A day to celebrate – today is my mams birthday. She hasn’t been with us now for 25 year, she died on 1st April 1990, but I spend time each year thinking about her, her life, her commitment to us as a family, her health, and most of all the fun and love she shared.
She was born in the 1920’s, one of 5 brothers and sisters, to a miner and his wife. A relatively small family compared to some others in the South Wales Valleys at the time. She left Wales to work in London as a secretary, but as fate would dictate, she soon came back to the relative safety of Wales when the war broke out. She met my dad after the War, and in 1950 they married. They weren’t lucky enough to have children of their own, but I’m very fortunate they adopted me in 1960.
Life certainly wasn’t kind to them, in fact the opposite! My dad had an accident in work – he was caught up in a factory fire. His physical and mental health was affected, and he never really worked again. He had already suffered during and after the war – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – although then it was called shell shock, and the loss of his beloved mum had toppled him over the edge. My mam nursed him back to health, and looked after him. She made sure he took his medication, attended numerous outpatients’ hospital appointments, weekly blood tests and physiotherapy sessions. She supported him each time his health deteriorated, and made some heartbreaking decisions along the road. Un-relentless, un-flappable and always smiling. She made the very best of a bad situation.
Then she became ill, and was diagnosed as Bi-polar. They have such simple names now for something that was at the time called manic depression – that summed it up far more succinctly! At the time they told my dad he had the same illness, and even though I’m not a professional he wasn’t ill in the same way as mam was. You needed patients and encouragement with dad, quiet conversation, and letting him get on with his life the way he wanted to. Mam just wanted to stay in bed, and she did – for days, week and even months at some stage. Anywhere between 6-12 weeks was the norm for the cycle whether she was ‘up or down’. You never knew when she was going to change; you just knew it was going to be a roller coaster ride once she was ‘better’.
She became obsessed with shopping. You had no idea what she would come home with! It was lucky that our financial circumstances dictated the amount of stuff she would buy; there was very little money to go round. She came home one day from a jumble sale with a black bag of clothes, I though that day we had got off lightly. Little did I know that rest of the items were being delivered by a friend in a van later that afternoon. There were 10 bags of clothes, and 3 pieces of furniture. My poor dad and I had got used to it, his job was to stay calm, cool and generally out of the picture, and mine was to help sort, wash, and re bag up things she had decided she didn’t want, and arrange for them to go back to the next jumble sale. The clothes she wanted were carefully stored away in the 3 wardrobes she had.
Do you think it sounds a bleak life? It was my life, I knew nothing different, and we lived like this for 10 years until I moved away to London to work. Then my mam and dad carried on until 9 years later my lovely dad died. It took mam 18 months to decide to sell up the house, and move to a small flat. Luckily I had some very good and patient friends who helped move her. The move wasn’t the hardest part; the de- cluttering was the hardest! Of course she had no one to keep her in check once my dad had died, and so the 3 wardrobes had expanded to more. My friend Alison and I helped her to pack, she wanted to take it all, but of course she couldn’t.
You wonder why I’m babbling on, wasn’t this meant to be in celebration of my mams life. I’m sure you are saying it wasn’t much of a life, but that’s not for you to judge. Let me tell you the funny things I remember about her and why I celebrate her life like this. She loved yellow, all things yellow! We had yellow or gold curtains – in every room, yellow flowers everywhere, yellow cups, yellow towels; she and I wore yellow clothes, and my dad the odd yellow shirt. Our dinner service was yellow, and all the paintwork was yellow too. The house was bright and summery in the darkest winter, and in the worst times of her illness. She sang at every opportunity. At every TV program, whether there was signing in it or not, when she was well she would sing when she spoke to you, if she was on her own it kept her company. She was quite short, and petite enough for me to pick up and hug whenever I came home, like a little doll really, delicate and made of china. Her faith was a big part of her life, and this again gave her the opportunity to sing.
My most favorite story was just before she passed away, her last Christmas with us. As a family we had decided to go for Christmas to Bruge on a coach. The family consisted of my soon to be fiancé, his parents, and his granny. We thought that granny and my mam would get on well, so we asked them to share a room to which they agreed. After a long journey there fraught with a few disasters, we finally arrived in Bruges. I wasn’t surprised at her enthusiasm; she tried everything under the sun. The strange food – jellied ells being one of them. We had a great few days, we loved the time together as a family, and we were all so pleased that mam and granny had got on so well. The last morning came; we went to check out, my father in law preparing to pay the room bills. He nearly fell over at how much theirs was! They had a great time, afternoon tea in the room each day, they had drunk the mini bar dry – on more than one occasion – and had room service each night before going to bed, sandwiches cake you name it! They thought it was all free, and so made the most of it. Of course we never told either one of them, and every time we reminisce about the past – that story comes out without fail.
And the photo at the top of the page, yes that’s my lovely mam, on the holiday in Bruges, at the Christmas dinner table, with a cigarette in her mouth. No she didn’t smoke but she did on that holiday!