Apprenticed to my Mother: widowed #memories

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Dad’s final illness lasted about a year and in that time Mum did nothing but care for him. The final six weeks of his life were pretty grim. He knew – everyone knew – it was going to end soon, he was bedridden and he spent most of the time in Poole hospital rather than a local hospice (which we tried and failed to get him into). That meant a daily commute of twenty miles each way for mum which family helped with but if no one could then she drove herself. We none of us knew how much her knee hurt – she needed the joint replacing desperately – but she wasn’t telling anyone because her focus was elsewhere.

As had been her default position in life, so those last months distilled her personality to its most fundamental: keep calm and be the rock around which everyone else could dance and cry and weep and wail. She never cried, she never raised a voice, she remained placid and logical throughout. Watching her watching him as he faded was to see stoicism in its most poignant, most beautiful form. Nigh on 62 years of love and you know you’ll be the one remaining, the one making do and at no point did self pity enter her soul. She needed a lot of hugs, mind you. And tea. You can hide in tea.

I suppose I assumed, when he finally died in the early hours of 12th March 2005, that the effort would leave her drained and in need of a rest. But her attention was immediately on us, on making sure we coped. She wanted his memory to be of the fun-giving man and in her quiet but rigorous way no one was going to change that. And she didn’t want us to worry about her. She refused to be burden, victim or anything other than independent. I’m not sure I could manage such poise.

Me? I hid in paperwork. My head admired her resilience but my heart wanted to explode. But how could I be the burden, go to pieces if she didn’t?  So I opened his bureau and delved into their paper lives. And I found that – while I knew mum kept everything and fought a battle with dad, who ostensibly wanted a clear out – when it came to their financial affairs he was as bad as her. There were bank statements going back thirty years, details of pension plans and P60s covering decades. Tax codes and premium bonds, shares from privatisations and ISAs and Tessas and deeds and receipts.  Oh those bloody receipts. I could have made a papier mache life sized sculpture of the old sod from those scraps.

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We needed to sort out a funeral. Two days after he died she gave me a shoe box. It contained all his poetry, all the poems he swore I would never see – ‘just mush, boy, soppy stuff’. She wanted me to use it for the funeral but more than that she wanted me to understand him a little better. Every year, for over twenty five years, he wrote her a poem on her birthday. We sort of knew he did something but these love poems were beautiful. Funny at times, rude too, but always echoing his love for her and hers for him.

And this was a test. The easy bit was to find someone to make them readable – a PA at work kindly typed them all up and I had them bound.

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The difficult part was choosing which three would form part of his funeral service. I needed to reflect the man but not embarrass him.  Even in death she wanted him to be comfortable with whatever it was we revealed. His human side, yes, but not too much. Not something that in life would have made him squirm if read aloud. She and I disagreed. His Paratrooper’s Prayer, written to his mother in 1945 when he was about to take his first ever jump – he was just about 18 – would be allowed but not one of his romantic poems to her, humour only.

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Of course we did it her way and that was right. But it was sad too.

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Getting someone buried is, frankly, a faff. We chose a woodland burial site where Dad could become compost. An oak tree – a very English oak tree – was to be planted on top and fed by years of investment in Wadsworth’s 6X and Ringwood Ales. At the same time she bought the neighbouring plot so she could be buried next to him. I tried to think that was efficient and, perhaps, rather sweet but it also seemed too sensible. I wanted to stop thinking about my parents’ mortality for a while.

While my mother had a running grumble with the local vicar – the pillars of village power were the church and the women’s institute where mum was a kind of horticultural Machiavelli – she knew dad had a sort of embarrassed  Anglicanism as his faith. So we needed someone to mastermind the ceremony.

We found a suitable candidate who came to talk to us about dad. The sweet woman soon realised her role was merely as prompt to the Archaeologist and me. It was our show, something mum was very pleased to encourage.

There’s a lot of admin at these times. Organising the body, obtaining the death certificate, agreeing on the funeral arrangements, letting people know of dad’s death and the subsequent funeral date – you have to allow for a significant investment of time when you make contact with old friends, colleagues and family. I think it was during the trip to Bournemouth to register the death and obtain the death certificate that I noticed the first change in mum. While outwardly she remained polite – too polite for a woman whose sotto voce mutterings had embarrassed me for decades – I realised she hadn’t engaged in the detail of the conversation with the registrar.

It would be easy to assume this was a one off. Dealing explicitly with his death would inevitably bring on a suppressed sadness in any mortal. But mum was never ‘any mortal’. She didn’t give in to emotion. Never.

Yet she had definitely begun to withdraw, to do the minimum to let people think she was coping while in practice she shut down all extraneous functions.

And I was glad. Glad she was giving herself some of her time rather than worrying about others. Glad I could take over. Glad I could stop being quite so brave. Glad I could be the strong one for a bit. Ok we were about to bury someone I loved dearly but in celebrating a life we were also going to do what dad loved above all else: we were going to have one mother of a party. At least if I had my way.

PS On October 21st 2004, when dad and mum knew, pretty well this would be her last birthday they would celebrate together he wrote her the poem below. I’d have read it out at his funeral despite mum’s protestations save for the fact I never found it until after she died. I might be a pillar of the legal establishment but I was 50% from her gene pool and therefore not to be trusted completely.

Life is fleeting but love’s eternal

And we are proving it, you and I

For these are magical moments my love

And I try so hard not to cry.

*

Those secret smiles which only I share

Your laughter which means so much

Together bound with a golden thread

Your loving, gentle touch.

*

I just couldn’t let your birthday pass

Or let emotion overcome

So thanks my love for a wonderful life

Now, tomorrow, here we come!!

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in family, memoires, memories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Apprenticed to my Mother: widowed #memories

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Your Dad wrote beautiful poetry.
    Being a Poole lass born and bred, I am familiar with the area, my own father dying in Bournemouth hospital, and my father in law in the St Leonards Hospice (which we noticed the other day has entirely been demolished now).
    My Dad’s poems were mostly humourous, and we have his last, which was read at his funeral, hanging in the boat. After 20 years, I still miss him, and go to see my Mum at least once a month. She was 94 on the 22nd.
    A lovely post, and worthy tribute to your parents.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you so much. It is almost beyond me how he did what he did, poetry wise and I’m so grateful to mum that she kept them because he would have burnt them. They open up a whole new set of vistas of him and his ways of thinking. I’m delighted you have the ones your dad wrote and that your mum is still there 94 years young. Give her a hug from me and tell her it’s in lieu of me being able to hug mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ritu says:

    Such a beautiful tribute Geoffles. …

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I appreciate that Ritu. When I read about your affection for your pops it takes me straight back to being with mine. At one time he’d have given yours a run, moustache wise too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ritu says:

        Memories are all we end up with…. It’s so important to keep them fresh in whatever way you can, I’m so glad my post got you thinking about your dad so creatively… I loved it ☺️

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue Vincent says:

    That last one had me in tears, Geoff. What a beautiful thing to know you were born from such a love.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Jools says:

    Beautiful memories – what a wonderful tribute to both your parents, and their love.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Judy Martin says:

    That last poem brought tears to my eyes, Geoff. I love your dad’s poems, he writes so expressively, with humour, love or a sense of fun.
    Your mother sounds a very stoic woman. It must have torn her apart when your dad died, yet she carried on.
    Have you published your dad’s poems?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jan says:

    You’re a good son, even if you are a lawyer! ; ) I’m glad you kept his poems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Ah well you can use the past tense re lawyering (unless of the view ‘once a lawyer, always…!’ And I wouldn’t part with them for all the slugs on my hostas!

      Like

  7. Anabel Marsh says:

    Very moving, even more so because we are just coming up to the first anniversary of my dad’s death. Tuesday will be a difficult day. Not sure if we’ve discussed before – it rings a bell – but your mum and my mum share a birthday, 21/10. 1926 in mum’s case (exactly 6 months younger than the queen, as I’m often told!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      I didn’t realise, no. Isn’t that neat! Clearly the world was spinning in a sunny orbit that day! And yes those anniversaries are a challenge. Big smiles from south London in memory of loved fathers

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a sweet tribute. I share some of your grief at this time of year when I lost so many important folks in my life. Your dad was a treasure, and you, the son of a poet. He would have been proud that you shared his words. That kind of open, sensitive spirit has always been rare, maybe even more so in the 1940’s. A great post, Geoff. 💘

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Van. I wonder reading this how they would react? Dad would grumble about the use of his poems but be pleased by the reaction. He’d criticise my grammar though. Mum would smile and wonder at the fuss

      Liked by 1 person

  9. willowdot21 says:

    Touchingly written. Funerals are a nightmare, we have done four now. We cannot bare the thought of our boys having to deal with our funerals. So this week we have bought and paid for our funerals. In the next fortnight we will have them planned right down to last song! … should I go out to ” I’m gonna swing from the Chandelier” or “Don’t stop me now” ?😃 xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rowena says:

      I love the sound of the Chandelier! That’s a very personal song for me and often talk about myself swinging from the chandelier. As you haven’t seen me in real life you won’t know that I’m a 40 something wife and mother of two with some mobility problems so the song means a lot to me about giving life’s troubles the bird and choosing to live life to the full instead!

      Liked by 2 people

      • willowdot21 says:

        Hi Rowena I know exactly what you mean , I love that song for similar reasons, I am in my sixties and have broken my back twice in the last twenty years so like you I know about mobility problems, I am walking and healthy now ! but I still have bad days! So lets party!!!!
        I am still 20yrs in my head ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Chandeliers all round.

        Liked by 1 person

      • willowdot21 says:

        My thoughts as well!! 😃😂😉😞😭😠

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rowena says:

        I am so with you at feeling 20 years old and wondering why my body isn’t quite what it used to be.
        Breaking your back twice must have been full on. I spent a couple of weeks in a wheelchair when I was in hospital when my muscle disease was first diagnosed. I remember that time last for eternity.

        Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Ah yes the music. That’s the next post, the funeral itself. I agree I have mine all sorted. Thanks Willow

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, Geoff. Keeping records straight is also a family trait.This one is fascinating. ❤ ❤ 🙂

    Like

  11. Lata Sunil says:

    Oh.. that last poem.. got me all teary.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My mum was totally content to leave everything to me when my dad died. So I said instead of a tacky pub lunch where everyone under the sun gets a few free sandwiches, I made it family only back at her home. It worked out really well. I think some type of ‘wake’ is so important for those who are left. Best one I went to was for my father-in-law in Wales – they put on a huge spread.
    The paperwork eh? My mother was amazed I got her a tax rebate from the IR!
    The poems are good. I liked Maturity, and like many others, I cried at the last one. A good poet touches peoples’ emotions.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Mick Canning says:

    That’s beautiful, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is so moving Geoff, had me in tears.. your dad’s poems are lovely, such a treasure for you to have and reflect upon, your mum stoic and proud. Bit like my family we tend to be of the stoic kind too.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. trifflepudling says:

    It’s very lovely that he wasn’t afraid of expressing his love. It means so much. I hope that, when I am admitted through the pearly gates, my Mum and Dad are there! And while I’m feeling thoughtful, the following is a quote from the epilogue of one of Kinky Friedman’s books (I got to know him through his writing): “They say when you die and go to heaven all the dogs and cats you’ve ever had in your life come running to meet you. Until that day, rest in peace, Cuddles”.
    http://www.kinkajourecords.com/cudepil.htm
    So sweet, sniff. Your and your dad’s poems hit the target every time without any fanfare 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Helen Jones says:

    That last poem was beautiful – what a wonderful love story your parents shared. Thanks for sharing it with us 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Sacha Black says:

    I love how in love your parents were. So beautiful. Such a lovely post

    Liked by 1 person

  18. A most moving post, Geoff. Your Dad passed on his talent

    Liked by 1 person

  19. A very touching post, Geoff, told in your own inimitable style. You have a way of talking about your parents that brings them to life on the page. As a reader, you almost feel as if you know them and yet, from your descriptions, get a sense that if you had known them you probably wouldn’t have been allowed to truly “know” them. Not uncommon in that generation. Thank you for sharing – especially your dad’s poems.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Rowena says:

    Geoff, I just finished a post about enjoying a Queensland High Tea. We had high tea in this very quaint Queenslander style house, which reminded me very much of my grandparents’ home. So, it was a bittersweet experience being there and seeing my kids playing with the cousins and talking with Geoff’s family while also missing my grandparents so much.
    So, it felt so uncanny to finish that tonight and then read your post, which such a wonderful tribute to your parents, who we’ve all been getting to know through your posts and your Dad’s letters.
    I met a WWII vet at our local markets a few weeks ago who was a paratrooper and I’ll go back and give him a copy of your Dad’s poem.
    It’s so cold here. After basking in what we thought was going to be an eternal Summer, the radio announced that El Nina/Nino had ended. The very next day, it was freezing. Thank you!
    All our Winter woollies are still in storage in the roof, except a few bits I leave down.
    Bilbo is lucky to still have his fur coat. Actually, make that Lady. She helped herself to a large chunk of my NIgella Nutella Cake and was banished outside for quite some time!
    xx Ro

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Well we have the sun now so eat your heart out! Please do share his thoughts. Be interesting if it has echoes for your para. Best of all this proves that memories are what have true value not stuff. I think my kids get that now but it’s not too soon to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rowena says:

        We struggle with the stuff side of things here. I raid op shops so it’s not expensive and I pick up good stuff but everything needs a home and you could say there are a few ghettos around here.
        I get sentimental about stuff. I found my son’s much loved Kombi shorts in the bin this morning and pulled them out. Somehow, I’ll get them turned into bear clothes. Too precious to lose!
        That said , I do agree with you. It’s people and our memories and stories, which matter!
        BTW, I’ve just returnede from walking the dogs along the beach. Sun is back again but chilly. Lady rolled in a dead pelican down there but went for a swim and I’m hoping that cleansed the stench. not great dog washing weather!
        Onlu fair you rub in your lovely Summer after all my efforts!
        I’ll chase up this paratropper guy and give him your Dad’s poem and see if I can get some insigths and will keep you posted.
        Hope you have a great day!
        xx Ro

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        A pelican! So cool. We just had to skirt a mouldering pigeon. What a lightweight country this is!

        Like

  21. noelleg44 says:

    This was so touching, Geoff. Your Dad had a poetic soul and your Mom was one very special woman. How wonderful that you got good genes from both of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. restlessjo says:

    My finger just strayed over this in my Inbox, Geoff, and I’m glad it did. What a lovely read, and what a thoroughly nice man. His poetry brings the smiles and the tears too.

    Liked by 1 person

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