Myra Phylis Joyce – 26 July 1930 to 11 September 2010

I miss you Mum – Happy Mothers Day

“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means that she’s only growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right or wrong she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me.

More than a dream

The night I wrote the last post about scattering Mum’s ashes Raels woke up during the night with the bed shaking and thought it was Ramsey, our Spoodle, scratching himself. When she looked, Mum was sitting on the end of the bed shaking my leg and she said “Laurie, why do those girls have to make such a fuss of everything. They should have just thrown me in the river so we could get on with things.” That was when she woke me up and told me 🙂

Funny that I’d written to Mum in the post that I had a visit from Dad after he died but that was at a time when I was living alone, not with someone who is attuned to these things.   Oddly enough when I told my sisters one of them had a dream about Mum that very night.  She said –

“Mum finally came to me in a dream as vivid as the one I had when Dad visited me and I woke up straight away wishing she had stayed longer. I was in my car with Shez driving and there was Mum’s old little white car driving in front – I said to Shez “That looks like Nanna” and with that she turned around, and it was her with the most amazing smile that lit up her entire face – I yelled out “Mum” and then I woke up. I now really do know that she is so happy, she has free movement ,is driving and obviously pain free.”

I am a natural sceptic and there was a time when I would have scoffed at these things, but now they seem to me to be more than dreams.  Has anyone else shared similar experiences?

The Scattering Again

Dear Mum

You probably already know this but I thought I’d let you know anyway.   We scattered your ashes today,as close to the place where we did the same to Dad’s back in 2004.    The river was a bit higher and running quicker than it was back then so your journey, wherever that may be will be quicker than Dad’s was.    Remember how amidst the tears we laughed back then when you said that there was some irony in the fact we were scattering Dad’s ashes in the river when he couldn’t swim.   He would have laughed at that too and we did chuckle about it again today.

Unlike back then there were no ducks around.  Remember they came in and scooped up some of Dad’s ashes as they floated on the water, eventually scattering them a bit further than we intended I guess.

You would have been proud of Deb, she read a couple of poems for you and said a small service around how we eventually return to the elements from which we sprang – from fire, earth, water and air.  I was glad that the air didn’t spring up and blow part of you up my nose because I’m still suffering a bit from hay fever and it wasn’t something I needed today.

Andrew and Gerry were there as well as Chase, Shez and Cal, Raels was home ill in bed and sends her apologies and the other Grandkids found it a bit hard to face, like they did with Dad.  Maybe they don’t fully understand how this ancient ceremony is yet another step along the way of recovery for grief.  But I know you’ll understand.   I know you will prefer them to remember your laugh and your raised eyebrow when you disapproved of something than a container of mortal remains.

Speaking of which, I carried them down from Karen’s house and I have to say that you weighed a fair bit more than Dad.  But you’ll know that too, becuase he did have a touch of the Mahatma Ghandi’s about him in the last few years,  “Fine as a sunny day” I remember him saying on more than one occasion.

We did have to keep watch because like the day we did Dad’s there were a few people around and whilst Deb was speaking Andrew, Gerry and I were keeping a lookout for anyone who may have happened along.  I remembered the time you told us about you and Uncle Phil and Aunty Nancy taking your cousin Lila’s ashes out to the cemetery and shoving them down a crack in the grave of her Mum Aunty Phyllis and Dad Uncle Perc.   You told us you were worried that someone would see and think you might be defacing the grave, but we all had a great laugh everytime you told the story.

Deb brought some yellow roses from her garden and each of us placed one on the river to follow you down. As the last one was placed on and the rain started to fall the sun came out giving that sense of renewal that comes with a new day.  A different day maybe, but a new one, and despite the sorrow, a reminder that there will still be many good things to come.

I hope you finished the book that we sent with you.  You were adamant that it had to go on the journey because you always finished any books you started even if you didn’t like them.  And I hope you managed to magic that toy horse into one that carried you across the fields of heaven like you said it would.

I have so much to thank you for, we all do and I’ll leave that to some future posts, but I do want to say a couple of things here.  Firstly, I remember how proud you were of Luke when he was presented as your first Grandchild.  You were actually the same age then as I am now and that’s a bit of a scarey thought because I thought you and Dad were kinda old back then.  Now I know differently of course.   And then you were given another 10 grandkids within the next ten years and everyone knew how much you loved them.

I also want you to know that Raels really appreciated the last things you said to her – that you loved her and that you told her to look after me.  She will and I think you know that.  Thanks for finally accepting her, I know it wasn’t an easy thing for you to do.  But we both are really grateful for that and Raels for being able to come to know you over the past couple of years.

Did I tell you that a few months after Dad died he visited me one night.  I felt him sit on the end of my bed just like he did so many times when I was a boy and he’d come home from work and come down and say goodnight.   We couldn’t talk but just let him know that I’m OK and I love him deeply.

I still feel you around Mum.   I know that wherever and whatever Heaven is, that you’ll watch over all of us no matter how long you have to.   I can hear you telling Dad and Nana and Grandad and the others there with you now how I “turned around and said”.   And I know that when you disapprove of something I do, and there probably will be things you don’t like before we meet again, that your eyebrow will rise and the cheeks will puff out and you’ll let me know exactly what you think.  Just like you always have.

So Farewell for now Mum.  I will always love you.

Your son
Laurie

Summer Daze

Sitting here with the wind rising and facing another day of record rainfall across the state tomorrow after two decades of drought, got,me thinking about summers past.   I’m facing my first Christmas as an orphan, if a 53 year old man can be an orphan and the excitement of Christmas approaching is tempered with the knowledge that both Mum and Dad are gone now and this is my first summer without them.

I remember the long summer days at Richardson Street, the smell of cut grass, of apples fermenting on the ground beneath the two trees in the front yard, of the wonderful scent of petrichor as the summer thunder storms rolled in.   There was no daylight saving in those days, but we stayed outside late anyway.  No air conditioning, in the house, or at school, and in the cars we rolled the windows down, didn’t press a button to keep them up and turn on the refrigeration.

Summer meant a crate of Loys softdrinks home delivered once a week, the weekend visits of Mr Whippy and chocolate coated ice cream cones.   It meant some beach visits where we’d tie meat to a string to catch crabs in rock pools at Ricketts Point.

It was hours spent in the Clark above ground pool, dragging ourselves in circles to create a whirlpool.  Dad shifted that pool to half a dozen different places in the yard.  We had no filter so he’d spend hours out there himself scooping leaves out and dosing it with chlorine that stung our eyes.

And on weekends were Dad’s BBQ’s, burnt sausages and the best hot chips you’ve ever tasted smothered in salt.

Summer meant a race with my sister Karen to see who could get the best tan.  There was no slip, slop, slap campaign in those days.  Instead we’d coat oursleves in coconut oil and lie on our towels on the footpath slowly basting in the heat.  I generally won, and have had a couple of skin cancers cut out since to prove it.

The days were long and hot, the nights cool with the chirping of crickets.  The days were simpler then before the times that meant there were too many summers to remember.

There is no broken chain

It was bitterly and unseasonally cold in Melbourne this morning – in fact the coldest October day in 15 years or something like that, and I had promised my sister that I’d meet her and go over and close Mum’s bank account.   Mum lived at the back of my sisters place and it still feels funny going over there and not going down to her flat to share a cuppa with her.  As it turned out the bank was shut because of “mechanical problems” so I’ll have to go back in the next couple of weeks to finish the job.

Driving over I got to thinking about Mum again and how in the last few days of her life, how lucky we were to be able to spend them with her.  I held her hand while she slept and we talked about how things were, how we loved each other and were thankful for our shared lives.  We spoke of how proud she was of all of her grand children.   We didn’t talk of regret because there weren’t any.  I realised how important it is to enjoy the moment.  You can’t dwell on things.   And I realised that Mum lives on.

Gentically in us three kids, in her 11 granchildren and the first of her great-grandchildren.   Molecularly in the atoms that made her whose existent goes right back to the begining of time and which now return to recycle yet again.

I think I said in her eulogy that it felt like the chain had broken.  And I’ve come to realise that it hasn’t.  We’ve just moved one more link along it and for most of us our vision of that chain stretches only two or three links in each direction over our lifetimes, but collectively goes on forever.   Our legacy is the chain the links from our distant ancestors to those yet to come.    And that is a mind boggling concept and so every now and then we should learn to take that breath, smell the roses, live in the moment, not fear for what may come nor worry about what has gone before.

With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  And today?  Today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.  ~Babatunde Olatunji

Letter to Tim McGraw

Dear Tim

I had the pleasure of attending your Melbourne concert last night and want to thank you in particular for one of the songs you sang but need to give some background first.

On Wednesday 1st September my 80 year old Mum got rushed to hospital having put up with a lot of pain over the previous month after a fall at home. X-rays revealed that she had fractured her spine but additionally she began to complain about pains in her abdomen and subsequent CT and MRI scans were conducted. On Sunday 5th September we got a call from the doctors telling us that she had terminal cancer and the first thing that crossed my mind were the words of your song – live like you were dying.

Mum was told she had months to live but over the next few days it became apparent that the cancer was very aggressive and we began to prepare for her passing – she didn’t skydive, mountain climb or ride a bull – but she did have the time to say goodbye to my sisters and I, our partners and her 11 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. It was an incredibly sad but uplifting time with nothing left unsaid.

On Thursday 7th September the ghosts began to gather and she told us of people who were standing around the bed and of long lost pets who were visiting. Might sound strange but she was totally lucid and knew that she could see them but we couldn’t. She lost consciousness that night and passed away at 1:15 am on September 11 giving my family another reason to remember that day.

So last night when you started to sing that song, the tears began to roll down my cheeks and whilst you didn’t know it, that song was for my Mum and so I am writing to thank you because for those of us who are lucky enough to find that we do have time to say goodbye the sentiments expressed in the song are important ones.

Many thanks
Laurie

**********************
For those who would like to listen here is the video – Live Like You Were Dying

http://www.youtube.com/v/XiOcW_YR1G8?fs=1&hl=en_GB

Fallen in a Heap

Karen, Deb and I spent yesterday going through Mum’s stuff.  Taking years of photographs off walls distributing her treasures according to the list she’d given the girls in the days before she died as well as another we found in a prominent spot.   There were boxes of photos , some of which I’d never seen before, every broken watch that Dad had ever owned, bank statements and receipts for car repairs going back years.  Importantly for me as the family historian were the references for both Dad and Mum from places of work dating back to the 1940’s, a newspaper clipping showing Mum at Nagambie as a Regatta Girl.  Not sure if that was the year she won Miss Nagambie or one of the other years.   And yes, I found the receipt for her wedding reception at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street in 1953.

The dust got to me – not that Mum wasn’t clean just that stuff that hadn’t been moved in years was covered with layers of it and before long I was suffering badly from hay fever.  It’s worse today, nose running, cough and fever.  More about the stress of the past few weeks coming out in illness rather than something I picked up elsewhere.

We’re going to a Tim McGraw concert tonight and I truly don’t feel like it but the distraction will be a good thing I think.   Besides I have to go back to work tomorrow anyway and without a backup now, given my offsider was made redundant a few months ago, I know that there won’t have been anything done im my area for the past few weeks.  

More Hard Days

Tomorrow I meet my sisters at Mum’s place to start clearing out her things.  Mum gave us strict instructions to give all of the photos to the people in them as much as we can anyway.  It will be hard taking the frames off the walls and packing up those that are on the tables.   This is a shrine to our family and now another link in that chain is gone.

I fell in a heap yesterday, truly running on empty.  It has been an exhausting fortnight. It was only Sunday a week ago that we were told that Mum had cancer and a few months to live; she actually had 6 days.  And whilst we are grateful for the time we were able to spend with her last week and for the fact that we could say our goodbyes, it still hurts.   I guess there is never an easy time for a loved one to be taken.

Eulogy for Mum

Later today I will be speaking at my Mum’s funeral.   Here is what I will say.

Firstly, I guess I now have the baton of being patriarch of our family and so on behalf of all of us may I thank all of you for being part of this celebration of Mum’s life.  You’ll hear a bit from the three of us about various aspects of Mum’s life and I’ll apologise in advance if we overlap one another because none of us have any idea what the others are going to say.

I am of course hoping that my sisters don’t burst into song because unfortunately whilst they may have gotten Mum’s good looks they also got her very bad singing voice.   I on the other hand inherited both Dad’s good looks and good voice.   I’ll will try desperately not to outshine them if they do.

I am fortunate to have a copy of notes Mum and her sister Aunty Nancy made for me about their childhood and I’m going to start with some of that.   Mum gave me strict instructions last week to only speak for 2 minutes so I’ll finish up now and hand over to my sisters….just kidding.

So with apologies to Mum let me begin.

Mum was born on 26th July 1930 at Carlton, second child to Lil and Bill Smith.   My Grandfather Bill’s cousin once said to me that Smith wasn’t a common name it was just popular.   Mum had a brother Billy [known to us as Uncle Phil] and a younger sister Nancy.

She lived in a few houses as a kid – a 2 storey terrace house in Park Street, Brunswick, a free standing 5 room house in Bent Street, Kensington and a  4 room plus kitchenette in Davison Street Brunswick, which is the house that we kids remember best.

Mum said that the most important room in any of the houses was the dining room.  It was there that the family gathered around the briquette heater and the radio, listening to Martin Place, Dad and Dave, 50 and over, and most importantly the news, during which they had to remain silent.   When they lived in Park Street, Brunswick the extended family, Aunts and Uncles and cousins all lived nearby and the home became a congregation where they would sing songs and hold concerts.

Mum had many relatives come and live for periods of time with the family, her Aunty Jean and her husband Laurie [after whom I am named and who served with the 2/22nd Lark Force in Rabaul and was killed on the first day of the Japanese invasion].  They were followed at various times by Aunty Rose, Uncle Alf, her cousin Betty Dodd and maternal grandmother, Granny Woolley.

Mum also had a lot to do with my Grandad’s side of the family as well and spoke of the times she spent with her Smith grandparents.   In fact during the war years she spent the weeks with them whilst her Mum and Aunties were working in the munitions factory at Maribyrnong coming home for weekends.  I remember her telling me that Grandad Smith kept birds and had a number of magpies that he actually taught to talk.

The homes were pretty Spartan.   No running hot water – the kettle was boiled in the kitchenette and that water was used to sponge off each morning before they went to school.    After school they’d come home, do their home work, listen to the radio, sponge off and go to bed.    Once a week water was boiled in a copper in the lean to laundry out the back and topped up as each member of the family had their bath.

Times were tough during the early years and whilst Mum was very young during the latter years of the depression it had a profound impact on the family.  My Grandfather went away to work on the Great Ocean Road and Mum remembered being told that her Uncles were lucky to earn threepence which was brought home put into a common pool to pay for food and rent.   They used to visit the Vic Market and pinch stuff from the bins or buy the fruit and vegies that were cheap because they were on their last legs.  Her Dad learnt how to re-sole the families shoes but Mum remembered times when he brought new shoes home after winning tug-of war bouts.

Several of the uncles became SP bookies during those times and the kids often kept cocky in the blue stone cobbled laneways at the back of the houses.   For those who don’t know what keeping cocky means it was keeping a look out for the coppers.   One of the uncles, Alf, who had won the Military Medal during World War 1, was an associate of Squizzy Taylor’s who was a regular visitor to my great grandmothers house.

Those laneways were also the place where the outdoor dunnies had a rear latch where the night cart man replaced the pan.  Mum told us of the time that one of her Aunty’s, May took a feather from a duster and hid out there to tickle the bum of the first unsuspecting sole who came along to squat and relieve themselves.
There was also scope for fun times though, plenty of card games and my Grandad Smith showing rare displays of anger only when playing euchre.    There were picnics at strange faraway places like Ferntree Gully and Mordialloc where the whole extended family used to climb in a truck and venture out for the day.  There were holidays to Rosebud and with family at Murchison and Koondrook.

There were also major excursions where they went out mushrooming, yabbying, rabbiting and fishing.
The kids also made their own fun playing games of skippy, hidey, Charlie over the water, keepings off, hopscotch, knuckles, marbles and various card games.  During those times Aunty Nancy got the nickname of Smiley and Mum of Miney.

It was a time when you showed respect to adults with people addressed as Mr or Mrs, or if you knew them, they were called Aunty and Uncle.

Mum started school at 5 years of age and went first to Holy Rosary Catholic School in Kensington and later to St Ambroses Girls School in Brunswick.  They walked to the first each day but when they moved to Brunswick Mum used to con Aunty Nancy into loaning her a penny for the tram which she used to have to pay back with a halfpenny interest.

The mornings started with prayers then had the standard reading, writing and arithmetic lessons writing with chalk on a slate and remembered and chanted back to the Nuns parrot fashion.   It wasn’t unusual for the Nuns to dish out a bit of corporal punishment by way of cuts to the hand with the edge of a ruler.

Mum had her first job at 11 years of age working at Uncle Laurie’s parents grocery store where she wrapped pounds of butter and weighed sugar and flour.  She’d work 3 or 4 hours a day and earn around threepence and hour.

Mum sat for her merit certificate in Grade 7 but was too young to graduate so had to sit again in Grade 8 finishing in the Top 10.  She left school at 14 ½ at the start of 1945 and went to Melbourne Technical College where she studied shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.

During the war years there were at least 13 close relatives away – uncles, cousins, father and brother.  There were relatives in the Middle East and in the Pacific Theatre.  Grandad Smith, Mums dad was a Rat of Tobruk, and her brother Billy after running away from home a number of times to join the army as a 16 year old eventually found himself in New Guinea.    Uncle Perc was a prisoner at Changi and on the Burma Railway.

Going to the pictures was a treat costing a penny and Mum was also given another penny to spend on sweets.  She said that when the newsreels showed aspects of the war that were going well to crowd would stand up and clap and cheer.   In addition to the movies, dances, walking around, swimming and playing basketball [netball] were Mums pastimes.

Mums first office job was with Henry Co. which was advertised in the paper.  It was office duties and she earnt 30 shillings per week.    She stayed 15 months and then went to work at Lloyd P Goode, solicitors in Collins Street, where she was paid more.   She told me last week that she was offered the chance to do her article clerks course but declined and that she regretted not taking the opportunity.

She then moved onto Bowen and Pomeroy, stayed there until she got married and then moved onto Aeronautical Supplies opposite Vic Barracks and stayed until I was born.

Weddings were generally celebrated in Halls and then back at the house for a feed.  Funerals were wakes with the coffin in the front room of the house and the family taking it in turns sitting with the coffin until the burial the next day.

So that’s what I managed to piece together from what Mum wrote. I have no record of the questions I asked her but the answers are all numbered and we can make out what they refer to for the most part.  There was one answer to question 38 which was circled and marked “For your eyes only” and it said – “We both wanted to murder our partners”.   For those who knew Dad and our Uncle Harry there are any one of dozens of questions we could have asked that would have prompted that as an answer.

Dad met Mum at Daylesford. They were both on holiday there with some friends and travelled back to Melbourne together by train. When Dad found out Mum lived in Brunswick he offered to walk her home from the station. The next night he was going out with a Miss Victoria entrant but he promised Mum he would call her after that and he did. [Aunty Gwen told me after Dad’s funeral that the other girl didn’t endear herself to Nana Joyce because she turned up in a low cut dress with a split that revealed a fair bit of leg].
Dad went off to Perth after he started dating Mum and got involved with the daughter of some trotting trainer, but on return to Melbourne came back to Mum. They had met before her 21st birthday and got engaged before her 22nd when whilst away on a rabbiting trip in the bush Dad proposed.

They married at the Brunswick Methodist Church on the 28th March 1953 and all the family gathered with Mum and Dad in 2003 to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.

Their reception was held at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street, with 75 guests and a three course meal, and they spent their wedding night there.  Mum said at the time that she might even still have the receipt for the reception.

For the first few years of married life they lived in a bungalow at the back of my Grandparents place in Orvieto Street Merlynston, but around the time Karen was born and I was 18 months old, moved way out in the sticks to a new estate in Box Hill South on former orchard lands to number 10 Richardson Street where we all grew up.

The roads were unmade and the drains open ditches infested with weeds and rats. I knew there were rats because most weekends Dad would stand in Massey Street and pour a couple of gallons of petrol down the drain then light it with a match and the rats would often scurry away after the explosion. He was a bit of a pyromaniac and loved to build fires and burn leaves which I think was something he got from his own father.
In about 1960 Mum gave birth to our brother Stephen who lost his life a little before that and she too almost lost her own life.   She was told that it was unlikely she would get pregnant again but in 1964 after a pregnancy where she spent a lot of time confined to bed, gave birth to our sister Debra.

We kept the same traditions that Mum had grown up with, immediate neighbours were called Aunty and Uncle, those a few houses away were Mr and Mrs.   Like Mum we spent most weekends visiting family.   And with Dad’s family at Merlynston or Mum’s in Brunswick there were always cousins around and we always had nearby relatives we could walk to.

Friday nights were fish and chip night – we’d go to Bennettswood shops order the fish and chips then walk around to the Paper shop where Mum would buy each of us a comic and herself Best Bets and the Truth.
Mum and Dad both loved the horse racing.   She spent many Saturdays around the kitchen table with Aunty Hazel, sipping their sherries and listening to how their bets went on the radio.

I remember visits to our grandparents on Sundays and if we happened to be home Dad would meet the other blokes in the neighbourhood across the road at the Scott’s for a pleasant Sunday morning.
Sunday night meals were often toasted sandwiches watching Disneyland because if we’had been at home we would have had a roast for Sunday lunch and the same if we’d been out somewhere.

We also spent a lot of weekends out driving around the state having BBQs or picnics with the Brown family.
We too continued the family tradition of camping holidays, Myrtleford firstly and then Corowa.  Mum would deny it but a major attraction of the border town was the poker machines and we spent 4 weeks there every Christmas where Karen and I would have a race to see who would get the darkest tan over summer.
When Debra got to around school age Mum went back to work and spent a lot of years in the office at Wiredex Wireworks in Huntingdale.

Growing up she set us pretty strict curfew times.   Even last week she reminded me of the one time I got home after that 11pm curfew.  It was after a Jackson Brown concert in around 1976 or 77, I was 19 or 20 years old and the concert started late and finished in the early hours of the morning after public transport had stopped.  We had no money for a taxi so my mates and I walked home from Festival Hall.   It was around 3am by the time I walked in the door to find her up and waiting to tear strips off me.   She told me I should have telephoned her but in those days of course there was no such thing as a mobile phone and most telephone boxes were out of order so that was easier said than done.  Besides I hadn’t asked her to sit up waiting for me.

Mum loved reading.   When growing up she enjoyed TV shows like Peyton Place and Coronation Street, Mannix, Columbo, MASH and a lot of the mini series that were regularly released during the 70’s.    In more recent times she became a fan of 24 when I loaned her the series on DVD.  

Mum didn’t vacuum, she electroluxed.    She didn’t say things she turned around and said them.   She’d spend hours sitting talking on the black bakelight phone and then give a verbatim I said She said record of the conversation back to anyone who would listen.    She could give the most withering look if she didn’t like you or disagreed with something you said, but she also had a huge capacity to love.  She welcomed Gerry, Andrew, Lyn and most recently Raelene into the family and gave each of them a special place in her heart.   She was very proud of her 11 grandchildren and her two great-Grandchildren and took great delight in their company.

Karen will pick up on Mum’s life from when her and Dad moved in with them at Warrandyte and Deb will talk about how last week unfolded for all of us.

Before I finish up I just want to explain the slide show a bit.   I culled a lot of photos out of it to get it down to around 5 minutes but you’ll find about 3 and a half minutes I there is a bit of dead air [if I can say that at a funeral].  There’s a few seconds of silence before the song starts again – I couldn’t take out any more photos to cut it down a bit.   Every one of them tells a story for those of us who were there.  Pay attention and you’ll see old cars, mum’s Vauxhall that took us on holiday down to Aunty Gwen and Uncle Keith’s at Point Lonsdale, a Mini Minor that was loaded with a pack rack full of suitcases that took all five of us to Adelaide a blue HR that I foolishly did 100 mile an hour in on a straight bit of road between Corowa and Howlong.   You’ll see glimpses of the homes Mum lived in – there’s one of her as a 2 year old in the back yard looking a bit lie a gremlin.  There’s holiday snaps – my grandmother standing on a sand dune surrounded by family pointing a 22 rifle at them.  There are of course many of events – Mum’s 21st, her wedding, my graduation from the police force, birthday parties and Christmases.    Each of them very special for us.

Mum gave us many things over her lifetime – bikes, dolls for the girls, lego and train set for me, comics on Friday nights, good food, shelter and a house that was truly a home.  More than anything though she gave us her time and her love.    Last week she gave us her final gift.  Having said goodbye to people on Monday through Thursday I am absolutely convinced that she decided it was time to go, and that the reason for that was not because she didn’t want to suffer, but because she hated the thought of us suffering through a lingering departure.   It has been an incredibly sad time for us over the past week, but we also recognise how blessed we were not only to have shared our life with our Mum, but to have had the opportunity to say goodbye properly and leave nothing unsaid.  Just as we know she loved us, she knew that she was deeply loved by all of us.

I found a letter she wrote to my son Luke on his 18th Birthday in which she recounted to him a conversation he was overheard having with one of his mates when he was 4 years old.   My Nana, his Granny had just died and his mate Lucas said “What happens now Luke?”

“I don’t know.  I guess they’ll put her in a box and ship her off to the Indian burial ground in America” he replied.

We’re not going to do that but I do want to say this.   There is an old Mexican Indian proverb that says we die three times – firstly when our spirit leaves our body, for Mum at 1:15 am on Saturday 9th September, the second when our mortal remains pass from the sight of men, for Mum today, and finally when our name is spoken for the last time on this earth.  For those of us who loved Mum that will be a long time coming.
Sorry for taking so long to get through this Mum. 

A good friend of ours who is a naturopath has mixed up a concoction for my sisters and let me tell you they are very mellow.  If there is a bit of Cheech and Chong about what they say you’ll know why.

Laurie Joyce

Mum and the gathering of the ghosts

Mum had her fair share of health problems over the past few years; osteoporeosis and osteparthritis lead to a lumbardectomy on her back about four years ago; two years ago she had an artery replaced in her leg, and, she has had a couple of colonscopies this year which came back negative for cancer.

About a month ago she had a fall at home, didn’t tell anyone and just battled on, until Tuesday week ago she had to spend the day in bed because of the pain.  On Wednesday morning when my sister went down to check on her she was sitting in a chair in her bedroom crying.  Karen called an ambulance and we descended on Box Hill Hospital Emergency Department.

They did a series of tests; xrays found a fracture in her spine, but that didn’t explain the other pain in her abdomen, so MRI’s and CAT scans followed and on Sunday last week we were told that Mum had cancer in the liver and in her spine and that she only had months to live.  Mum and my sisters and I discussed the option and chose for her not to have any further invasice treatments.  Mum didn’t want to go through what her mother did after being diagnosed with breast cancer in her eighties.  

“How come,” she asked the doctors, “I was alright last week but now I’m dying of cancer.”

Of course she wasn’t alright the week before.

So for the next few days we kept a bedside vigil whilst the doctors changed her medication to make her comfortable and we and she were resigned to the fact that she would end up in care somewhere and not go home.

I had to go to work on Thursday but got a call from my sister that Mum was starting to see a few ghosts.   This gathering of the ghosts is a common one in our family and for me it was reason enough to head straight back in.

We had a wonderful afternoon, we laughed and joked and reminisced.  My brother-in-law Gerry came in and Mum said that he had one of his departed dogs, Bessie sitting on his lap.

“Why can’t it be Drew Barrymore?” he said.

“She’s not dead,” we laughed.

“How about a young Liz Taylor then?”

“She’s not dead either,” and Mum laughed with us.

We left late on Thursday night and by the time I got in Friday morning she was in a deep sleep that we couldn’t rouse her from.   Around lunchtime the Palliative Care doctor came in and said that they would be able to move Mum to a free bed at Wantirna Health and she arrived there by ambulance at around 2 pm.

Her breathing was deep and laboured and at 1:15 am this morning in the company of my sisters she passed quietly and peacefully away.

Mum had a good life and this week had the opportunity to talk to people she cared about and say her goodbyes, with all of them there was a laugh and a giggle and that is what they will remember.

For her children and grandchildren we have lifetimes of memories and whilst the end came quickly I think Mum made sure that she wouldn’t linger and drag this out for us.  On Thursday night, in the hispital ward she a a roiling cloud of light on the ceiling, she tried to describe it to us but said that it kept going in and out of focus.  In the early hours of this morning I am sure that it cam sharply into focus for her and Dad and Nana and Grandad and all of her passed love ones greeted her warmly as the pain left her for the last time.

I’m going to miss you Mum.

Here are a few other posts about my Mum –

If your Father wasn’t already dead
Mothers Day

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