Tags: children and parents, death, depression, growing up, memories, mothers and daughters, regret
Today, the 23rd of May, would have been my mother’s birthday. Sadly, however, Mum lost her battle with illness almost 22 years ago, on the 13th June 1994, at the age of 74, less than seven years older than I am now.
I was close to Mum as a child, though I knew little of her earlier life. The selfish perspective of youth meant that I knew her less as she aged. Then, at the age of just twenty, I married and left home.
For almost all of the next twenty-five years, I lived some distance away, having children, seeing them grow up, getting divorced from their father, entering what was then a forbidden relationship, moving even farther away in both miles and understanding, visiting briefly only once or twice a year. It was only when Mum was on her death bed that I returned home, helped Dad nurse Mum there for two weeks before attending her funeral.
I have always regretted that distance between us. As I grew into my forties, I wanted to know her better, but it was already too late. Illness had made the last years difficult for her.
A few years ago, while Dad was still alive, I wrote a poem called. “What’s your story, Mum?”. Recently, Dad having died in June 2013, I edited the poem and re-named it “I wish you could tell me, Mum”. Here it is, on what would have been her 96th birthday.
I wish you could tell me, Mum
What’s your story, Mum?
I wish you could tell me.
Dad told me his when he was still here,
when I could finally visit from far away
But you had already left us then.
We often talked about you, Mum.
He’d tell me of when you were young.
Like how beautiful you were, how popular,
and how, even before he’d met you,
there was never any other girl for him.
His eyes lit up as he told of how you’d laugh,
And how the joy of it made his heart sing.
Of how you later ‘walked out’ together,
through wet, coal-blackened streets,
and for miles over cold and windy moors.
He’d remember how you both loved to dance,
as if the two of you were one,
Still gliding and twirling when the band
And everyone else was exhausted.
Dad told me, Mum, about the births of your children.
The first, a son, and the paralysis his arrival caused.
He told me how he couldn’t defend you against the pain
whilst flying his plane far away in defence of your country.
He said how wonderful it was later,
to assist in the births of your three daughters,
at home, in the bed where we had been conceived.
He told me what a great home-maker you were,
always making the best out of very little.
But what’s your story, Mum – in your words?
Dad could tell me how much he wanted to migrate
to a country free of class and arrogance,
but he couldn’t tell me how you really felt.
Did you want to go as much as he?
Or did you go simply because you loved him?
It was easy, I think, to leave your selfish father,
but oh, how difficult it must have been
to say good-bye to your gentle, loving mother,
to go to a new country; a strange land.
Heat and drought and wide expanses replaced
the cold and damp of a bustling ancient township.
A tiny caravan, then a little fibro house, replaced
the solid security of your old stone terrace.
Venomous snakes and spiders brought unwelcome danger.
Barbed-wire fences and eucalypt forest replaced
soft green fields bounded by hedge and mossy stone.
Oak and ash, bluebells and buttercups were left behind.
How did you adjust to the changes?
What fears and insecurities did this bring?
Oh, what did you really think, Mum?
Then, in this new land, another traumatic birth:
my baby brother healthy, though his twin sister died.
And you, alone in a hospital bed, not allowed your own,
denied even the comforting presence of your husband,
as you fought, alone, for life.
Is that when the fearfulness began to creep in?
Is that when you began to think you might lose us;
had to always know where we were, so you
could feel some measure of control in your life?
Or did that happen in 1961, when two of your children
and Dad, all contracted the dreaded polio?
Was it when we thought Dad might not even live,
And there was no money to even buy food?
I remember that awful time, Mum.
I was only thirteen and could only guess
at the fears that burdened you.
The responsibility you had to take alone.
Dad, crippled and unable to help,
your father taking away the mother
that you needed then
more than you had ever done.
What I do know is that you kept our family going.
That it was your strength, dredged from
some deep, unknown place within you,
that fed and clothed and housed us.
It took its toll on you, I know,
but I thought of you as strong, Mum
in those desperate times.
But what did you think and feel then?
Dad struggled to overcome the ravages of polio,
to get back on his feet, figuratively and literally.
You were by his side, his partner in all ways,
as he set up a steady business
– concreting, of all things!
And how did it make you feel, Mum,
When, after so many years,
he took you dancing again?
The years that followed were mixed sorrow and joy,
With three daughters and one son married.
I remember the light in your eyes and your smile
as you welcomed my son,
your first grandchild, with more to come.
But as time went on, I realised that something
prevented you taking those little ones to your heart.
Not just because mine were always far away,
and you didn’t like or trust their father.
What was the barrier, Mum?
Did losing your own mother close your heart
against the awful possibility of hurt?
Was there something inside you that said,
‘if I don’t open myself to love, I won’t lose it’?
We grew apart – not only because of miles.
I saw you too seldom and we could not share
the things that mothers share with
daughters who are also mothers.
I missed that, Mum. I still do.
Dad and I nursed you at home,
night and day, until you finally left us.
Was it a relief to go; to give up
the burden that life had become?
Dad missed you so much then, Mum, lonely for you.
He always loved you – there was never another.
He never forgot the day you first spoke to him,
when you asked, ‘how old are you?’
He re-lived the days of your courtship
and listened to the music you’d loved together.
I am sure he felt you once more in his arms,
twirling yet again around the dance floor – until he left us too.
But I want to know more than that, Mum,
because I think that many parts of me –
my insecurities, my fears, my depression –
have come from you.
So I want to know how you felt; how you loved.
I want to know your story, Mum – in your own words.
But you’ve been gone now for many years,
and I must rely on fragments of memory,
and find you in the words of the man
who loved you.
But I wish you could tell me, Mum.
In loving memory of Agnes Mary Thompson;
born 23rd May 1920; died 13th June 1994.
I wish I had known you better, Mum.
Also in loving memory of Ernest Thompson;
born 24th June 1921; died 18th June 2013.
I am proud to have been your daughter, Dad.
(c) Linda Visman, May 2007
Edited 7th May 2016