On March 28, 2008, my mother died. It probably happened on the 27th, suffering a massive heart attack that killed her instantly, but she wasn’t discovered until the following day, so the 28th is listed, whether the actual day matters or not.
We’d call each other in the mornings, always at twenty to nine. She’d ring one day, I’d call the next. It was a way of keeping of touch, so I could check on her. She’d been in hospital with eczema on her legs, and once discharged her ankles had swollen. She’d fallen in the living room of her flat and spent the night on the floor, not willing to disturb anyone at that late hour, in the manner of her generation – an act the led to me giving her a talking to. I lived an hour away. There was a friend in the same block of flats who’d have been by in a minute to help if she’d picked up the phone.
The morning of the 28th she didn’t answer the phone. I waited five minutes and tried again. No response. Then I called Alan, the friend who was close by, asking him to check and let me know on my mobile. I knew. Well, not knew, but I had a strong feeling and knew I should be on my way to Leeds.
My mother was one of the reasons I’d moved back to England. She was in her eighties and on her own. Still perfectly alert and capable, but with such bad arthritis in her left knee that walking more than a few steps was difficult. She tended my father until he died. Then, freed, she didn’t have the physical ability to do much, a cruel irony.
When I was a teenager she’d been the peacemaker in our household, stopping the constant war between my father and my teenage self. She must have been torn apart by it all, but never showed it.
She’d married, as they say, below herself. She’d grown up with a maid and chauffeur during the Depression, gone to Leeds Girls’ High School and enjoyed a fairly privileged upbringing. My father was her second husband; the first had divorced her when she hadn’t been asble to give him a child. She’d indulged my father, not complaining too much when he spent £55 he didn’t really have on an Omega watch back in the 1950s, when I was just a year old and they’d barely moved into the house they’d bought. Or when he came home with a Wolseley car that was luxurious but beyond our budget. Or even when he took me shopping for as harmonica and returned having bought a baby grand piano that barely fit in the front room.
She beat breast cancer in the early 1960s, suffering a radical mastectomy, and uterine cancer more than a decade later.
She endured her only child moving to the United States in 1976. Whatever she felt, she kept it inside. She was happy when I found success as a writer of non-fiction, but never lived to see any of my novels in print, but I know she’d have been proud.
I think of her often, probably more than my father. And there’s comfort of a sort in knowing that her death was instant and at home – as a close to a good death as it’s possible to have, it seems. I saw her body in the bedroom, and her face was peaceful. That, perhaps is something.
Jocelyn Betty Nickson, April 30 1919 – March 28, 2008.