A life cherished
Mum would sit by the window in the last few months of her life and watch the blossom turn on the tree outside and the birds play. She would be annoyed that she could no longer paint or embroider her teddy bears however she could still read. So she did that.
The last book she read was titled ‘Death of a nurse’ and she had a school girl twinkle in her eye when she showed me. It was being read just before that final fateful hospital trip.
A comedian til the end.
It was during that last hospital trip, and after we learnt she was to go home to palliative care, that she wanted to reassure me that she’d had a wonderful life and that we’d all be OK. But she was ready to go. She disliked COVID a lot and the isolation it created.
On reflection, she was right about her life.
86 wonderful years.
Her eldest sisters are Sheila (watching via Zoom from Swan Hill with her daughter, my cousin, Kathy), Joy (now deceased but who lived in England) and Valerie (the youngest sister who still lives in Queensland).
She was the loving wife of Eric – who she used to call Steve
She is the adored mother and mother-in-law of…
Susan and Dean (who live in Clare)
Maureen and James (who live in Swan Hill, Victoria and are also watching via Zoom)
And twins – Helen (Charlie – me) and Wade.
She is the cherished Nana of…
Sally and Rhiannon – the children of Sue
Ramon and Karrina – the children of Maureen
Amber and Jessika-May – my children
She has 5 great-grandchildren who she loved very much – and with who she cherished her visits, letters and facetime chats with.
Like in any lifetime, for mum there were ups and downs. We all have our moments, some that are perfect, and some that are not.
It’s very true that it had saddened me over her final years when people spoke to her differently (or like a child) because “she was living in aged care” (especially in the hospitals) because in the main, to me she was still as sharp as a tac and the “she who must be obeyed” mother from my youth.
There were the occasional moments of failings sure, generally when her health faltered, but it wouldn’t last. She was very sure of herself and her mind, right til the end.
Reminiscing these past few days has reminded me again of the wonderful life she gave us.
It brought home fully that she was sooooooo much more than her aged care years which have been such a huge part of my own life and focus these past 10 years.
Growing up we had a firm but fair upbringing. Dad was firm. Mum was fair.
She was the one who made our house a home. She baked cookies, held discussion groups around the kitchen table, learnt all the kids names, drank Sherry with the school teachers, made clothes, patchwork quilts and teddies, and sent us to sunday school so she could have a sleep in on a Sunday.
She was human.
But she was heaps of fun to have as a mum and she encouraged us to always do the right thing. Of course we all had our moments when we didn’t do the right thing, and the odd slipper would follow us down the hall (its ok she was a bad aim).
Doing the right thing included her expectations from her aged care home. We counted no less than 30 feedback forms in her room PLUS she kept a book of dates and times when they didn’t live up to those expectations.
She didnt have expensive standards though – just simple comforts.
I recall one of the stories from her youth, was when her Uncle Wink (her mums bother) let them (Gwen and Eric in early married life) use an old bakehouse to make into a flat. They painted the walls and installed a fireplace and chimney, and managed to get it ready for when Susan was born.
Then, when Maureen was born they moved to Horsham for Eric to complete the serving of his five years in the Army Reserve. They then came to Australia when Sue was four years and Maureen one. Once in Australia, they worked and saved enough money to buy a block of land on Kingborn Avenue, Seaton. Mum used to talk about the orange crates they sat on.
Mum was a crusader of creative thought, writing, reading and the arts, saving the environment, deep conversations and singing, even if or when we couldn’t really sing.
I remember dancing around the lounge room on a Saturday afternoon with the record player blaring – her favourites were Helen Ready, Glenn Campbell and Bos Scaggs to name a few. Of course there are others… David Hobson came later.
She was a forward thinking conversationalist who loved being around people.
Mum would look to the community for activities to keep herself busy and for example, was elected to the Woodville Library Friends committee. When I was working at Woodville library, I persuaded mum to join the Book Discussion Group and she agreed, but only if the discussion group was based on non-fiction books.
It’s not surprising as she was doing the cryptic crosswords right up until the end of her days. In fact, it was her eyes which failed her, not her mind!
For me, the most inspiring thing which has happened since mum has passed – are the people who have contacted me to share what she meant to them.
These messages didn’t come from her generation… they came from mine and Wade’s friends.
For example, Gareth Swarbrick (one of Wades mates from Uni days) said he was, very sad to hear of mums passing but so happy to have seen her fairly recently. He lives in Sydney but took the time to visit mum when over here.
Antoinette Hunter said, I feel so privileged to have met her and can still hear her contagious laugh ( bit like yours really )
Lance Jones said, She was a charming woman of character and poise. Old school ethics and charisma.
Sally Ventress said, I remember my mother (Jess’s grandma May) used to write to her and really looked forward to her letters back, especially all the news about Jessica-May. **in recent times, mum would write to Gareths dad and they both loved the exchange
Nina Cullen (Wades partner at the time of his death) said to me the other day that Gwens readiness after her cherished life, sounds like the intelligent, beautiful, matter of fact woman I remember.
Mum encouraged us to experience life. She frequently bought us tickets to things to ensure we did just that. My favourite birthday present for years was always an opera, ballet or symphony experience with mum.
She rejoiced our successes, listened to us when we cried and bitched with us when we were grumpy.
She was my best friend.
She will be very much missed even if she did have a bloody good life jammed packed with goodness.