Six Years (For My Mother)

Six years ago today, my mother died. As these things go, it was perhaps as good a death as it could be: instant (a fatal heart attack), probably painless, I’m told, and at home. She made it to 88 with her senses intact and her mind still sharp.

She was one of the reasons I moved back to England. Not the main one, I admit guiltily, but still there. We talked every morning on the phone and I saw her regularly.

I’ve often written about my father, but not about my mother, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’m more like my father than I care to admit, and see a mirror of him in myself. But during my teenage years, when my dad and I locked horns on a very regular basis, it was my mother who stood between us as the peacemaker. What I didn’t understand then was how much the fighting tore her apart. Both of them had been married before, during the war, and this was their second marriage. It speaks volumes that it lasted almost 50 years; that would have been longer if my father hadn’t died in January 2001, 48 years and two months after they were wed.

But she was always there when I needed her. When I was about 15, and my first real girlfriend broke up with me, she was the one who gave me money for a pack of cigarettes – Gold Leaf, none of the cheap rubbish – and told me to buy them, to calm myself, although she never smoked herself.

When I moved to America, and the only real contact was airmail letters, with phone calls on birthdays and Christmas, she – both of them – gave their blessing to me going, and never said a word more about it, then or later.

Every time I came back to visit, she was the one who cooked my favourite foods. And she looked after my father. After his heart attack, he was too scared to really venture out. She was the one who ran all the errands and did the shopping, even though an arthritic knee made movement difficult for her.

I visited them in November 2000, just a couple of weeks before my father’s last stroke. He did the following January in hospital, and she was the one who told me not to fly back for his funeral. He wasn’t there any more, she said, it was just bones and flesh that would go up in flames.

A few months later, she came to Seattle and stayed for a month. She couldn’t get around well enough for sightseeing, but I believe she loved simply getting away from the four walls that had held her close for so long, and getting to know her grandson. If her knee had been better, I’m certain she’d have travelled more.

Her own father was quite the patriarch; she’d been raised to defer, not argue. But that didn’t stop her being a very strong woman, in her own way – in ways I didn’t fully comprehend until later. She lived long enough to see me published, but not long enough to see any of my novels in print. She would, I believe, have enjoyed that and felt proud.

She set me a good example, and all I can do is try to make her proud. I love her still, and I miss her. In every sense of the word, she was a good woman.

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