My father died when I was young. My mother died today. She was 89. In May I spent her 89th birthday with her in her room in the nursing home (along with my sister and her husband) and we had meat pies for lunch and a glass of red wine. Over the last few days it’s been clear that this time she would go. She had a bad episode when I was at conferences in Bournemouth and Paris in July but after a bad day she got through that. My sister sat with her through a terrible night then and she sat with her again over the last days. This has not been an easy death and my sister has borne the brunt.
But the minutia of a life’s end is not my purpose here. I want to remember what my mother gave me as a person.
My mother loved to read. Until the last two years of her life, when she could no longer hold a book for a long period or as time went by remember what she had read, my mother always had a book at her side. I remember learning to read by reading street signs and Disney comic books. The first my mother would patiently explain and the second she would happily get me because she believed reading them or anything would lead to wider reading habits.
My mother was a home economics teacher. She loved to cook, and was an excellent cook, but she hated the other aspects of teaching home economics like needle work. She was a great friend of Molly Breaden author of the Commonsense Cook Book, and who made a much better birthday cake than my mum. She was also friends with a good number of lesbians who (ironically?) worked in the NSW Education Dept teaching young women to be homemakers.
When I was 10 my mum explained my “Aunty” Dene’s love for her partner Phyllis.
My mum also loved music and unlike me could hold a tune.
I also remember her on a packaged tour of Europe in 1965 befriending Mr Smith from Jamaica and Lily and Evelyn two African American school teachers from Philadelphia. Sure she was a white liberal, but I don’t remember anyone else happy to sit at dinner with those three, other than Pietro the Italian tour guide who had a thing for Lily or Evelyn.
When she was younger, which is to say sometime before she turned 60, she could talk to all sorts of folks and make friends quickly. As a kid I remember meeting the Australian political cartoonist Les Tanner because my mum had started a conversation with his wife Peg in a Melbourne supermarket and discovered that she too was from Sydney. Many a butcher, green grocer, and liquor licensee in Sydney, London, Melbourne, and Castlemaine, where my mum lived at various times, enjoyed a chat with her. I wish I had her easy rapport but unfortunately I am closer to her older self with a tendency to judge too quickly and perhaps harshly.
At the end she didn’t believe in heaven or an after life. She faced death squarely having wished it seriously for a year or so. She told my sister on a Friday she was going and by the next Wednesday she was dead. My sister was with her and told me it was a death eased by morphine and that she looked very peaceful.
Bye mum and thank you for the many things you gave me.