ceiling, didn’t miss a beat when i told her I “was taking a year out” and was only genuinely angry with me once. Getting my ears pierced. She was right. She even helped me out even when in those last few years it was painful just to get out of her chair. She often came round to babysit and was still tidying up my kitchen when my eyes were turned.
This morning I took my eldest son to “big school” for his first try out day. As i said goodbye to him, my first thought was to ring my mum first to tell her all about it. His nervousness, how he looked and what he was feeling because she’d be so eager to hear about it and offer advice. And then I remembered.
I’ll really miss her.