My mother was always my inspiration, but it was not until she was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and I witnessed her decline and the dignity with which she accepted and endured that vile, debilitating, illness that it truly struck me just how inspirational she really was.
A Motor Neurone Disease Association volunteer, Val Clinch, visited Mum many times in her bungalow, as well as in the nursing home and in hospital. In an e-mail after hearing the news of Mum’s passing, Val wrote, ‘The comment Theresa made on my first visit will always remain with me. She said “I can cope with this diagnosis because I’ve had a good life” although it did not always seem that way to me from her stories. But it was so typical of your mother to see things in a positive way.’ Val’s observation summed my mother up completely.
I often said, as I witnessed her steady decline and steadfast dignity, that if it were me facing MND, I would be distraught and angry. She, by contrast, would routinely tell every visitor that nobody lives forever and that she was 90-years-old after all (she died three days prior to her 91st birthday). She complained about nothing and became known for her trademark ‘thumbs up’, indicating that all was well. Likewise, her giggle will live on in the memories of many with whom she came into contact.
Mum’s inspiration is not centered only on the way she coped with such a debilitating illness and how she chose to live with it. It goes much further back than that.....
People would often remark at how close we were; but that was the result of a lifelong bond, built on her unfaltering devotion of me, and the support she gave me throughout my life. My father left us penniless and devoid of all belongings in 1971, so my mother took it upon herself to put aside lucrative offers of work as a translator, instead ensuring that I could remain in public school by taking on jobs as a matron in boarding schools herself. This ensured that I would never have to go home to an empty house after school and risk falling into bad company and it afforded me a quality public school education. Mum’s fluency in eight languages gave her the opportunity to teach several languages too in the schools that she worked.
Mum enjoyed being a matron, or ‘second mother’ to the boys in the various schools she worked at, as she would instinctively take under her wing those who were distracted, under-privileged, angry with their lot, or who were generally considered the underdogs. She was our very own ‘Mother Theresa’ and she did her bit to turn around many a renegade, many of whom steadfastly stayed in touch.
Mum was fiercely protective of “her boys”: These were those who she was charged with a responsibility for the care of. One such boy, who is here in the congregation to bid the woman he describes as his ‘second mother’, goodbye, wrote to tell me how his was a lifelong relationship with Mum. Indeed, Kevin Brown visited several times during her final year of suffering; and, in her last days, once Mum made the move from nursing home to hospice, he called me every day to be updated on her sad decline.
Another of Mum’s boys, Mark Roe, called and e-mailed regularly throughout the past year to be kept up to date with her progress and when he realised that her coming birthday was likely to be her last, he bought a ticket from his home in the Netherlands to see her one last time, but sadly he was too late and is instead in attendance today.
Mum made an impression on any number of people and it was based on her zest for life. It shocked me to hear her tell me, even on her last day at the nursing home, struggling to breathe, that she wished she could live longer. For her, life was still worth living, despite it all. She dreamed on a couple of occasions recently that she was cured and was able to dance again. She knew that was never to be, but she said that the dreams made her feel young again.
Dancing was Mum’s passion. She was still attending twice weekly dances until August 2013 when a particularly bad infection laid her very low and started the medical investigation that ultimately resulted, in May last year, in a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. She did not always dance anymore, as by now her limbs were starting to restrict her movements, but she still loved the camaraderie and would attend as often as her ailing health permitted, to be with her friends.
Even long after the devastating MND diagnosis Mum still pined for the dance floor. On one memorable occasion all the patients attending the Hospice Day Centre were asked to pick a song that they enjoyed and that they would like to sing along to. Mum chose “I am the King of the Swingers” from The Jungle Book and then promptly started to ‘dance’ to the music in the style of King Louie, the monkey king, using her walker and a couple of nurses as support.
Mum loved company and she enjoyed being the centre of attention, dressing up at every opportunity. By that I do not only mean that she dressed impeccably every day with colour co-ordination and matching jewellery right up until the last week of her life; But, she was also game to get into the spirit of things. She showed up at the Day centre on Hallowe’en night in a witch’s outfit, resplendent in bright green wig, a black pointed hat and a broomstick draped across her legs in her wheelchair.
And, when asked to dress like the Queen for a visit by the Secretary of State for Health to the hospice, Mum took up the challenge. She wore a gold dress with matching coat and donned a cardboard tiara. The moment was not lost on Jeremy Hunt, who commented, “Even The Queen is in attendance today”. He kneeled by Mum’s seat and chatted to her, then took the heat out of a formal cake cutting exercise by telling everyone that the cake should be cut by ‘The Queen’. He then placed it on Mum’s knee and helped her to slice into the cake, given that her muscles were already starting to weaken, making the simple task of slicing a sponge cake a chore. Mum was tickled pink, chuckling gaily throughout. Jeremy Hunt then wrote to her, telling her that she is an inspiration and that next time he meets Her Majesty he will tell her that he met her twin sister. Their photo from the cake cutting ceremony was front page in the local Farnham Herald. She was extremely proud of her moment of fame.
I could go on and on; and probably already have. But Mum has touched so many people in her long life. She was loved by so many and had an uncanny knack of endearing herself to all with whom she came into contact, that it is impossible to pay tribute to her in such a short space of time. Her love for me was boundless and without condition, as was mine for her. I will never forget her and I shall always be thankful for all she did for me. She had a hard life at times; actually it was hard for the most part, but she was stoic and forgiving. She loved to travel and she loved me, so the two gifts I am happy I was able to afford her in her older age were cruises to far-flung destinations and to be with her, holding her hand, right up until she took her last breath.
Mum, I love you, I thank you and I miss you more than I can ever try to describe in mere words. You will always be there watching over and supporting me; of that I am sure and I shall endeavor never to disappoint you. I will start by losing the belly that you hated so much and which you would so often poke with your finger, followed by a wry giggle.
RIP dear Mum.
13th March 2015