Sunday, May 12, 2013

To Know Mum

The night Mum died was both surreal and yet, perfectly expected. I’m not really sure that can make sense unless you’ve watched someone actually stop being right there in front of you. It’s both terrifying and also, an unbelievable privilege.

My Mum died of cancer. It took hold of her suddenly, savagely and left us without her in our lives before we even had the chance to digest what was happening. We are not unique, she having cancer is not unique, cancer itself is not unique. But Betty Clarke herself was unique. And I’m only just starting to understand this now.

I focused so much on her illness when I wrote about Mum, I rarely wrote about her as a person. I still don’t feel like I asked enough questions, knew enough about her childhood beyond what I can piece together with her scarce voiced recollections and photos. I did though, know what she was like as a mother. She was strict yet in hindsight, fair. She was tough and incredibly strong in the face of many adversities. She loved us beyond measure and was often candidly awkward displaying this. I know she was one of the good ones, the type of Mother I could only hope to be

I don’t know exactly what happened in those 40 or so years before I was in her life. And this is my biggest regret. I guess I always thought I had more time to request these details. What annoys me most about myself is that I am constantly telling anyone that will listen that “I just love to know people’s stories”, yet the one person that gave me the best chance at mine, I didn’t even bother to learn.

This below is the montage of pictures I put together for Mum’s funeral. (Warning/Disclaimer - John Farnham)


I hadn’t watched it again until today, I guess I just couldn’t. What got me (beyond the long overdue flood of tears) is that Mum appears to be beaming in most every shot. Either that or she was engrossed with the baby she was holding. I still remember that look she would get on her face when the two worlds of pride and overwhelming emotion collided. 

My mother was a very simple lady. Her own mother died birthing her sibling when Mum was just four years of age, leaving her and her brother in the care of their  father. Whilst my Grandfather was a loving and hard working father, he simply wasn’t equipped to deal with the simultaneous responsibility and grief.

He remarried and this new lady was, by all accounts, not a particularly warm lady. Maybe it was that simply no one was ever going to be good enough to replace the mother she had never gotten to know or maybe and by all accounts, my mother's stepmother was truly horrid, but for whatever reason, my mother and her brother were shipped off to boarding school.

The in-between years here are vague. Mum set off into the wide world following school and took jobs in bars, caring for the elderly and eventually, settled in Mitchelton in Queensland, buying her own general store. This is where she met my father. I’m not sure it was love at first sight but she certainly felt something for him in the beginning. Of course recollections when discussing someone you now almost loathe are somewhat skewed however I distinctly remember asking her once “You did love Dad once didn’t you?” To which she answered, “Yes, of course, that’s why I married him”. 

My father was a brilliant yet seemingly troubled alcoholic and that is how I, as a child, knew him. To know him as a man that was a functioning member of society will forever be foreign to me, but I did recognise that at one time, when I was younger, he was not this way and they had some kind of relationship that led them to believe they could make a family and a life.

So Mum and Dad met, fell in love I guess and married. Mum attempted and failed to fall pregnant a great number of times.  Her miscarriage tally is again, unknown. Again I can’t believe I didn’t have this conversation. In today’s world, she had what is known as Endometriosis, identified easily enough today yet back then was just a mysterious “women’s” problem. In 1975 it was certainly coming to the end of the “easy” adoption cycle but Mum was lucky enough to adopt the boy and girl she longed for. My brother and I.

And quite simply, this is what Mum was put on this earth to do. Nurture and love babies. All babies. When we were older, she was a Nanny for the children of close friends. We were, always her primary focus. She didn’t want a career, a man, a hobby, we were all she wanted and needed. This used to perplex me. In a way it still does yet the older I get it becomes less. Mum discovered what made her happy and isn't happiness after all, the Holy Grail?

I look at my life. How good I have it. I’ve had a loving mother, one that was perhaps strict and not always overly encouraging in my life goals but was always there to make me feel safe, loved, level and understood.  No matter how old you are, you are still ever mindful of what your Mum thinks and I’d say as a consequence, I’ve dropped the ball in many ways since she passed away

I guess this is a long and rambling post to say that I miss my Mum today more than I have since the day she died. It has suddenly struck me that I need my Mum.  I miss her very much and I wish I’d learned more of her story when she was around to tell me it.

Happy Mum’s Day Mum. I miss you.


Naomi said...

Why don't we ever ask the questions when we can? Seems so obvious, but at the time, there are other things to do, to say.

Lot of love to you Bern. x

4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle said...

Bern, I watched your vid the first time you posted it. How long ago was that? I cried the first time, this time it was even more special. I imagine this post was a tough one to write but I really enjoy it when you write like this. You have great stories to tell. I swear you could write an 80's version of puberty blues. Love your work Bern xx

Lucy Mulvany said...

Oh darling girl. Crying a bucket load here. Grief is painful and annoying in that it robs us of time. I am glad you have reposted that vid.

Your Mum sounds as if she was remarkable and lovely.


Annieb25 said...

I am so glad you had your mum Bern and I'm so glad she brought you up to be the person you are. We are all so grateful to her xxxx

Melody said...

Lovely, Bern.

I'm always telling my two about stuff I have done before either of them were born. Your words are reminding me why.

doctorjim said...

Your mum certainly sounded like she had challenges in her life - infertility in a period when it was poorly understood and an alcoholic husband. However, I'm sure you and your brother made up for that all. What a gift you must have been.

What I think is most telling is your lack of desire to find your birth mother. Your mum must have been the real deal. I can't even start imagine the loss you must feel, although before long I must as my mum is now 85.

I remember being so embarrassed about my mum when I was young. She was loud and large and nothing like the trim, prim, cake-baking mothers of my school friends. Now I cherish every day with her.

Take care. xx

Benison said...

Ark! My husband has been using my computer. That last comment was from me, Ben xxx

GourmetGirlfriend said...

What a beautiful tribute Bern, to your mother first and foremost but also to a wonderful human being.
I think a lot of things seem to make sense later, so much so that it leaves us wishing we had asked more, talked more, but to be honest maybe we just weren't ready to listen back then either.
it wasn't a long & rambling post at all.
I could have read on and on.
I'm sorry you don't have her around to hug.

GourmetGirlfriend said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traceyb65 said...

My Dad died 12 years ago, my Mum is 85 next week … I am asking the questions as fast as I can. beautiful reminder Bern xt

Felicity said...

Bern, I haven't checked in on your blog in ages. Not sure why, but I drifted away from all the blogs I used to enjoy. I checked back into Kerri Sackville's blog yesterday and saw that she was now separated. I come back to yours to find this beautiful, poignant post about your mum.

And I'm reading this on the same day I find out my grandfather has advanced cancer. We don't yet know what his options are. That meeting with the oncologist is tomorrow.

But thanks to your post I know that there are a few regrets I can avoid. I'm asking him how he met my grandmother and if it was love at first sight. I've still got time to ask the questions that I want the answers to.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I see you haven't blogged since May. I hope you come back to it. You're very good at it.

Best wishes,
Felicity Moore

christmasworldelf said...

This is such a beautiful post. :) I think death is something inevitable in our lives. :)

With lots of love from the North Pole,
Elfie, Leader of the Elves at Christmas World