Today was my mum’s funeral. On the morning I last wrote a blog post, the 31st Jan, I thought that day would be momentous for our scaffolding finally coming down, but instead other walls came tumbling down as my mum passed away that evening. It was expected, but nothing ever quite prepares you, no matter what the circumstances. For nearly a quarter of a century, we were estranged, as good as strangers. We had no relationship, other than being two sides of the same mother/daughter coin of course. Tumultuous teenage years, insurmountable similarities and a fractured family created divisions it was always too painful to heal. People often asked me what I would do, at the end, and for so many years I didn’t know. A part of me wondered if I wouldn’t care. But it transpired a bigger part did care. I visited, we shared precious time and we said our goodbyes, too soon after we’d just said hello again.
I wanted to write something for my mum to read for her and about her. We started off so well and I wanted to celebrate that, to counter the years lost. I read it to her when she lay in her final sleep and I held her hand for the last time. I swear she smiled.
“Whichever Dorothy or Dot you knew, you all have your own memories of who she is, who she was and who she will always be. As most of you know, we, my mum and I, had many years apart, but if there’s a phrase which sums up the past few weeks, it’s being told over and over by many different people how much like her I am. Clearly it’s not the hair colour which skipped a generation from Freda, but something far deeper and more… molecular.
DNA’s a funny thing, an inescapable thing, especially when the genes are, shall we say, quite strong. And my mum was strong. Strong in character, strong in looks, strong of body and strong of mind. Right to the end.
To me Dorothy was mum, firstly for my idyllic childhood years. Long hot seventies summers on the climbing frame in the back garden, watching chocolate melt on the drive in ’76, bringing back huge pink bunches of mayflowers in Spring and bowls full of finger staining blackberries in Summer from the edges of Farmer Jack’s fields to make dish after dish of blackberry crumble in our small kitchen. Filling the house with bluebells (that’s illegal now right?) from the woods down at Ribchester. Birthday parties in the back garden and grand curtained productions of Dr Who and Red Riding Hood with full costumes and the grown ups seated in an orderly fashion to applaud our efforts. Mum would galvanise (or maybe order?) the other mums to help make outfits for these grand productions, as well as the fabulous Knotty Ash Diddy Men trousers and hats, stuffed with newspapers to give us fat little legs and tall heads. In our early years No 9 Glengreave was an open house for all the local kids with everyone playing in the garden on the climbing frame and running up and down the driveway. Bonfire nights with giant fires much too close to single glazed windows, toffee apples and sparklers. It was noisy, chaotic and a lot of fun.
In the summer mum would sunbathe at the bottom of the garden. I say sunbathe, when really I mean roast. I’ve never know anyone else use olive oil and vinegar to tan, but the deep mahogany shade achieved must mean she was doing something right. To hell with sunscreen.
Like all little girls with their mums, I’d watch her ‘get ready’, in awe of the lurex halter necks and wide legged flares. She’d hold court at parties, loving being the centre of attention, and I’d hide on the stairs, desperate to go down and join in. Mum epitomised the glamour of her era, demanding attention with her striking and elegant style. In the late 70s and early 80’s there was lots of juggling of jobs. Mum was great behind a bar (it runs in the family) and was working at the Spread Eagle. I remember her being very disgruntled one day when an allegedly handsome customer told her she looked just like a movie star but he couldn’t remember who. At the end of the evening he called over to her, and to all the staff she was with, that he’d remembered who it was…. everyone was expecting Sophia Loren, to whom she’d often been likened, but he announced Kirk Douglas because of the dimple on her chin! She was not impressed but it made her laugh.
I remember her working on the old YOP schemes first down at a huge mansion near Blackburn hospital then up at Four Lane Ends at the creche. There were cooking lessons, childcare and my memory is of her being quite strict with the teenage girls on the scheme, not taking any messing about, but she was also very kind. Many of them came to visit the house, especially one girl, Ali, who’d been in prison. Mum would help her out, giving her support and a chance when few others would have. She was always one for waifs and strays, whether human or animal.
You’d think all that practice with unruly teenage girls might have stood us in better stead but our own battle of wills grew too strong to fight. Most of us have had experiences of family disagreements and sometimes the hours turn into weeks, weeks into months and sometimes months into years. The original rift is widened by missed opportunities as separation becomes normality. Not having each other became our normal, and the walls of self preservation grew thicker, as they often do in such situations.
But in a little compartment of such hearts, there’s often a room with a dim light on. A space where the good memories are folded neatly away under settling layers of dust but a candle still burns if the door is left slightly ajar. The protective walls we build around ourselves to protect our hearts from more damage can mean that until we face and repair that damage, we never truly find peace, that inner peace which comes from accepting who we are and our own failings, as well as the failings of others. The peace which comes from forgiveness and compassion and understanding others, especially when those others are our family members, the people who mirror us, and who are reflections of ourselves. Reflections it can be hard to look at.
Setting differences aside to try and rebuild relationships, for however short a time, is often painful and takes courage and strength. We didn’t manage it mum and I, until the very end and it was all those things. When after over twenty five years my mum and I looked into each others eyes, we both saw each other and saw ourselves. We couldn’t get back, as mum called them ‘wasted years’, but we made peace. She spoke of her amazing grandchildren, which was wonderful to hear and of how proud she was of all of us.
If she were here now, I think she would say the same thing as I, that sometimes the thing you want most of all, you push away for fear of being hurt. The words we want the most to say, we swallow back for fear they won’t be heard. The relationships we need the most, we pretend we’re strong enough to get by without. I think both mum and I would say, don’t make those same mistakes, family is everything.
I will miss her, my mum, just as I missed her for all those years. She was a big influence and a strong lady. She passed on her strength of character, stubbornness, wicked sense of humour and many of her foibles. I can neither suffer fools, wait patiently, nor listen to other people eating crisps, popcorn or apples. The gene are strong, mum, the Dorothy force is in me and with me, you can be sure of that.
Watch down & giggle with Danny, say hello to Nanny, get some heavenly gardening done and wait for us, we’ll see you in the next life x”