Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I rarely talk about my mother. I don’t know why. I should talk about her more. So this Mother’s Day I thought I would share with you just what an amazing mother, and person, she was. Why? Because she was the strongest woman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (I know all mums are amazing aren’t they?)
When I was 5 my mum was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after years of tests and just not quite feeling herself. She gave up her career as a teacher because of this and because my father had a serious car accident when I was 6 (breaking his legs, arms, chest, neck and punctured his lung). I never knew any of this at the time though- my mum made sure of it.
By the time I was 11 she was what is known as ‘in total nursing care’. This is where someone is completely bed/wheelchair bound, can’t feed or do much for themselves. My dad gave up his successful construction business to become her full time carer. He remained her full time carer for over 20 years.
By the time I was 21 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Once she overcame that she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She overcame that too. But when I was 25, her body (never her mind) finally gave up to liver cancer. It was a shock to all of us, as she only found out she had it 6 weeks before passing away. She was only 55. I spent the entire 6 weeks by her side and not once did she cry or act differently than usual (until the last few days when she couldn’t talk at all). She refused to let cancer change her, in fact she refused to give into any of her illnesses and did everything in her power to ensure I had a normal childhood.
So what did I learn from my mother?
I learnt how to care for others from a young age. I cooked our meals and cleaned our house from age 12. My mum taught me how to cook a great roast dinner, steak and kidney pie and rhubarb crumble. I learnt how to give a good massage and stop leg spasms really well. When we moved into a bungalow when I was 12 she made me wheel her around to each of our new neighbours’ homes collecting money for Save the Children in little envelopes. I don’t think our neighbours gave much and I remember her feeling sad about not raising much money for her favourite charity that year. She encouraged me to join the World Wildlife Fund and raise money for World Vision and Marie Curie. I think her compassion for others and philanthropy is why I work in International Development today.
I learnt from her the beauty of Wordsworth and Austin – her favourites as an undergrad at Oxford. She taught me the beauty of changing seasons- the burnt crimson leaves in autumn, the smell of dewy blades of grass in spring, the smell of roses in summer and crisp freshly fallen snow in winter. She loved looking at birds in our garden, whenever I see a Robin I always think of her.
She taught me how to use my imagination. She taught me story telling. She taught me to love the British countryside. I remember her taking me to Claydon House near where she grew up and her telling me of her adventures as a child, always making everything sound so fun.
My mum taught me that a person in a wheelchair is a person to be respected. She would always get frustrated when people would speak over her head at my dad rather than with her. She taught me to never be embarrassed by disability. I remember when I was at school I was so shy when pushing my mum around in her wheelchair whilst shopping, when the kids in our street peered through our window and said there was a pirate in my house (because she sometimes wore an eye patch), when we had to leave functions early due to an ‘accident’ she couldn’t control. I outgrew this stage and realized the strength and resilience of this woman who would never let her disability get her down.
My mum taught me the importance of family. When my mum’s illness got worse her friends stopped coming over to visit. This really upset her. The last ten years or so, it was just my mum, dad and me with occasional visits from close relatives. Family is everything. My mum hated leaving the house and panicked whenever my dad would leave (the last 10 years he only left the house to go food shopping, he never went out, never went on holiday- except once and vowed never to leave her again as the hospice she went to left her with bed sores). My dad did such a good job of looking after her, when many husbands would not be able to cope. They were both disabled, had few friends, and must have felt so isolated and depressed and yet I never suffered growing up. They made sure I went on school trips, I went on holiday with my aunts and uncles, I went to university. They were always happy around me. I never once heard my parents argue in 25 years. So I guess one of the main things my mum taught me was how to protect my family and always put my family first.
One of the last things she said to me was to look after my dad. After more than 20 years of being a carer (and disabled himself), my dad was at a complete loss after my mum passed away. There is very little help out there for carers, who give their lives to looking after loved ones. My parents’ lives could have been very different if it wasn’t for illness. She taught me to never take good health for granted. My mum was a teacher and my dad owned a successful company. Instead they had to battle their way through every obstacle imaginable and my dad is left with very little (he spent a lot of his savings on giving my mum the best care possible and new treatments for MS). So my mum taught me how to fight and be resilient. No matter how hard something seems, how painful something is, I will overcome it. I will live through it and it will make me stronger.
But most of all, my mum taught me how to love. How to be a mother. Love is selfless. Love is all encompassing. Love is almighty. I feel blessed to have had such a loving mother. I can only hope that I can lead the same example for my son.
I still miss my mother everyday. Happy Mother’s Day.